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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.
Top Photo: Maven/Craig Okraska
Today in an 89-2 vote, the Senate passed the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act of 2021 (S. 914), which would invest $35 billion to upgrade aging water treatment infrastructure, improve wastewater control, and empower states to fund water quality protection and habitat restoration projects that have major benefits for fish and wildlife.
The bill would reauthorize the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund (SRF) Program at $3.25 billion annually over five years, or a total of $14.65 billion. This is the first increase for the bedrock program in more than 30 years. To date, over $110 billion in financing has helped local communities improve water resources through this vital program, with a nearly three-to-one return on investment.
“We applaud the Senate for this bipartisan commitment to investing in water resources to create jobs, energize local economies, and improve the resilience of our communities,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Moving this legislation forward also sends a strong signal to American sportsmen and sportswomen that innovative, science-based approaches to solving our water resource challenges—especially when layered with benefits for the economy, our fish and wildlife, and public access to outdoor recreation—will be rewarded with much-needed federal investments. The TRCP looks forward to working with the House to advance these priorities swiftly.”
Since its inception in 1987, the Clean Water SRF has been utilized by many grant recipients to conserve natural lands that reduce water contamination at the source, protecting water quality and lessening the need for wastewater treatment through traditional methods.
More recently, it has also funded natural infrastructure projects or blended natural and traditional solutions to reduce pollution and protect water quality. This suite of natural approaches, in tandem with traditional infrastructure solutions, have also improved fish and wildlife habitat while enhancing reforestation, wildfire prevention, and groundwater protection efforts.
The healthy watersheds and public access to the outdoors created through these natural infrastructure investments provide a multitude of economic and social benefits. And the Senate bill requires states to use between 10 and 30 percent of their SRF grant to send additional assistance to disadvantaged communities.
The Clean Water State Revolving Fund program is one of the proven tools that the TRCP and partners have identified as capable of putting Americans back to work through conservation. The coalition issued this list of six recommendations in a recent call to action for lawmakers and will release a follow-up report on the employment impacts of investing in conservation.
Top photo by Discover Lehigh Valley, PA via flickr.
This video is the fourth in a series detailing conservation projects powered by Pennsylvania’s Keystone Recreation, Park & Conservation Fund that benefit hunters and anglers. Since 1993, the Keystone Fund has provided state-level matching dollars for a variety of conservation projects, including land acquisition, river conservation, and trail work. This series is the result of a collaboration between the TRCP and Trout Unlimited where the goal is simply to celebrate conservation success stories that make us all proud to be able to hunt and fish in Pennsylvania. The videos highlight just a few of the projects powered by this critical source of conservation funding. For more information on the Keystone Fund, you can visit: https://keystonefund.org
Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, is best known for being the encampment where George Washington and the Continental Army spent the winter of 1777 to 1778. Only a day’s march (18 miles) from Philadelphia, this historic site is also at the confluence of Valley Creek, a Class A wild trout stream, and the Schuylkill River.
For decades, a dense population and significant development in the region had sent stormwater and other polluted runoff into Valley Creek, degrading water quality and fish habitat. Fly fishing author Charles R. Meck also documented two cyanide spills and a PCB spill that ended state efforts to stock trout in the creek. But beginning in the 1990s, anglers helped to secure the future of this important waterway, which persists as not only an unheard-of wild trout stream in the middle of suburbia but also one of the state’s designated top-quality waters.
First, Valley Creek was protected as an Exceptional Value stream in 1993, which set guidelines around development activities that could impact the stream and surrounding wetlands. Stream designations help to guide new development, but land preservation and stream restoration were necessary to mitigate the ongoing impacts of stormwater. That’s why the Valley Forge TU Chapter of Trout Unlimited has worked with the Open Land Conservancy of Chester County to protect and restore several portions of Valley Creek using conservation dollars from the state’s Keystone Fund and Environmental Stewardship Fund.
“Everything we do in the headwaters flows down and impacts Valley Forge National Historical Park,” says local angler Pete Goodman, who has seen firsthand the evolution of this gentle spring creek in his 50 years in Valley Forge. “It’s really important to create these preserves and expand them, but without the grant funding from the county and state, this wouldn’t have been possible.”
In our latest video in collaboration with Trout Unlimited, Goodman describes how Valley Creek has offered a reliable reprieve from the hustle and bustle of the booming region, whether he’s escaping into a local preserve for a few quiet minutes after a busy workday or wading into the waters of history to toss a line to a few hungry trout behind Lafayette’s Headquarters. Enjoy the film and check out our other videos spotlighting Brodhead Creek in the Poconos, Monocacy Creek in Bethlehem, and the former Klondike Property in Gouldsboro.
Theodore Roosevelt’s experiences hunting and fishing certainly fueled his passion for conservation, but it seems that a passion for coffee may have powered his mornings. In fact, Roosevelt’s son once said that his father’s coffee cup was “more in the nature of a bathtub.” TRCP has partnered with Afuera Coffee Co. to bring together his two loves: a strong morning brew and a dedication to conservation. With your purchase, you’ll not only enjoy waking up to the rich aroma of this bolder roast—you’ll be supporting the important work of preserving hunting and fishing opportunities for all.Learn More