The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining held a hearing on Wednesday for the MAPLand Act, introduced by Senators Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) and Angus King (I-Maine).
“Unfortunately, when it comes to public lands, incomplete and inconsistent mapping data prevents outdoor recreationists as well as land management agencies—including the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and Corps of Engineers—from utilizing the full benefit of these technologies,” noted the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership in its formal testimony. “The MAPLand Act would help fix this problem by moving our federal land management agencies into the modern era so that public land users of all types can use digital mapping systems and smartphone applications to identify new opportunities for access and recreation while understanding the rules to help reduce unintentional conflicts and violations of the law.”
More specifically, the MAPLand Act would direct federal land management agencies to consolidate, digitize, and make publicly available recreational access information as GIS files. Such records include information about:
• legal easements and rights-of-way across private land;
• year-round or seasonal closures on roads and trails;
• road-specific restrictions on vehicle-type;
• boundaries of areas where special rules or prohibitions apply to hunting and shooting;
• and areas of public waters that are closed to watercraft or have horsepower restrictions.
In July, a coalition of 150+ hunting- and fishing-related businesses called on Congress to support the bill, highlighting the importance of public land access to the $778-billion outdoor recreation economy.
“GPS technology has become a part of everyday life and is now an essential part of the public-land user’s toolkit,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the TRCP. “Sportsmen and sportswomen thank Senators McSally and King and the members of the subcommittee for their attention to this issue and ask that lawmakers in both the House and Senate support the MAPLand Act.”
Earlier this year, the TRCP produced a short-animated video explaining the benefits of the bill. The video can be viewed HERE.
TRCP’s full testimony in support of the MAPLand Act can be read HERE.
80,000+ Landlocked Acres in New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey
A new report details the extent of inaccessible public lands in the Mid-Atlantic
The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and onX announced today that more than 80,000 acres of public land in New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey are entirely landlocked by private land and, therefore, inaccessible to hunters, anglers, and other outdoor recreation enthusiasts.
“The issue of landlocked public lands is one that has captured the attention of outdoor recreationists and lawmakers in recent years, and for good reason: These lands belong to everyone, yet they are currently unavailable to the general public,” said Joel Webster, with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Access is absolutely vital to our community and to the future of hunting and fishing. We hope that decision-makers will see this report’s findings as strong evidence that programs to improve and create new access need robust support.”
Of the various types of public land examined by the report, the majority of landlocked acres in each of the three states were state lands, followed by combined county/municipal acres. Ranging in size from just a few acres to several hundred, these parcels could potentially offer recreationists in the region new opportunities to get outdoors both in rural areas and those closer to major urban centers, where there is a growing recognition of the need for outdoor access.
“Public land access is vital to outdoor enthusiasts,” said onX access advocacy manager Lisa Nichols. “Because handheld GPS technologies have made it easier to discover areas of public land—particularly isolated, small, or out-of-the way parcels—these landlocked acres represent lost opportunities that would otherwise be available to all of us. Expanding access to these places would offer very real benefits to communities, especially those in places where the possibilities to get outside and enjoy the outdoors are relatively limited.”
Last month’s passage of the Great American Outdoors Act secured full funding for the most powerful public land access tool, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). As a result, the program will now provide a guaranteed $27 million in annual federal funding for public access work. Additionally, at least 40 percent of the program’s overall $900 million budget must be used for state-driven projects. This funding can be dedicated to opening landlocked parcels through each state’s State Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan, part of which prioritizes projects eligible to receive LWCF funding.
The onX-TRCP report further highlights several important state-level programs that help to create new access for public land users.
New York’s Open Space Conservation Plan, established in 2016, prioritizes land acquisitions that fall under seven major types, among which is land that unlocks access to public land beyond. One of the means of supporting these projects is the state’s Environmental Protection Fund, funded by a real-estate tax, which has supplied around $30 million annually for land acquisition in recent years.
“Enhancing access to public lands and quality habitat throughout New York and the mid-Atlantic is absolutely critical to the future of hunting and angling here,” said Todd Waldron, host of the Outdoor Feast Podcast by Modern Carnivore and resident of Chestertown, NY. “Finding places to hunt, fish, and get outside is often cited as the paramount challenge for new hunters, anglers, and outdoor recreationists of all kinds. This great collaborative work by onX and TRCP highlights how landlocked public lands could provide more access opportunities for all New Yorkers to enjoy, ensuring that wildlife and habitat will continue to be supported through hunter and angler conservation funding well into the future.”
