Randall Williams

May 4, 2021

The Case for Better Access Data

When it comes to public lands mapping data, sportsmen and sportswomen deserve a higher standard

Most recreational access opportunities on public lands are identified in agency management plans and may appear on agency-produced paper maps that show, for instance, roads and trails open to different types of motorized and non-motorized vehicles. Sometimes alongside a national forest road you’ll see a sign marking a zone where hunting or shooting is restricted, such as near a campground or forest service ranger station. Other times you’ll pull up to a mountain lake parking lot and a sign is posted that specifies horsepower restrictions for boats.

While some of this information might, in certain places, be available in a GPS-compatible format, in many places it is not. As a result, it is difficult for the public to find specific information about available recreation opportunities on public lands or even follow the rules that the agencies have spent millions of dollars creating. Sometimes, a person might avoid hunting in an area altogether simply because they can’t tell by looking at a sign where the no-shooting boundary starts and ends. Many members of the public might also avoid driving on an open road because the existing sign long ago went missing and they don’t want to inadvertently break the rules.

Where geospatial data layers have been made available by the agencies, they are not all designed to benefit recreational access to the extent that they could and should. For example, in 2015 the BLM created a national transportation layer called the Ground Transportation Linear Feature data standard, or GTLF, which is a digital mapping layer that delineates BLM-administered travel routes. The GTLF, however, doesn’t provide enough information for the public to understand access opportunities and restrictions because it does not require attributes for allowed vehicle type and seasonal restrictions. As a result, the investment that went into this dataset is ultimately lost on hunters, anglers, and most other recreationists.

A case in point can be found in the BLM Butte Field Office in southwest Montana where the agency completed a travel management plan (TMP) for the Upper Big Hole area in 2009, which established comprehensive rules for vehicle travel on specific routes and during specific times of the year. In this place, the local BLM field office did a good job with their travel plan in that it provides adequate public access while conserving important deer and elk habitat. However, because the national GTLF is lacking in important attributes, detailed transportation information for the Upper Big Hole area can only be found by those with the skills to locate and review an environmental impact statement. Under these circumstances, an elk hunter in the area wanting to understand and follow agency transportation rules must rely on good signage on the ground—a difficult thing for the BLM to maintain with limited budgets and considerable miles of roads and trails.

This challenge is not limited to Montana. The BLM has completed travel management planning on approximately 20 percent of the 245 million acres administered by the agency, yet useful geospatial transportation data is not publicly available for most areas. In fact, the only places where helpful geospatial transportation information has been made available is where local BLM offices have taken it upon themselves to develop more thorough transportation layers than required by the agency.

The MAPLand Act would fix this information shortfall by requiring the BLM to add access specific attributes to the GTLF and make them publicly available within three years. GPS mapping companies could then add these data to their smart phone applications and make detailed access information available to the public in real time.

While each agency can point to some accomplishment of the mapping requirements proposed in the MAPLand Act, their data are generally inconsistent from one agency to the next and none of the agencies have completed all of these proposed requirements. For example, the USFS has done a really good job with its transportation layers, while other agencies like the Bureau of Reclamation have considerable work left to do. Without consistent and comprehensive data provided by each agency, hunters and anglers can’t be confident that GPS mapping devices will provide them with the information they need to stay safe and legal while recreating on public lands.

There are also useful data layers that MAPLand would require the agencies to produce that are currently not being pursued. For instance, there is no comprehensive digital information being developed for areas with shooting restrictions, nor is there standardized digital information on watercraft rules. While management decisions regarding these recreational opportunities have been made in agency land use plans, the creation of digital resources for the public has been overlooked.

Agency personnel and a variety of stakeholders invest considerable time in the public processes used to create these management decisions and frameworks, which ultimately aim to conserve the values and resources held in trust for all public landowners. But unless the resulting plans are easily accessible to everyone—which in the twenty-first century means available with a glance at a smartphone—we aren’t seeing the full benefits of the hard work and collaboration that went into creating them.

It’s time that our federal land management agencies have the guidance and funding to bring public land mapping systems into the modern era. Public land users of all types should be able to use digital mapping systems and smartphone applications to identify new opportunities for access and recreation, and to better understand the rules to help reduce conflicts with private landowners and prevent inadvertent violations of agency regulations.

Take action today for improved public land mapping systems designed to help hunters and anglers enjoy better days in the field and on the water.

 

Top Photo: Maven/Craig Okraska

Do you have any thoughts on this post?

