Randall Williams

March 30, 2021

New BLM Web App Shows Promise of What the MAPLand Act Could Do

Web Viewer for Montana and the Dakotas Spotlights Access Easements for Outdoor Recreation

In the world of policy, it can at times be difficult to show how a single piece of legislation could improve the lives of hunters and anglers. But thanks to a new digital resource from the Bureau of Land Management, we can come pretty close to showing the public what a game-changing access bill (MAPLand Act) can do.

The BLM recently released a web-viewer that incorporates a new GIS layer identifying public access routes to BLM lands in Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota. And this web-based tool not only presents hunters and other outdoor recreationists with a valuable resource for planning their next public land outing, it offers a glimpse of what would be available with the passage of the MAPLand Act. This bipartisan legislation is a top TRCP priority that could make a positive impact when it comes to identifying access opportunities on public land across the country.

Hard Copy Hassles

On an antelope hunt several years ago, I stopped by the local BLM field office to ask about the legality of driving on certain unimproved roads in an area where I was hoping to spend the weekend. As is the case throughout much of the West, there were large parcels of BLM-managed public lands interspersed with privately owned lands, and a tangled network of dirt two-track roads connecting them all. Without any signage on the ground, I couldn’t tell which roads were open to public access where they crossed private lands, and which roads could only be used with the permission of the private landowner.

What happened next was surprising: to provide me with this information, the agency staffer had to manually find paper maps, scan them, and email me the files, which I could then reference on my phone’s PDF viewer. The legal documents that establish the public’s right to use a road—easements—were stored on PAPER records, and so the only way I could see which roads I could use was by looking at a paper map that had been annotated with colored pens and pencils! Different colors, it was explained, indicated the particular agency in charge of the road. Where there was a circle around a piece of road spanning private land, an accompanying note specified the particular document that had secured legal access. Getting any additional information about a specific easement would’ve required a review of the hard-copy files stored in the field office’s records.

For the past few years, I’ve kept that email with the scanned maps as a reference whenever I head down to that part of Montana, which has plenty of unimproved, unsigned roads that appear as lines on the map, but don’t clearly indicate one way or another whether they can be used by hunters to cross private property.

A clipping from the scanned and annotated map shared by the BLM. The orange lines passing through the black circles represent sections of road accessible to the public via an easement, which is identified by the case file number in the center of the image.

 

A Better Way

Next time, however, I won’t need to visit the local BLM office or ask so much of busy agency personnel. With the BLM’s new Public Land Access Web App, I can simply zoom in on the part of the state I’m interested in, and the routes offering public access across private land via easements are highlighted in yellow. When a user clicks on a highlighted segment, a pop-up offers additional details about the access agreement, including the relevant case file, the type of interest acquired by the BLM, and what type of access rights exist. That road segment, and any other segments to which the open easement info apply, changes to a bright green color.

The GIS layer underlying the web app was completed in October of last year. According to the BLM, it required a tremendous volume of research on the part of the agency’s realty specialists. Staff digitized 378 easement deeds and patent reservations from casefiles and records from the General Land Office, a now defunct federal agency that was something of a predecessor to the BLM. Many of these easements date back decades, and over time they collectively established public access to more than 2.8 million acres of public lands. Now in a digital format, these records can be used more easily by the public as well as the agency itself, particularly in management and acquisition decisions that would impact access. This layer was something of a pilot project for the BLM, which, like other public land agencies, has been working to modernize its access records with limited resources dedicated to this priority. The agency is now working to expand the Web App and access layer to include additional Western states.

The same location as the map above. When a visitor to the Web App clicks on a segment of an existing road easement, the relevant information (including case file number, as above) appears in a pop-up box.

