These state and federal programs can help to open landlocked public lands across the region
Through TRCP’s unique partnership with onX, we now know that more than 174,000 acres of public land in Florida, North Carolina, Arkansas, and Tennessee 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 Southeast. 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 five 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.
This major conservation and recreational lands acquisition program has been used by the state to open 818,000 acres to the public with $3.1 billion in funding since 2001. The list of crucial habitats and recreation opportunities protected through the Florida Forever program is immense, with funding being spread across 10 different agencies. With a goal of increasing public recreation opportunities, Florida Forever is a powerful tool that can be used to open existing landlocked public lands.
Tennessee’s State Wetland Fund
In 1987, Tennessee created the fund to acquire and protect wetlands, primarily on the Mississippi River Alluvial Plain. The program has since been expanded to protect uplands and other habitats across the state, and public access is a priority with all new land acquisitions. Funded at between $12 million and $19 million each year, the Wetland Fund is an effective tool that could be applied to unlock inaccessible public lands that offer important habitats and hunting and fishing opportunities.
The Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council
This decision-making body was established by the Arkansas Legislature in 1987 to oversee grants and a trust fund for the acquisition, management, and stewardship of state-owned properties. These grants are funded through the state’s real estate transfer tax to protect and maintain natural areas, historic sites, and outdoor recreation access points. Funded at more than $20 million annually in recent years, a portion of ANCRC funds can be used for state land acquisition—including natural areas, state parks, and state forests —and these dollars are frequently leveraged with federal matching grants, including those from the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
The North Carolina Land and Water Fund
Formerly known as the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, this program was established in 1996 to protect the state’s drinking water sources. Since that time, its purpose has expanded to include other conservation and recreation needs such as boosting public access, and the fund has conserved more than half a million acres and protected or restored 3,000 miles of streams and rivers. The Land and Water Fund is an important tool for opening new recreation opportunities, and $11 million was appropriated for land acquisition in 2020.
To learn more about the landlocked public lands problem and other solutions, visit unlockingpubliclands.org.