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

April 21, 2021

19 Groups Push for $100M to Improve Forest Service Roads, Trails, and Habitat Connectivity

Often an overlooked and underfunded tool, the Forest Service Legacy Roads and Trails Remediation program is uniquely poised to improve hunting and fishing access, habitat, and water quality—all while addressing the agency’s deferred maintenance backlog and creating conservation jobs

When it comes to sizeable federal resources dedicated to improving our hunting and fishing access, there are a few standouts that you probably already know. Of course, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has created outdoor recreation opportunities in every county in the nation and on many kinds of public land, from wildlife refuges to urban parks. And you’ve likely heard us talk about the farm bill program that funds walk-in access programs across the country to help open private lands to public hunting and fishing.

But there’s an often overlooked and underfunded program that could have a direct impact on your access and opportunities if the public lands you hunt and fish are managed by the U.S. Forest Service. It’s the only program in federal government that funds road improvements on public lands based purely on environmental conditions, like where sediment from failing roads is degrading our trout streams.

It’s called the Legacy Roads and Trails Remediation program, and this month we gathered 18 partners to help us push congressional appropriators to give it a boost. Here’s why our coalition requested that $100 million be dedicated to Legacy Roads and Trails projects.

More Reliable Access, Better Habitat

The Forest Service manages more than 191 million acres of public land that provide essential habitat for a wide range of North American fish and game species. Across the country, from the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia to the Colville National Forest in Washington, projects funded by the Legacy Roads and Trails program have made major improvements to water quality and aquatic habitat while making Forest Service roads and trails more durable.

The program’s targeted activities create outdoor recreation and conservation jobs across the nation and save American taxpayers millions in road maintenance costs. These activities include:

Maintaining and/or storm-proofing thousands of miles of roads to protect habitat, water quality, and downstream communities. These investments on our public lands have helped to improve drinking water and increase flood resiliency in the face of increasingly unpredictable and intense weather events.

Reclaiming thousands of miles of unneeded roads to prevent erosion from damaging streams and reconnecting fragmented habitat. Research has consistently shown that big game species need big, wild country, uninterrupted by motorized disturbance. The LRT program helps address this wildlife need by removing and restoring unused tertiary motorized routes. These efforts help provide secure habitat for sensitive species like elk and mule deer, while also providing hunters opportunities to experience the solitude, challenge, and reward that hunting wild public land provides.

Replacing more than 1,000 culverts to restore fish passage, aiding the recovery of fish species important to restoration goals, tribal communities, and sportfishing enthusiasts. Over half of the money used for fish passage and culvert projects came from external partners, amplifying the effect of Legacy Roads and Trails seed funds.

Improving more than 5,000 miles of trails, driving the $778-billion outdoor recreation economy.

If those results aren’t convincing enough, here’s what else we told lawmakers: The Legacy Roads and Trails program works because it is targeted and results oriented. Collaborative stewardship of the program has made fishing and hunting better, while providing high-paying jobs that help support families in rural communities.

The program is also uniquely positioned to help the Forest Service address its historic maintenance backlog. The Service has identified a backlog of over $3.5 billion in deferred maintenance for roads, close to 400 high-priority culvert projects requiring nearly $110 million, and $675 million for priority watershed restoration projects in just a portion of the watersheds nationwide.

With its proven track record and broad bipartisan support, the LRT program is ideally shaped to begin addressing these needs once again.

If you’d like to be notified about opportunities to directly engage with lawmakers about important conservation funding issues like this, sign up for our newsletter.

 

Image courtesy of Kyle Mlynar

Whit Fosburgh

April 16, 2021

What Hunters and Anglers Need to Know About “30 by 30”

Sportsmen and sportswomen must play a role in the effort to conserve 30 percent of the world’s lands and waters by 2030—here’s what 30 by 30 is (and what it isn’t) 

Almost immediately after the inauguration, the Biden Administration announced its support for a global conservation initiative known as 30 by 30—the goal of conserving 30 percent of the planet’s lands and waters by 2030.

News about the initiative spread fast across several media outlets and has left many, including sportsmen and sportswomen, wondering what this effort is and where it is headed. Words like “protection” or “designation,” often strike fear among landowners, politicians, industry executives, and even some conservation groups. Especially when used with broad strokes that allow people’s imaginations to wander and reach sweeping conclusions. Predictably, many immediately criticized the 30 by 30 initiative and expressed fear of classic top-down federal restrictions.

This doesn’t have to be the case. The administration’s directives specifically call for “conserving” 30 percent of our lands and water, not “protecting” them. What’s the difference? As Theodore Roosevelt and others have noted for more than a century, humans are a part of the land and can wisely use that land, conserving it and nature for future generations. Moreover, the Biden order calls for a deliberative stakeholder process to determine what will be considered “conserved.” This is good news for our community as it provides us with an opportunity to help shape 30 by 30.

