Hunters and Anglers Applaud House MAPLand Act Passage
Groundbreaking public land access legislation awaits a vote in the Senate
The House of Representatives has passed the Modernizing Access to our Public Land Act (H.R. 3113), which would enhance outdoor recreation opportunities on public land by investing in modern mapping systems that provide Americans with the public access information they need while using handheld GPS technology commonly found in smartphones.
Introduced by U.S. Representatives Blake Moore (R-Utah), Kim Schrier (D-Wash.), Russ Fulcher (R-Idaho), and Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) in May 2021, the MAPLand Act has been a top priority for hunters and anglers across the country. It was approved by the House Natural Resources Committee this past July with unanimous support.
“We thank House lawmakers for listening to the voices of public land users and for making a commonsense investment in the future of hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation access,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “The MAPLand Act will help more Americans to get outside and enjoy the unparalleled recreational opportunities found within our public land system. It is encouraging to see broad support for this legislation from both sides of the aisle, a welcome reminder that conservation and our outdoor heritage transcend party lines.”
The MAPLand Act will direct federal land management agencies to consolidate, digitize, and make publicly available recreational access information as geospatial files. Such records include information about:
Legal easements and rights-of-way across private land
Year-round or seasonal closures on roads and trails
Road-specific restrictions by vehicle-type
Boundaries of areas where special rules or prohibitions apply to hunting and shooting
Companion legislation in the Senate (S.904) passed out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in November 2021, with unanimous support. The bill now needs to clear the full Senate before it can be delivered to the president’s desk and signed into law.
“Hunters want more information on where to gain access to public lands but often don’t know where to start and the information can be incomplete. The MAPLand Act will make it easier for sportsmen and women to enjoy our outdoor heritage with modernized information on how to access our public lands,” said Land Tawney, president and CEO of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. “Thank you to the House of Representatives for coming together in an overwhelming display of support that will benefit all Americans. Now on to the Senate!”
“This is a big win for hunters and anglers, and we appreciate House leadership for bringing this bill to the floor,” continued Fosburgh. “We hope to see a Senate vote on the MAPLand Act in the very near future. The TRCP will continue to voice its support for this important legislation until it becomes law.”
A Record $1.5 Billion is Going to Conservation—Thanks to YOU
A portion of your gear, firearm, license, and boat fuel purchases helped to generate more funding than ever for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to distribute for state work on conservation and outdoor recreation access
Hunters and anglers often engage in conservation through our words and actions, speaking up for sound policies and volunteering to plant native grasses, pick up trash, or band birds. But we also contribute financially to conservation through excise taxes on our hunting, shooting, and fishing equipment, including ammo and boat fuel.
You might know this funding source as the combined result of the Pittman-Robertson Act, or Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, which created an excise tax on firearms, ammunition, and archery equipment in 1937, and the Dingell-Johnson Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act, which created a similar tax on fishing tackle, boat equipment, and boat fuel in 1950.
The hunting and shooting side of our community brought in over $1.1 billion for conservation in the past year, while the fishing and boating side generated almost $400 million. Together, this shatters the previous high mark of $808 million distributed for conservation in 2015.
To date, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has distributed more than $25.5 billion in Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program apportionments for state conservation and recreation projects, according to a Department of the Interior press release. The recipient state wildlife agencies have matched these funds with approximately $8.5 billion, primarily from hunting and fishing license revenues.
In the final days of 2019, Congress passed a package of its annual appropriations bills that implemented an important change to the Pittman-Robertson Act: Hunting and shooting equipment excise taxes can now be used to help recruit, retain, and reactivate new hunters and recreational shooters, a provision that was made in Dingell-Johnson and that successfully helped to grow the ranks of fishing participation in recent years.
The TRCP and our partners pushed for this change and, at the time of the bill’s passage, we called it “a landmark achievement” for the 116th Congress.
The legislative and policy solutions we’re pursuing to improve habitat and your hunting and fishing opportunities
Following a 2021 that was a rollercoaster in so many ways, the year ahead provides hunters, anglers, and the conservation community with significant opportunity. Lawmakers deep in re-election cycles know that habitat, access, and conservation funding issues are things that most Americans can agree on and are eager to bring home legislative wins to their voters.
Working alongside our partners, here’s what we want to get done this year.
Passed in late 2021, the $1.2-trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provides significant federal investment in programs benefiting fish and wildlife on public and private lands, including a first-of-its-kind five-year wildlife crossings grant program. The TRCP will closely follow the implementation of this and other programs to ensure that dollars are both benefiting fish and wildlife and enhancing outdoor recreation opportunities.