 

The Future of Access

Here’s where the MAPLand Act comes in. The Modernizing Access to Our Public Lands Act, S. 904, would provide agencies like the BLM, Forest Service, and National Parks Service with the direction and funding to establish and make publicly available the type of detailed, digital access records like those now available through the BLM Montana/Dakotas Public Land Access Web App. Not only would this include easements, which in most places are only held on paper files, but all sorts of other map-based recreational information. Such records would include information about legal easements and rights-of-way that provide public land access across private land; seasonal or vehicle-type restrictions on public roads and trails; boundaries of areas where any special rules or prohibitions apply to activities like target shooting or hunting; and areas of public waters that are closed to watercraft or subject to horsepower restrictions. 

Most importantly, in a digitized format this information would be available to the public in an easy-to-find and easy-to-use interface. Whether in the field on your smartphone or planning your next public land adventure from home, a click of the mouse or a tap of your finger could bring up exactly what you need to know in order to stay legal and safe on your hunting or fishing trip. In addition to helping you take full advantage of existing opportunities, the agencies themselves would benefit from these resources by more effectively managing their holdings, reducing user conflict, identifying public lands with limited or nonexistent access, and taking proactive steps to expand recreational opportunities. 

The reintroduction of the MAPLand Act in the Senate last week should be welcome news for sportsmen and sportswomen. A modern mapping system to serve the growing numbers of outdoor recreators is a long-overdue, common-sense investment. It is critical that lawmakers hear your voice on this issue.  

TAKE ACTION NOW

 

One Response to “New BLM Web App Shows Promise of What the MAPLand Act Could Do”

  1. I really found this blog post to be very informative. If there ever was such an app made I would 100% download it. However, there are already similar apps that provide the same, or a similar service such as onX, but the downside is I pay a yearly subscription for this. I think if there was a free version then it would help a lot of people out who want to explore public lands, but don’t necessarily want to pay a yearly subscription to do so. Thanks for your time!

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Randall Williams

March 23, 2021

Hunters and Anglers Celebrate Reintroduction of the MAPLand Act

Legislation invests in digitized, integrated mapping resources for outdoor recreation 

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership applauds the reintroduction of landmark legislation that will enhance outdoor recreation on public lands by investing in modern technology that allows sportsmen and sportswomen to know exactly which lands and waters they can access.

U.S. Senators Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and Angus King (I-Maine) introduced the bipartisan Modernizing Access to Our Public Land (MAPLand) Act alongside Senators Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Susan Collins (R-Maine), John Barrasso (R-WY), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Steve Daines (R-Mont), and Mark Kelly (D-Ariz).

The MAPLand Act would digitize recreational access information and make those resources available to the public. The legislation would also provide federal land management agencies with funding and guidance to create comprehensive databases of available map-based agency records related to recreational access and use.

These records include information about:

  • legal easements and rights-of-way across private land;
  • year-round or seasonal closures of roads and trails, as well as 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.

Currently, many of the easement records that identify legal means of access into lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management are stored at the local or regional level in paper files. This makes it difficult for hunters, anglers, and even the agencies themselves to identify public access opportunities. For example, of the 37,000 existing easements held by the U.S. Forest Service, the agency estimated in 2020 that only 5,000 had been converted into digital files.

“Quite simply, the MAPLand Act is a common-sense investment in the future of hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Now more than ever, Americans from all walks of life are embracing the world-class opportunities available on our public lands. This bill will allow sportsmen and sportswomen to take full advantage of access opportunities, make it easier to follow the rules while recreating outside, and reduce access conflicts with private landowners. We want to thank these lawmakers for taking the lead on this important legislation.”

In addition to improving the public’s ability to access public lands, the bill would help land management agencies — in cooperation with private landowners — prioritize projects to acquire new public land access or improve existing access. According to a report by the TRCP and onX, a digital-mapping company, more than 9.52 million acres of federally managed public lands in the West lack permanent legal public access because they are surrounded entirely by private lands. Digitizing easement records would be the first step towards addressing this challenge systematically.

“The popularity of outdoor recreation in 2020 increased by the largest margin seen in years, with many millions trying outdoor activities for the first time,” said Lisa Nichols, onX’s access advocacy manager. “As more people visit our public lands and waters, it’s increasingly critical to have access and regulation information readily available. The MAPLand Act will expedite the pace that records can go from paper to digital formats. The easier this information can be discovered with GPS applications, the more people will be able to plan ahead to have their best days outdoors.”