Pennsylvania’s Community Conservation Partnerships Program is administered by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and can be used to establish access through conservation easements and state land acquisitions. The program is funded by both the state’s Environmental Stewardship Fund and the federal LWCF. In addition, the state game fund is the primary funding source used by the Pennsylvania Game Commission to acquire state game lands.
“Overseeing more than 2.5 million acres of state park and forestlands, this department prides itself on providing wholesome, healthy outdoor recreation to all, which, since the founding of Pennsylvania’s park system in 1893, always has been free,” said Pennsylvania. Department of Conservation and Natural Resources secretary Cindy Adams Dunn. “Our parks’ record-shattering attendance numbers during the pandemic show people need that access and we commend the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership for its effort to make all public lands accessible to all people.”
“From state game lands to state forests, Pennsylvania’s 5.4 million acres of state lands are critically important for hunting and fishing,” said Derek Eberly, Pennsylvania field representative with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “But sportsmen and women are losing out on days afield with 27,000 of those public acres being landlocked and inaccessible to the public. Thankfully, Pennsylvania has the state game fund and the Community Conservation Partnerships Program to help unlock these lands through cooperative efforts with neighboring private landowners. We owe many of our outdoor opportunities to these programs, and it is critical that they receive robust funding so that Pennsylvania’s hunting and fishing traditions only grow stronger over time.”
Launched in 2019, Connecting Habitat Across New Jersey is an innovative initiative to secure and improve habitat connectivity by establishing corridors between important areas for game and non-game species. By guiding strategic land acquisitions to tie together parcels of public land, this program also facilitates new and improved access for sportsmen and women, particularly in those areas where public lands are isolated and/or fragmented.
“I’m an avid archer who grew up hunting Pennsylvania state game lands, but I’ve lived in New York City for the past 12 years and public lands in New Jersey offer great hunting areas, a lot of them within an hour of the city,” said Kyle VanFleet, a lifelong sportsman and a member of Hunters Helping the Hungry, a New Jersey-based organization that provides venison to food banks across the state. “I’ve been able to harvest many whitetail deer there with my bow. Landlocked public lands present a unique opportunity to expand access to these types of opportunities, especially where they might be currently limited, which is important both for those of us sportsmen and women living in urban areas and also for recruiting new hunters and anglers.”
The new report follows up on last month’s announcement that more than 300,000 acres of public land are inaccessible in Minnesota and Wisconsin. This analysis builds on a two-year effort to calculate the total acreage of landlocked public lands in the Pacific and Intermountain West. To date, a total of 16.25 million acres of these public lands have been identified.
A companion website, unlockingpubliclands.org, unpacks the issue in more detail and provides links to additional information about landlocked public lands. Visitors to the site can download the report as well as the reports published by onX and TRCP in 2018 and 2019.
Earlier this year, onX also launched a new crowd-sourcing initiative, Report a Land Access Opportunity, with the help of partners, including the TRCP. The program provides the public with a platform to share on-the-ground knowledge about locations where access to outdoor recreation has been threatened or could be improved. The information received by onX is then provided to the relevant nonprofits and land management agencies that can help.
Learn more about the landlocked public lands challenge here.
Four Ways to Unlock the Mid-Atlantic’s Inaccessible Public Lands
These programs could serve as positive examples for other states with a growing tally of landlocked hunting and fishing areas
Through TRCP’s unique partnership with onX, we now know that more than 80,000 acres of public land in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania are landlocked—completely isolated by private lands with no permanent, legal means of access.
Compared to millions of inaccessible acres in the major public land states out West, this might not seem like much. But the availability of even a few dozen acres of public land close to home can boost our ability to recruit, retain, and reactivate license-buying sportsmen and women.
Fortunately, there are solutions—nationally and specifically in the Mid-Atlantic region. Landlocked public lands are best made accessible through cooperative agreements with private landowners that result in land exchanges, acquisitions, and easements, but this critical work cannot be undertaken without funding. When it comes to opening inaccessible public lands, even small projects can offer big benefits.
Here are four key programs that support these efforts.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund
The LWCF remains the most powerful tool available for establishing and expanding access to public lands and waters. And it just got more powerful with the recent passage of the Great American Outdoors Act, which fully funds the program at $900 million annually for wildlife conservation and outdoor recreation, including $27 million that is dedicated to public access. Importantly, the LWCF is not just limited to federal projects—at least 40 percent of the program must be used for state-driven projects. State Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plans are developed by each state to set priorities for state-side LWCF-funded projects and represent a key opportunity to unlock public lands.