Building Climate Resilience
Efforts to address our changing climate continue to become less polarizing in Congress. There is significant interest among lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in prioritizing carbon sequestration and nature-based solutions that mitigate the impacts of extreme weather events on vulnerable rural communities. Whether in the proposed Build Back Better package, other potential climate legislation, or the 2023 Farm Bill, the conservation community will have an active voice in the discussion.
Passage of the Chronic Wasting Disease Research and Management Act
In late 2021, the Biden Administration once again halted the proposed Pebble Mine in southwest Alaska. While this was welcome news, more work is needed to federally protect the world’s most prolific sockeye salmon fishery in statute. The TRCP is working with lawmakers and state and national partners in developing legislation to do just that.
Passage of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act
RAWA would provide state wildlife agencies with nearly $1.4 billion annually to implement state wildlife action plans, allowing for more proactive conservation of wildlife and associated habitat to avoid potential endangered species listings. Introduced by Representative Dingell of Michigan and Senator Heinrich of New Mexico, the legislation has bipartisan support in both chambers and would be a generational investment in wildlife conservation.
Passage of the Modernizing Access to Public Land Act
The MAPLand Act, championed by Senator Risch of Idaho and Representative Moore of Utah, would require that maps and easement records held by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management are digitized and publicized for the benefit of all Americans. Doing so would bring recordkeeping into the 21st century and provide hunters and anglers with much greater certainty in planning outings on our public lands.
Introduction of the North American Grasslands Conservation Act
In the last half-century, the intense conversion of grasslands has precipitated a steep decline in associated bird populations. The TRCP and several partners have worked for the past year on developing an innovative grant program for grass and rangeland conservation that works with ranchers and landowners to improve ecosystem health and ensure that their acreage remains productive and healthy habitat for years to come. Our groups have worked closely with Senator Wyden in developing the legislation and are looking forward to bringing the bill before the House and Senate.
Improving the State of Gulf Menhaden
Largescale industrial menhaden fishing in the Gulf accounts for more than one billion pounds of this forage fish harvested each year, making it Louisiana’s largest fishery. Pogie boats often operate near shore, netting thousands of other fish species, including red drum and speckled trout. Anglers have fought to restrict these operations in the surf zone but continue to face opposition from menhaden processors citing economic impacts. In 2022, the TRCP will continue to work with partners and scientists who study the bycatch of such operations and pursue legislation to further reduce the impact of the industrial menhaden fishery on sportfish in the Gulf, with a particular focus on protecting beaches and other shallow-water habitat.
Using the Power of Habitat to Boost Water Resources
Western watersheds, such as the Colorado River and Rio Grande, face increasing pressure from wildfire and drought. Natural infrastructure approaches—such as the protection and restoration of headwater wetlands and riparian areas—have been shown to effectively reduce natural hazard risks while benefiting water users and watersheds. In 2022, TRCP is working to prioritize the implementation of natural infrastructure and nature-based solutions to address Western water challenges in various federal and state policy initiatives, with a focus on the 2023 Farm Bill and this year’s Water Resources Development Act. We’ll also be pushing for the latter legislation to improve Everglades restoration funding and build on the successful construction of projects to help restore natural waterflows.
Conserving Migration Corridors
Beyond the wildlife crossing pilot program included in recently passed legislation, additional solutions are needed to conserve big game migration corridors across the country. The TRCP and partner groups are continuing to work with state and federal land managers to increase investments in research and corridor mapping, improve interagency coordination, and conserve corridors on public land.
For more information, and to take action in support of these critical conservation priorities in the year ahead, visit the TRCP Action Center.
10 Conservation Achievements We’re Proud of in 2021
Your support helped to make these organizational and legislative successes possible
Setting the Agenda
In early 2021, the TRCP staff clearly communicated top hunter and angler priorities to the incoming Biden-Harris Administration and members of the 117th Congress. Our top ten must-do list for the administration and top five priorities for Congress were among our most popular blog posts of the year, making it clear that American hunters and anglers are engaged in these policy discussions—and we let decision-makers know that sportsmen and sportswomen are paying attention. At the 100-day mark, we’d seen progress on many, but not all, of our top priorities, and conservation has advanced even further in the remainder of the year. Read on for details.