Last year, more than 150 hunting- and fishing- related businesses signed a joint letter calling on congressional leadership to pass the MAPLand Act. From gear manufacturers and media companies to guides, outfitters, and retailers, the letter signers emphasized that their livelihoods depend on sportsmen and women having access to outdoor recreation opportunities on public lands.

“The MAPLand Act helps bring federal land management into the 21st century while simultaneously making information on recreational access more available to all Americans,” said Ford Van Fossan, conservation manager for First Lite, a technical hunting apparel company headquartered in Ketchum, Idaho. “It would certainly be a big win for folks who enjoy our public lands as well as the outdoor industry that depends on them.”

In addition, conservation groups across the country applauded the leadership shown by lawmakers to invest in the future of America’s public lands system.

“Arizona Sportsmen for Wildlife Conservation and 27 of our member organizations support the MAPLand Act, which would expand recreational access to federal public lands, including 28 million acres in Arizona alone,” said Jim Unmacht, AZSFWC’s executive director. “Access to public land is critical for hunting, angling and a variety of outdoor recreation pursuits enjoyed by many Arizonans.”

The bill was previously introduced in both chambers of Congress last year and received a hearing in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining last September.

 

Photo: Rick Hutton

Sara Hill

March 8, 2021

In the Arena: South Carolina Wildlife Partnership

TRCP’s “In the Arena” series highlights the voices of hunters and anglers who, as Theodore Roosevelt so famously said, strive valiantly in the worthy cause of conservation.

South Carolina Wildlife Partnership

Based in: Orangeburg, SC
Mission: We connect public hunters with private landowners who are willing to provide hunting opportunities that promote respect for the land and ethical hunting for the future.
Vision: To provide hunting opportunities for everyone in South Carolina who would like to participate.

Established in 2017 by a group of citizens passionate about responsible and ethical hunting, the South Carolina Wildlife Partnership aims to ensure that everyone in South Carolina who wants to hunt, will be able to.

Here is their story:

The idea for the Partnership came after seeing how long hunters have to wait to be successfully drawn through a lottery to hunt on state managed public lands in South Carolina. For some, these wait times can extend up to five years, and that’s because there is so little public land in the state. 92 percent of South Carolina is privately owned. That’s when we decided to partner with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources to create opportunities for unsuccessful lottery applicants to hunt on private lands.

In only our second waterfowl season, we hosted 350 public hunters on well managed private lands, eliminating their wait time to hunt, providing an incredible outdoor experience, and connecting people with the land and wildlife they love.  Our hunters on average harvested roughly 3 birds out of a 6-bird daily bag limit, marking a big success for our organization!

Hunters don’t pay to participate in the program. If they aren’t drawn for a public land hunt through the Department of Natural Resources, they can opt in for the private land lottery through the Partnership.

Private landowners are the backbone of this program, as they understand the need for more hunting opportunity and trust the Partnership to conduct managed hunts on their properties.

We are funded completely by grants and donations. Part of this funding comes from the Farm Bill’s Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP), a federal program dedicated to creating public access on private lands. VPA HIP was created through the 2008 Farm Bill and provides funding to state and Tribal fish and wildlife agencies to incentivize private landowners to open their land, allowing for increased outdoor recreation opportunities. Initially championed by Jim Range, the founder of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, the VPA HIP program has become the most successful tool for increasing public access on private land and helps fund programs like ours! (Click here to read more about this awesome access program.)

South Carolina Department of Natural Resources received $469,000 in VPA-HIP funding in 2020 to boost its Public Waterfowl Lottery Hunts Program.  You can opt in for the hunts with the Partnership by clicking HERE.