Connecting Habitat Across New Jersey
Recognizing the threat posed to wildlife by the increasing density of development within the state, New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection in 2019 launched this innovative program to secure and improve habitat connectivity. By mapping core intact habitats and opportunities to establish corridors between them, the program helps guide strategic land acquisitions to benefit both game and non-game species, as well as sportsmen and women who enjoy new and improved access to public lands.
New York’s Environmental Protection Fund and the Open Space Conservation Plan
These two initiatives work hand in hand to conserve natural resources and open space and provide for public access to outdoor recreation. Supported through a real-estate tax, the Environmental Protection Fund provided $300 million toward a wide range of conservation programs in 2020 alone, and a land acquisition portion of the program has been funded at around $30 million annually in recent years. A portion also funds land acquisition priorities in the New York State Open Space Conservation Plan, which was established in 2016 and identifies seven major resource categories to receive attention by the state, including projects that “provide or assist in providing access to public land which has no access or limited access due to geographic barriers.”
Pennsylvania’s Community Conservation Partnerships Program (C2P2)
Funded through a variety of sources, including the LWCF and the state’s Environmental Stewardship Fund, C2P2 is administered by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to conserve and acquire land through several methods. This includes the acquisition of lands to be added to existing state parks, forests, and game lands, which could be used to tie together disjointed state holdings and establish access to landlocked parcels. The C2P2 can also be used to acquire conservation easements, some of which include permanent public access agreements.
Our country’s unique past has shaped land ownership today—from the creation of a much-celebrated national public lands system to the American Dream of individual home ownership to the boom and bust cycles across various industries. The resulting mosaic of county, state, and federal land holdings in the U.S. has also left a remnant patchwork of isolated public land parcels with untapped opportunity for hunters and anglers.
But in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region, there were different contributing factors.
Lay of the Landlocked
Given their history as British colonies, the original thirteen U.S. states were not organized according to the gridded system of ranges, townships, and sections later used to parcel out land ownership in new states and territories as the country expanded westward. As such, property boundaries in states like New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania were drawn around geographic features and other landmarks through an early survey system known as “Metes and Bounds.”
Nearly all land in these states became private property during the colonial period through charters granted by the British Crown to corporations or individuals, as well as through the sale of Crown lands. It was only much later that these states—faced with depleted soils, diminishing timber stands, and deteriorating water quality—began actively purchasing lands to address conservation, access, and resource management needs.
The Difference Between East and West
Though they are dwarfed by the sheer land mass of Western states, some Eastern states have accumulated rather large amounts of public land. In New Jersey, the state owns 21 percent of the land within its borders, the third-most of any state behind Alaska and Hawaii. In New York and Pennsylvania, those figures are similarly significant: 14 percent and 13.9 percent respectively, at fifth and sixth place in the nation.
Managed for varying purposes and according to a diverse set of frameworks, public lands in these three states have a rich tradition. New York established the first state park system in 1881 and created the Adirondack Preserve (later Adirondack Park) in subsequent years. New Jersey similarly has its own large, relatively undeveloped, and sparsely populated natural area in the state’s southern Pine Barrens.
Many of the state lands in the region, particularly in New York and Pennsylvania, were formerly abandoned farmlands or private timberlands on which the owners stopped paying property taxes after the parcels were cut over in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Other lands were acquired by the states to conserve wildlife habitat in the early 20th century. The Pennsylvania Game Commission, for example, manages nearly 1.5 million acres of State Game Lands for this purpose.
Accordingly, the bulk of the 80,000 acres of landlocked public lands we identified in the Mid-Atlantic are managed by the states, counties, and municipalities. Less than 5 percent of all the landlocked acres we found in this region are managed by federal agencies, compared to about 60 percent in the West.
Another important distinction between East and West, because land ownership boundaries in this part of the country are far less likely to align neatly atcorners like a checkerboard, is that “corner-crossing” as a contested form of public access is a much less significant debate in the Mid-Atlantic states.
That doesn’t diminish the severity of having 80,000 acres of lost hunting and fishing opportunities across the region. There are solutions, but sportsmen and women must be vocal about the resources and legislative initiatives necessary to unlock our public lands.
It may have been the summer of COVID, but a lot went down in the world of conservation, too—get caught up
If we were to put together a conservationist’s time capsule for the summer of 2020, it would be absolutely jam-packed with everything from state-level wins and place-based battles to habitat-wide threats and milestone achievements that will benefit future generations of hunters and anglers.