Strengthening a Popular Farm Bill Conservation Program
Helping to Secure Conservation’s Role in “30 by 30”
Almost immediately after the inauguration, the news of the administration’s support for a global initiative to conserve 30 percent of the nation’s lands and waters by 2030 had left some landowners, politicians, industry executives, and even conservation groups fearful about what exactly this would mean. Fortunately, the voices of sportsmen and sportswomen—including those behind huntfish3030.com—were heard, and the White House’s 10-year “America the Beautiful” initiative includes key TRCP priorities, like expanding habitat conservation, increasing outdoor recreation access, incentivizing the voluntary conservation of private land, and creating jobs through conservation. Here’s what you need to know about 30 by 30.
Many key priorities of the TRCP and our partners are also included in the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which was signed by President Biden in November. We successfully pushed for a revolutionary program to build more wildlife-friendly highway crossings and once-in-a-generation investments in stream connectivity, forest health, coastal and estuarine habitat conservation, water quality, and water conservation projects across the West.
Unlocking Public Land Access
In 2021, lawmakers reintroduced and advanced the TRCP-led MAPLand Act, which would require public land agencies to digitize their paper maps and access information. Once accomplished, this would help you identify more inroads to public hunting and fishing areas using smartphone apps and GPS devices. After clearing committees in both chambers, the legislation is poised for floor votes that could send it to President Biden’s desk next year.
Boosting Efforts to Study and Stop the Spread of CWD
Highlighting Individuals Who Are Shaping Conservation’s Future
Part of the fun of what we do is making you aware of the hunters and anglers out there who help to power conservation without asking for any acclaim. This is just a small window into the community that we feel lucky to be a part of. If you need some uplifting reading this holiday season, check out our Q&As with Durrell Smith, Kelsey Johnson, Gregg Flores, and Rachel Smiley. Be inspired by what Clint Bentley was able to accomplish for Nevada’s bighorn sheep populations, just by speaking up. Let Austin Snow take you along on his hunt with Steven Rinella and Janis Putelis of MeatEater. Or take just a few minutes to watch Suzy Weiser, Charles Garcia, and Geo Romero explain why conservation in the Colorado River Basin is personal for them.
That wraps up our top ten for the year. Thanks for following along and supporting our work to create conservation success across the country. It wouldn’t be possible without you. Want to do even more for habitat, access, and the outdoor recreation economy? Donate to the TRCP before December 31, and SITKA will match some or all of your gift. Learn more here.
Email subscribers: The December 17th Roosevelt Report is the last of the year, and we’ll be back on January 7, 2022. Want to get on the list for the next one? Subscribe here.
Lewis and Clark Were Here: Into the Heart of the American Prairie Reserve
A unique private-land conservation project is restoring fish and wildlife habitat and opening hunting and fishing access—follow along on a four-day backpack adventure into these storied landscapes and isolated public lands beyond
“The whole face of the country was covered with herds of buffalo, elk and antelopes; deer are also abundant . . . the buffalo, elk and antelope are so gentle that we pass near them while feeding without appearing to excite or alarm them, and when we attract their attention they frequently approach us more nearly to discover what we are . . . in these delightful tracts of country.” — Meriwether Lewis, 1804
With images of prairies teeming with wildlife dancing around my cranium, I turned to gaze out of the airplane’s window. Stretched out below as far as I could see was an endless array of irrigated crop circles, crowded together in that extra efficient way that makes America the most productive agricultural power in the world.
The benefits of a strong agricultural sector are obvious, but as our footprint on the landscape grows and grows, and land ownership trends are shifting, where do wildlife and hunters fit in? Agriculture producers and other private landowners are, in fact, an essential part of the collaborative work of conservation, particularly since fish and wildlife do not recognize property boundaries or jurisdictions drawn on a map. And some landowners do more for hunters than improve habitat, though gaining access to private land may look different than in years past, when a knock on the front door and a handshake was the norm.
In Montana, a constellation of successful access programming, private landowner support, and a unique conservation project has given hunters, anglers, and other outdoor enthusiasts some extraordinary opportunities to enjoy the very same landscapes that westward explorers like Lewis and Clark experienced.
Into the Vastness
The purpose of my trip was to travel far off the beaten path across some of these lands and see firsthand a private-land conservation project called the American Prairie Reserve.
One of the best things about the APR is that it’s opening gates to both people and animals. Wildlife corridors are being extended and expanded. People are invited to visit and enjoy it through hiking, hunting, fishing, camping, birding, biking and more. Even better, many of the properties acquired by the APR provide new or improved access to tracts of public lands previously cut off by fences and no trespassing signs.
This is because many APR properties are enrolled in Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks’ Block Management system, a cooperative, voluntary program that helps private landowners offer free hunting access on their land, which is sometimes adjacent to isolated public lands.
