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Legislation invests in digitized, integrated mapping resources for outdoor recreation
The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership celebrated the reintroduction of a House bill 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. Representatives Blake Moore (R-Utah), Kim Schrier (D-WA), Russ Fulcher (R-Idaho), and Joe Neguse (D-CO) introduced the bipartisan Modernizing Access to Our Public Land (MAPLand) Act to the House of Representatives on Tuesday.
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.
“Access is one of the most important issues facing hunters and anglers today, and the MAPLand Act is a commonsense investment to ensure all Americans can take full advantage of the recreational opportunities on our public lands,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “In addition to making it easier for public land users to stay safe and follow the rules while in the field or on the water, this bill would allow our agencies to manage and plan more effectively while also reducing the potential for access-related conflicts between recreators and private landowners. Simply put, this legislation promises to help more people get outdoors. We appreciate these representatives’ leadership to introduce this bill in the House and our community is eager to help move the MAPLand Act through Congress.”
The bill includes language to digitize 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.
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.
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 the importance of outdoor recreation opportunities on public lands to their bottom lines.
In addition, conservation groups across the country applauded the leadership shown by lawmakers to invest in the future of America’s public lands system.
The bill was also introduced in the Senate in March by U.S. Senators Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and Angus King (I-Maine) 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).
Photo: Maven/Craig Okraska
Four League Bay might be the most remote destination on Louisiana’s coast. Even with a 300-horsepower outboard pushing a 24-foot bay boat, the ride from Terrebonne Parish’s Falgout Canal west to Four League takes nearly an hour of weaving through fresh and brackish marshes, bayous, lakes, and bays. Most of them are slalom courses of crab-trap floats. Alligators spring from the banks, and blue wing teal headed back to the Dakotas from their wintering grounds in Central and South America take flight.
My good fishing buddy Todd Masson and I had been trying to get on the boat with Capt. Lloyd Landry for nearly two months, cancelling and rescheduling throughout the early spring as strong thunderstorms and unseasonably cold fronts pushed through Louisiana. Had we known that tropical storm and hurricane-force winds would sweep across the area just a couple hours after we returned to the marina, we might have cancelled again.
That day, the forecast gave us about a 5-hour window before thunderstorms were due to arrive. So, we put a stiff southeast wind at our backs and headed to some of the most unmolested, beautifully intact marsh in all of Louisiana to catch some hard-pulling, drag-screaming redfish.
Many Louisiana anglers write off Western Terrebonne Parish, especially the marshes and shorelines of Four League Bay, during the spring because the area is inundated with freshwater pouring from the Atchafalaya River. The assumption is that the 240,000 cubic feet per second of fresh, sediment-rich water that is building new marsh annually in the Atchafalaya Delta chases away the redfish and speckled trout.
The annual floods that scare away some coastal anglers are the exact reason the area teems with fish and the marshes are so healthy and intact. The nutrient-rich freshwater from the river mixes with the Gulf’s saltwater, creating a diverse forage of shrimp, crabs, pogies, crawfish, bluegill, mullet, and an assortment of other prey. The suspended sediment in the river water feeds the marsh, giving it a more stable soil structure for plants to root and submerged grass beds to grow.
It’s the perfect environment for fat, healthy redfish.
We picked a protected shoreline about seven miles from the river’s mouth. A handful of casts and Masson connected with a thick 20-inch redfish. A minute later, a bruising 29-inch red crushed a soft-plastic grub at the end of my line.
That pattern continued throughout the morning as Landry guided us into protected pockets and shorelines, picking away at healthy, well-fed redfish and black drum until the thunderstorms pushed us east to the marina just after noon.
Had the winds not limited our search area, we were set to chase speckled trout as well. Landry had been catching them in open lakes and bays as they transitioned from wintering grounds in interior marshes into their spring and summer feeding and spawning areas in the Gulf of Mexico.
We had options. Despite the strong winds that kept most anglers off the water that day, the benefit of healthy marshes laden with submerged freshwater grasses is that there are ponds and protected shorelines to duck into and hide—this works well for both fish and fishermen.