Here is what we’ll remember long after the sun has set on summer 2020.
The Great American Outdoors Act Supercharges LWCF
After a decades-long fight to secure permanent authorization and full funding for our most powerful public land conservation tool, the Land and Water Conservation Fund became a household name. And perhaps the Great American Outdoors Act will be too—this legislation finally maxes out the program at $900 million annually to create outdoor recreation opportunities, unlock public land access, and conserve key habitats. It also invests $1.9 billion annually for the next five years to address the maintenance backlog on National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Land Management lands.
Sportsmen and women—not to mention some high-ranking Trump advisors—called directly on the president to intervene and stop Pebble Mine, which would destroy an estimated 185 miles of streams and 4,000 acres of wetlands in Bristol Bay, the most prolific sockeye salmon fishery on the planet. The Corps decision is good news, but there is still work to do to shut down the mining proposal for good.
300K Acres of Public Lands in the Midwest Are Inaccessible
The Hunting and Fishing Community Rallies Around #ResponsibleRecreation
After the first major spike in COVID-19 cases, as public lands and some hunting and fishing seasons began reopening, the TRCP joined respected conservation leaders at the National Wild Turkey Federation, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, Ducks Unlimited, Trout Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, and Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies to launch the #ResponsibleRecreation pledge.
It remains important for Americans to take advantage of our country’s numerous opportunities to recreate on public lands and waters, while maintaining proper social distancing and adhering to other best practices in line with recommendations from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. You can take the pledge here.
Three Threats to Bedrock Conservation Laws
In July, we flagged the EPA’s quiet change to a rule that gave states the right to look out for water quality on federal land within their borders at the permitting phase of new development projects. The agency’s new rule addressed an obscure but important function of the Clean Water Act, which was also rolled back when it comes to protections for headwater streams and wetlands.
Combined with a third threat to bedrock conservation law—proposed changes to the National Environmental Policy Act that would significantly inhibit the ability of federal agencies to measure the impacts of development on habitat—it’s clear that the administration’s newest policies would benefit developers while sportsmen and women lose out.
Menhaden Managers Will Consider the Bigger Picture
In a move supported by anglers, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission voted unanimously in August to improve its management strategy for Atlantic menhaden, the tiny baitfish that supports some of our most popular sportfish, by considering the species’ role in the broader ecosystem. The Commission worked for more than a decade to develop ecological reference points—indicators like the health of predator populations, including striped bass and bluefish, as well as the amount of alternative prey for these sportfish. Ultimately, these reference points can be used to set quotas that will help ensure enough menhaden are left in the water as forage.
Outdoor Recreation Businesses Call on Congress to Pass MAPLand Act
A cross-section of the $887-billion outdoor recreation economy—from gear manufacturers and media companies to guides, outfitters, and retailers—sent a letter in July urging lawmakers to pass the Modernizing Access to Our Public Land, or MAPLand, Act. Business owners emphasized that their livelihoods depend on sportsmen and women having access to outdoor recreation opportunities on public lands, and the MAPLand Act would push federal agencies to digitize their paper maps and easement records so more people can find places to recreate.
One-Third of Congressional Funding for CWD Is Going to Captive Deer Industry
For years, sportsmen and women have called on lawmakers to take meaningful federal action to control chronic wasting disease among our wild deer, elk, and moose populations. In 2020, Congress responded by appropriating $5 million to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to send directly to state wildlife and agricultural departments tasked with responding to the disease.
Instead, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is funneling $1.5 million of that funding to individual captive deer operations that have had to eliminate CWD-positive animals. These indemnification payments aid businesses that have already been part of the CWD problem and don’t address the continued strain placed on state agencies scrambling to manage the spread of the disease.
The Gulf Coast is Rebounding 10 Years After BP Oil Spill
The explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig and the subsequent oil spill in the spring and summer of 2010 was the worst environmental disaster in American history. But in the decade since this tragedy, oil spill penalties have been invested in projects that directly address the damage, improving the outlook for the Gulf of Mexico’s coastal communities and fish and wildlife habitat.
Backcountry Conservation Areas allow the BLM to prioritize public access and habitat management actions, such as restoring riparian areas and streams, controlling invasive species, managing vegetation, improving fish passages, reducing the risk of wildfires, and increasing forage. There are BCAs proposed across the West.
As our nation rebounds from the COVID pandemic, policymakers are considering significant investments in infrastructure. Hunters and anglers see this as an opportunity to create conservation jobs, restore habitat, and boost fish and wildlife populations.