Nick Dobric

April 2, 2021

Wyoming Passes Law Aimed at Improving Hunter and Angler Access

New fund supported by sportsmen and women will help unlock access to Wyoming’s 4 million acres of inaccessible public land

Today, Governor Mark Gordon signed House Bill 122, Reliable Funding for Hunting and Fishing Access, into law. By increasing the cost of a conservation stamp, the legislation provides funding for willing landowners to open access or create easements that unlock inaccessible federal and state lands. This bill passed through the 2021 legislative session thanks to the support of passionate hunters and anglers and lawmakers who value the strong sporting heritage here in Wyoming.

Representative Cyrus Western of Sheridan, an avid hunter and angler and the primary sponsor of the bill, stressed the collaborative and bipartisan support behind it. “This was a team effort of the highest order,” said Western. “From industry leaders to local hunters and sportsmen groups, there was an authentic and organic push for this legislation by people who hold public access near and dear. Sportsmen and women made their voices heard by coming out to support this bill in big numbers.”

The legislation raises the cost of an annual conservation stamp, which hunters and anglers are required to purchase before going hunting or fishing, by $9 to create a fund for the Wyoming Game and Fish to develop more access agreements to private and landlocked or difficult-to-access federal and state lands. This will help complement Wyoming’s existing Access Yes program with additional opportunities for hunting and fishing.

The recent easement created to access Raymond Mountain near the Wyoming-Idaho border is a perfect example: That agreement provided improved access to 33,000 acres.

Jess Johnson, government affairs director for the Wyoming Wildlife Federation, spent more than a year gauging member support for a bill of this kind. In a survey of the organization’s members, 75 percent said they would support a $5 to $10 fee to improve hunter and angler access in Wyoming. “It’s clear that access is important to people who hunt in Wyoming statewide,” said Johnson. “This bill really was passed through the voice of proactive hunters and anglers.”

“This is the single most important thing done for Wyoming hunter and angler access in more than 20 years,” said Dwayne Meadows, WWF’s executive director.

More than 4 million acres of federal and state lands in Wyoming lack permanent legal public access because they are surrounded by private lands, according to a report by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and onX, which helped spur the legislation.

“Not only is this a great step in addressing the landlocked issue for hunters and anglers, it also provides landowners a voluntary opportunity for additional income to maintain their ranches and livelihoods,” said Nick Dobric, Wyoming representative for the TRCP.

The bill also directs a small portion of funds to making roadways safer for drivers and wildlife, as well as supporting jobs by funding wildlife-friendly highway crossing structures and fish passage projects.

Along with Wyoming Wildlife Federation and Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, other sportsmen’s organizations that supported the bill were Mule Deer Foundation, Western Bear Foundation, Wyoming Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Trout Unlimited, Muley Fanatic Foundation, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Water for Wildlife Foundation, One Shot Antelope Hunt Club, and Bowhunters of Wyoming.

The sporting community applauds Representative Western, Governor Gordon, and all the elected officials who helped pass HB 122.

5 Responses to “Wyoming Passes Law Aimed at Improving Hunter and Angler Access”

  1. I love that the sportsmen and women are finally being heard about the landlocked state and federal lands that have been completely cut off from our use without paying huge trespass fees or hiring a outfitter. My only concern is that many out of state land owners that own huge potions of private property but have thousands upon thousands of public land completely blocked off with zero access will continue to stay this way due to the high prices that outfitters will pay for access. What is going to take place to help us there ? Will the state start to take away wildlife damage money away that us as the hunting and fishing community pay for through our purchase of hunting and fishing licenses? I’m sure I’m not alone in this question as many of us have asked this same question.

  2. Robert Coet

    This is a great start! But please tell me why we have to pay a landowner for access to our public lands! There should be a federal law requiring access without payment, or they will have there cattle grazing lease revoked for these lands! I’m tired of trying to play nice with landowners taking profits from grazing and paid hunters at our expense! I demand access now without payment!

  3. Chris Scheibe

    I have little hope the increased fee will do anything but make us pay more to hunt and fish. My experience show land owners have little respect for the hunting and fishing public. They prefer the big dollar outfitters.

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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

 

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.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

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