In far too many places along Louisiana’s coast, the options are running out. Marshes that have been cut off from annual, life-giving Mississippi River sediment by levees are more vulnerable to erosion from hurricanes or any other high-wind events. They are sinking below the water line, too, as seas gradually rise while the marsh subsides.
Nearly 2,000 square miles of wetlands, some of the most productive fish and wildlife habitat in the world, have been lost in the Mississippi River Delta, especially the basins between the mouth of the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers, in the last century. To stem that loss and build back some marsh, the state of Louisiana is moving toward construction of sediment diversions both east and west of the Mississippi River below New Orleans. These structures will help to mimic the annual flooding that is sustaining and growing the marshes near the Atchafalaya River’s mouth—the processes that originally built all the marshes, swamps, and barrier islands of South Louisiana.
Some anglers and commercial fishermen are objecting strongly to the projects, claiming the freshwater will eliminate fishing. But there are few options for fixing this broken system other than using every single available sediment resource, especially the suspended sediment that comes with annual floods along the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers. Without reconnecting the Mississippi River to its delta, another 500 square miles of wetlands could be lost in the next century.
Anglers and fish have had to adjust to losing habitat far too frequently over the last 50 years in coastal Louisiana. Making adjustments as we regain habitat is something that I, and many other anglers, welcome.
Anglers need options. Without sediment diversions and all other efforts to rebuild and sustain our coast, we just might run out.
The Biden Administration announced a plan to conserve, connect, and restore 30 percent of the nation’s lands and waters by 2030. The “America the Beautiful” initiative is a ten-year conservation and restoration plan that focuses on public, private, and tribal lands and waters.
“We appreciate the administration’s focus on fostering collaborative solutions to conserve our lands and waters, while including feedback from sportsmen and sportswomen,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Whether it be climate change or public access or habitat loss, the issues facing our outdoor places are multi-faceted and require thoughtful leadership. As this plan continues to take shape, the details will matter, and the hunting and fishing community is ready to bring solutions to the table.”
The plan is a combined effort between the Departments of Interior, Agriculture, and Commerce and the Council for Environmental Quality. Early recommendations include many of TRCP’s priorities, including:
“The ambition of this goal reflects the urgency of the challenges we face: the need to do more to safeguard the drinking water, clean air, food supplies, and wildlife upon which we all depend; the need to fight climate change with the natural solutions that our forests, agricultural lands, and the ocean provide; and the need to give every child in America the chance to experience the wonders of nature,” the plan states.
More information on the 30 by 30 plan can be found here. The TRCP participates in a coalition of hunting and fishing organizations committed to conserving global biodiversity called Hunt Fish 30×30.
UPDATE: The Biden Administration finalized this proposed rule on September 29, 2021, restoring important protections for migratory bird species. The following is our original post about the proposal announced in May 2021.
The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership applauds Interior Secretary Haaland and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for actions announced today to restore the integrity of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Since 1918, the MBTA has been the foundation to conserving the nation’s migratory birds, from warblers to waterfowl. It has provided clarity to industry, including the oil and gas and wind sectors, about allowable activities and provided reasonable exceptions for “incidental take”—the accidental death of birds.
Yet the previous administration severely weakened the law, eliminating any incentive for the regulated community to take prudent actions to avoid killing birds. Moving forward, sportsmen and sportswomen look forward to working with the administration and industry to continue America’s remarkable track record of migratory bird conservation.
“At a time when migratory birds are in serious decline, we see this as a positive step forward for not only maintaining the integrity of this bedrock conservation law, but also removing additional threats to species facing the impacts of climate change and other habitat stressors,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “To effectively halt and reverse declines of migratory birds and reduce the risk of future endangered species act listings, we believe it is critical that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act remain an effective tool for addressing foreseeable and avoidable threats to birds.”
In the last two years, policymakers have committed to significant investments in conservation, infrastructure, and reversing climate change. Hunters and anglers continue to be vocal about the opportunity to create conservation jobs, restore habitat, and boost fish and wildlife populations. Support solutions now.Learn More