 

Marnee Banks

February 11, 2021

Interior Will Ensure Land and Water Conservation Fund Is Used Where It’s Needed Most

Hunters and anglers call for prioritization of projects that increase public access to recreational opportunities

The Department of Interior announced today that it will be reducing restrictions on the availability of Land and Water Conservation Fund investments, ensuring that these dollars are used for the best possible opportunities to enhance public land access and habitat.

The LWCF was plussed up last August after the Great American Outdoors Act became law, marking one of the greatest bipartisan conservation achievements in decades. The bill guarantees full funding for the program at $900 million each year. Today’s announcement overturns Secretarial Order 3388, which deprioritized Bureau of Land Management lands for consideration for LWCF projects and gave county commissioners veto authority over private landowners’ decisions to sell their land.

“We are pleased the Department is doing away with rules that could have crippled getting these critical dollars to the ground,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Sportsmen and sportswomen want to ensure that the LWCF is working to increase public access to outdoor recreation opportunities and conserve important habitats. This is going to require investments in agency capacity, prioritization of areas with recreational value, and coordination between federal, state, and private partners. We appreciate that hunters and anglers are being heard in this process.”

In addition to prioritizing the conservation of habitat and access through federal lands, the Land and Water Conservation Fund provides matching grants to state and tribal governments for the development of fishing areas, hunting access, hiking and biking trails, city parks, and urban green spaces.

“Whether you live in New York City or Cody, Wyoming, the COVID pandemic has shown us that access to the outdoors is critical for our health and wellbeing,” said Christy Plumer, chief conservation officer of the TRCP. “The LWCF opens doors for people to experience our natural resources, while also investing in local economies and creating jobs.”

The Great American Outdoors Act requires the federal land management agencies to set aside a minimum of $27 million annually for recreational access projects. The TRCP has partnered with onX to release five reports detailing 16 million acres of inaccessible public land in 22 states.

“Proper implementation of the Land and Water Conservation Fund can make a lasting difference on these landscapes,” said Joel Webster, senior director of TRCP’s western programs. “Looking forward, if states can put these investments toward conserving fish and wildlife habitat and increasing public access, it will benefit generations of hunters and anglers to come.”

To read more about the administration’s announcement, click HERE.

Steve Kline

January 21, 2021

TRCP’s Top Five Conservation Priorities for the 117th Congress

How lawmakers can make history for conservation in 2021 and 2022

The 116th Congress was truly historic in its conservation achievements, with passage of the John Dingell Conservation Act, the Great American Outdoors Act, and the America’s Conservation Enhancement Act. It ended with a bang, as well, with a strong Water Resources Development Act that included natural infrastructure policies for which TRCP had long advocated.

But, as more Americans have turned to the outdoors and our fish and wildlife resources, there is more for the 117th Congress to get done. As we saw throughout 2019 and 2020, nothing sparks bipartisanship quite like conservation, and TRCP looks forward to working with our Democratic and Republican allies to assemble the next coalitions for conservation policy success.

Here is our shortlist for the habitat, access, and funding priorities they should take up first.

Photo by Lisa Hupp/USFWS Alaska Region
Create Conservation Jobs

The Civilian Conservation Corps was a keystone of the New Deal response to the Great Depression, and it put significant numbers of unemployed Americans back to work building a legacy of trails, parkways, lodges, and tree-plantings that are still plainly visible across the country. Seventy years later, in response to the Great Recession of 2008, Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), funding all manner of infrastructure and natural resource restoration projects meant to get people back to work.

As we stand at another economic threshold, with 10 million Americans still out of work as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress should once again craft economic recovery legislation that invests in conservation programs with a track record of creating jobs and restoring our natural resources.

Visit our Conservation Works for America webpage to learn more about how investments in conservation can create jobs, rebuild our economy, and improve the health of our communities.

Invest in Climate Change Solutions

In the last decade or more, it has become clear that American hunters and anglers are among the first to witness the impacts of a changing climate. Altered migrations, delayed rut seasons, and invasive species are just a few of the challenges sportsmen and women face as we plan time afield.

