Randall Williams

October 20, 2020

174,000+ Acres of Landlocked Public Land in Four Southern States

New report details the extent of inaccessible public lands in the South and adds to a growing understanding of a national outdoor recreation access challenge

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and onX announced today that more than 174,000 acres of public land in Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas are entirely landlocked by private land and, therefore, inaccessible to hunters, anglers, and other outdoor recreationists.

“Hunters and anglers are always looking for a new favorite spot, or for a patch of woods or body of water where they can get away from the crowds,” said Joel Webster at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “That’s why landlocked public lands have become such a pressing concern for our community: These lands belong to all of us, yet we cannot get to them without permission. It is our hope that with this information, policymakers can see the problem, identify solutions, and work to ensure that sportsmen and sportswomen can access the lands that belong to them.”

The Findings

Using today’s leading mapping technologies, the collaborative study found that more than 75,000 acres of public land in Florida, 49,000 acres in North Carolina, 28,000 acres in Arkansas, and 22,000 acres in Tennessee are landlocked and inaccessible to the public without private landowner permission. The detailed findings are now available in a new report that also unpacks what’s at stake, some solutions, and how so many acres became landlocked.

“All across the country, public lands provide vital access for hunters and anglers,” said onX access advocacy manager Lisa Nichols. “In recent years, GPS technologies found in your average smartphone have made it easier for outdoor recreationists to discover new opportunities on public lands, and to notice parcels without any legal way to access them. These landlocked acres represent lost opportunities that would otherwise be available to the public.”

The analysis looked at public lands managed by all levels of government—including federal, state, county, and municipal—and who owns the majority of landlocked acres varied for each state. In both North Carolina and Arkansas, the relative amounts of state and federal landlocked acres were roughly equivalent. Most of the landlocked public lands in Tennessee were federally owned, followed narrowly by state lands, while the overwhelming majority of inaccessible public lands in Florida were county or municipal acres.

Ranging in size from just a few acres to hundreds, the landlocked areas identified by the project could potentially offer new outdoor recreation opportunities in the region, boosting an economic sector already worth $778 billion in consumer spending nationally.

The Solutions

The passage of the Great American Outdoors Act, signed into law on August 4, 2020, 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 enhancements. 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.

“It amazes me that so many public acres—from North Carolina’s state-owned game lands to the Pisgah National Forest—remain fragmented and landlocked by private lands,” said Jay Leutze, Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy board advisor and a North Carolina resident. “I’m thankful for the solutions available to us through the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund and the North Carolina state Land and Water Fund. Together, these two programs enable land trusts and the agencies to work with willing sellers to help consolidate public land ownership, conserve important habitats, and expand public access.”

The onX-TRCP report further highlights several important programs in Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas that help to create new access for public land users.

“The Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council (ANCRC) was established in 1987 to provide grant funding for the acquisition, management and stewardship of state-owned properties including natural areas, historic sites and land devoted to outdoor recreation,” said Stacy Hurst, secretary of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism and one of the 11 members of the ANCRC. “Since that time, ANCRC has provided the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission funding that enabled the conservation and protection of over 45,000 acres of land, all of which has public access including many areas available for public hunting.”

“The North Carolina Land and Water Fund (NCLWF) is the single largest funder of game lands in North Carolina with nearly $300 million dollars contributed since the Fund’s inception protecting 230,000 acres of game land,” said Cam Ingram, executive director of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC). “The NCWRC is fortunate to have a great partner in the NCLWF to help us meet our mission of conserving North Carolina’s wildlife resources and providing opportunities for wildlife-associated recreation.”

Earlier this year, onX and TRCP released two other regionally focused reports on landlocked public lands in the Upper Midwest and the Mid-Atlantic, which found that more than 300,000 acres of public land in Minnesota and Wisconsin and more than 80,000 acres of public land in New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey are inaccessible. These studies expand on a two-year effort to calculate the total acreage of landlocked public lands in the Pacific and Intermountain West.

To date, the TRCP and onX have identified a total of 16.43 million acres of inaccessible public lands across 22 states.

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 all three of this year’s reports as well as the reports published in 2018 and 2019.

onX has 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.

 

Photo: @jordansriley of @capturedcreative

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Randall Williams

September 17, 2020

Senate Committee Considers the MAPLand Act

Sportsmen and women call for swift passage of important public land access legislation

Hunters and anglers around the nation voiced support for the bipartisan Modernizing Access to our Public Land Act as the bill received its first congressional hearing on Capitol Hill.

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).

The bill would enhance recreational opportunities on public land by investing in modern mapping systems that allow outdoor enthusiasts to access the information they need using handheld GPS technology commonly found in smartphones.

“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.

 

Photo: Rick Hutton

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 Findings

Using today’s leading mapping technologies, the collaborative study found that more than 39,000 acres of public land in New York, 27,000 acres in Pennsylvania, and more than 14,000 acres in New Jersey are landlocked and inaccessible to the public unless private landowners grant individual permissions to cross their properties. The detailed findings are now available in a new report, “The Mid-Atlantic’s Landlocked Public Lands: Untapped Hunting and Fishing Opportunities in New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey,” which also unpacks the history of the issue and how these states are working to solve it.

“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.”

The Solutions

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.

 

Photo: Jess Delorenzo

Randall Williams

September 9, 2020

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.

 

Top photo by Derek Eberly.

Randall Williams

September 8, 2020

The Biggest Difference Between Landlocked Public Lands in the East and West

Hint: Consult your U.S. History books for the answer

Working with conservation policy sometimes makes clear how much you may have forgotten from grade school, like biomes, basic watershed ecology, government checks and balances, and “I’m just a bill and I’m sitting here on Capitol Hill…” And in partnering with onX to identify landlocked public lands across the country, we’ve been reminded of a few U.S. history lessons.

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.

Westward expansion, homesteading, and the railroads would lead to checkerboarded federal and private lands in states like Wyoming, Montana, and Nevada. In the Upper Midwest, some land conveyances were made to either expand agriculture or retire marginal farmlands, and plenty of private lands went back to state or county and municipal ownership through tax forfeiture.

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 at corners 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.

Dig into more of the landlocked data at unlockingpubliclands.org.

Top photo courtesy of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation via flickr.

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The precipitous drop in hunter participation should be a call to action for all sportsmen and women, because it will have a significant ripple effect on key conservation funding models.

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