Based on the administration’s messaging and direction thus far, it appears that more than just wilderness, national monuments, and national parks would be part of what we consider conserved habitats. It will also include working lands that are managed for long-term ecological sustainability. Because sportsmen and women depend on functional habitats for our pastimes, we have an historic opportunity to turn this initiative into a real win-win for fish and wildlife, landowners, our changing climate, outdoor recreation, and our economy.

 

 

30 by 30 is a laudable goal that could benefit our community greatly if implemented successfully. Here’s what you as hunters and anglers need to know to push for conservation goals as part of this initiative.

30 by 30 is supported by scientists.

The Biden Administration didn’t come up with 30 by 30. Scientists have championed the initiative for years to conserve biodiversity and mitigate the impacts of climate change. The hunting and fishing community has been on the front lines of conservation for more than a century and we know that science-based conservation for game species also benefits ecosystem health, biodiversity, and local communities. Efforts to mitigate climate change through proven natural solutions will also benefit biodiversity, habitat, and the hunting and fishing community while contributing to 30 by 30 goals.

Conservation must be clearly defined.

This is critical to understanding what, where, and how lands managed specifically for conservation—under public and private ownership and beyond just permanently protected areas—are contributing to the broader goals of 30 by 30. Our community believes that contributions from long-term or permanent easements on private lands, Conservation Reserve Program enrollments, and other conservation measures can and should be rolled into the initiative.

If conserving biodiversity is also a goal, I would argue that well-managed national forests should be considered “conserved.” Prudent timber harvest can help reduce wildfire and provide critical habitat diversity.

We need to know where we stand in relation to the goal.

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that 12 percent of the country’s lands are already permanently protected, and studies show about 26 percent of U.S. ocean waters, mostly in the Pacific, are currently protected. How to achieve the remaining 18 percent of land needs to be defined. While we don’t have an acreage total for lands that would be considered “conserved,” meeting the 30 by 30 target will require an additional area twice the size of Texas—that’s more than 440 million acres—within the next 10 years.

Hunters and anglers need a seat at the table.

As always, science-based conservation measures should be developed through a stakeholder-driven process that includes sportsmen and women, private landowners, states, tribes, industry, and others. If it is to succeed, this will be critical in defining the goals and definitions for habitats to include for 30 by 30.

Moreover, access, including hunting, fishing and general recreation, should be encouraged as long as it is well managed. Conservation requires public support, and we help achieve that by letting people enjoy conserved areas. The TRCP has joined with other hunting and fishing organizations to ensure our community has a seat at the table and that the initiative recognizes the important role of sportsmen and sportswomen in powering conservation in the U.S.

Community-driven conservation is key.

We will need our local communities, both urban and rural, to be fully invested in the broad conservation outcomes envisioned by the 30 by 30 initiative. With the challenges of a changing climate, fire, invasive species, and other stressors affecting our fish and wildlife habitat and natural systems in the U.S., conservation approaches are most durable and lasting when they are well-grounded in local communities and in building trust and common ground with local decision-makers. This is also an opportunity to ensure we are building toward conservation outcomes that create equitable access to nature, clean water, and recreation.

Freshwater needs to be included.

Connectivity is fundamental to improving biodiversity and should be of paramount importance when considering which lands, waters, and conservation actions will contribute to 30 by 30 goals. Freshwater connectivity, and the critical role freshwater plays within our landscape, is an important factor for the administration to consider as it develops next steps for 30 by 30.

30 by 30 should not ignore degraded habitats that need restoration.

There are millions of acres of degraded habitats across the country warranting restoration. Restored habitats will ultimately contribute to the goals of 30 by 30 over time and investments need to be made to combat invasive plants and restore ecological function to damaged ecosystems. Programs supported by sportsmen and women that have provided millions of dollars of investment into habitat restoration will need to be included in the solution set for this initiative. This includes the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, the National Fish Habitat Partnership, the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, and the Environmental Quality Incentive Program.

It is incumbent on our community to work with Congress, states, local governments, and all stakeholders on defining conservation that works to achieve long-term goals. Any legislation must also tie together 30 by 30 goals with ecosystem health, robust fish and wildlife populations, climate benefits, and economic stimulus—particularly through investments in job-creating conservation projects and better access to outdoor recreation.

And, importantly, implementation of the 30 by 30 initiative must not divert funding from ongoing conservation, restoration, or natural resource management activities.

 

Learn More

The TRCP, along with 50 other groups, has signed onto this statement from the hunting and fishing community, which outlines the 30 by 30 policies that support existing habitat management approaches and recognize hunting and fishing as important and sustainable activities. Learn more at huntfish3030.com.

Images courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service

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.

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

 

HOW YOU CAN HELP

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 jobs, restore habitat, and preserve fish and wildlife.

Learn More
Subscribe

You have Successfully Subscribed!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

You have Successfully Subscribed!