Now, leaders in Washington seem poised to act on climate, and with such a unique stake in the outcome, hunters and anglers must be at the table.

While there will certainly be much talk about pricing carbon, electric vehicles, and grid modernization, truly comprehensive climate legislation must include dramatically expanded roles for our nation’s water- and land-based systems that, conservative estimates indicate, could sequester at least 20 percent of our carbon targets. This means investing in grassland conservation, coastal and wetland restoration initiatives, and active forest health projects—exactly the kind of climate projects that benefit rural America and enhance the adaptability of our fish and wildlife resources.

Modernize Public Land Data

Increasingly, hunters, anglers, and all forms of outdoor enthusiasts seek to plan their adventures using the latest in mobile technology. This revolution in how people interface with their public lands has highlighted how little data about those lands is available in a technologically relevant format. To this day, knowing where one can go and what one can do there sometimes requires paper maps and an awareness of arcane and ever-changing agency policies.

Seeking to address these challenges, in 2020 the TRCP worked with a diverse bipartisan mix of House and Senate legislators to introduce the Modernizing Access to our Public Lands (MAPLand) Act.

The bill, supported by a wide swath of hunting and fishing organizations, would provide the funding necessary over several years for our national land management agencies to digitize paper maps, access data, and recreational use regulations for modern-day public land use. We’d like to see the bill reintroduced and ultimately passed this Congress.

Photo by Lisa Hupp/USFWS Alaska Region
Fund Frontline Fish and Wildlife Management

With less time spent commuting and fewer things competing for our limited time, folks have found more chances to head afield during the pandemic. Some states have indicated that hunting and fishing license sales have soared, and outdoor businesses have seen strong demand. But this uptick in outdoor enthusiasm means more pressure on access points and outdoor recreation infrastructure.

Unfortunately, the state wildlife agencies haven’t been able to keep up. Across the nation, state fish and wildlife agencies have seen furloughs, layoffs, hiring freezes, and a reduction in volunteer participation, all while usage of natural resources has been increasing, creating a tremendous capacity issue for our frontline fish and wildlife professionals. What’s more, we now enter into that time of year when state governors and legislatures will be considering state budgets, and fish and wildlife agencies may well be on the proverbial chopping block.

Congress should prioritize swift passage of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act as part of their comprehensive COVID response and get needed support to state and local governments. Many aspects of state governments have been stressed by this pandemic, and state fish and wildlife agencies are no exception. They shouldn’t be ignored as they perform an ever more essential role in keeping the American public safely enjoying our outdoors.

The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act creates a badly needed permanent and dedicated funding source for every state’s fish and wildlife agency. This has never been more relevant.

Photo by Dean Ricciardi on Unsplash
Safeguard the Future of Deer Hunting

And while COVID-19 has had catastrophic effects on our nation and the world over the course of the last year, a wildlife disease crisis has continued to spread throughout the country. Chronic wasting disease, a 100-percent fatal disease that affects all species of North American deer, was recently identified in Ohio’s wild whitetail population and the wild elk population of Grand Teton National Park.

More than half the states in the country are now dealing with a disease which, if left unchecked, threatens the very future of wild deer, deer hunting, and our model of conservation funding—and all of this while perhaps more people than ever before seek to add venison to the family meal plan.

It is time indeed for Congress to act on comprehensive chronic wasting disease legislation, which would fund strong state response plans including better testing and surveillance, funding for better research, and improved management of the movement of live deer. There is arguably no more important issue facing wildlife conservation, and the issue deserves the attention of congressional leaders and the Biden Administration.

Photo by USDA.
The 117th Congress and Beyond

No matter how much of great import we got done in the last Congress, there is much more to do, including far more than we can include in this list. The role that conservation and natural resources play in our national economy, our health, and our quality of life have never been more clear. All of us at the TRCP look forward to getting to work on our agenda for the 117th Congress and the future of America’s hunters and anglers and fish and wildlife.

 

Top photo by Glenna Haug on Unsplash

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CONSERVATION WORKS FOR AMERICA

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.

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