That said, it certainly takes time and commitment to get here. We arrived at last, having overnighted in Billings and driven for several hours to the edge of the American Prairie Reserve’s 14,000-acre Blue Ridge property south of Malta, Montana. Our plan was to identify an end-of-the-road jumping-off point for a four-night backpacking trip to explore this new property and the adjacent public lands, which includes portions of the Burnt Lodge Wilderness Study Area and the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge.
The Blue Ridge is the most recent addition to the APR, resembling in some ways a puzzle piece of essential habitat plugged into the expansive surrounding ecosystem, which stretches some 160 miles on either side of the Missouri River from roughly the Fort Peck dam in the east to Coal Banks Landing in the west. This region is comprised of vast tracts of public lands, including the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument. While not all of it is easily accessible, the vast majority of both the public lands and the APR additions are open to a wide range of recreational pursuits, including hunting and fishing.
Joining me were two adventurous friends: Luther Propst and Randy Luskey, both wilderness aficionados with extensive outdoor resumes. Luther brought along his dog, Sofie, a rescue Blue Heeler who turned out to be the perfect trail companion.
We were attracted to the Blue Ridge because of its remoteness and its function as a wildlife corridor and home to a resident elk herd, bighorn sheep, mule deer, pronghorns, prairie dogs, and other interesting flora and fauna. But our departure point required navigating a matrix of unpaved back roads that are not always well-marked.
In this wide-open country, the farms and ranches are widely spaced, and we passed only a handful of vehicles after leaving the blacktop, seeing more bison and antelope than people. In fact, besides our party, the APR staff knew of only one other group that had ventured into the Blue Ridge over the past two years.
Ultimately, a combination of maps, Randy’s acumen with the GPS, and deductive reasoning got us to our destination with only a few wrong turns. At last, we pulled off the dirt road at a fenceline and parked on a rise circled by a grove of pine trees, anxious to shoulder our packs and head out. A coyote picked its way across the landscape only 100 yards ahead of us.
Across the rolling prairie we could see the Missouri River to the south and east. In both directions were broad ravines—“coulees” in the local vernacular—cutting down to the river every half mile or so. We picked an interesting-looking one to the southeast and began our descent, easing ourselves into a world of fresh air, welcomed by the scents of pine and sage blended with scattered wildflowers. There was beautiful bird song everywhere.
Initially, it was easy walking through scattered cedars and juniper, and we kicked up mule deer in ones and twos. Soon, however, deep cuts and smaller side ravines hidden by slight folds of terrain and screens of trees blocked our path. What had looked like a nice level track across the bench was, in fact, bisected by narrow, steep-sided, and deep gouges running at right angles to the main coulee. The long prairie grasses hid the terrain’s edges from view until we were almost on top of them, facing a classic dilemma in wilderness navigation: Either we could take things head-on by scrambling down one side and up the other, head uphill and hope the terrain leveled out, or seek level passage closer to the valley bottom.
After some experimentation, we did some combo of trekking along the high ground and wending along the bottoms. Still, the challenge made things fun and interesting. We charted solo routes, claiming small, unspoken victories over each other when our path proved the most efficient.
Well-used game trails both illustrated the health of the local big game herds and also demarcated the most efficient routes across the landscape. While the trails tended to disperse and fade out on more level ground, the resident wildlife seemed to agree on the best ways to traverse the most challenging sections of the terrain, and we followed their lead.
We regularly came across the bones of elk and deer, oddly without the teeth marks of predators, and even more oddly without the gnawing toothmarks of porcupines. Elk and deer scat was abundant, and we speculated that an unidentified pile was a sign of the bighorn sheep we were told spend time here.
Randy, a serious mountaineer, tended to range a bit ahead and christened it “mud-a-neering” as we scrambled up and down the tight spots, kicking footholds in the soft soil typical of the badlands and the breaks. This stuff becomes paradoxically slippery and sticky when wet—the famous gumbo. Luckily, the skies were blue and the rain was a few days away.
A few hours in, we stopped for lunch next to a grove of small junipers. Relaxing in the shade, we noticed that we’d rarely heard or seen any jet planes overhead, adding to the sense of untouched grandeur and isolation that the Lewis and Clark expedition must have encountered when they passed through this area.
Looking at the terrain ahead, we decided to navigate along the valley bottom, which worked out well until it didn’t. We headed for some higher ground, each of us charting our own course and calling out to our comrades to guide us away from the bad terrain and to the good. What appeared to be a straight, relatively flat section of ground turned out to be just that, only cleaved by several deep and steep ravines which were not fun to clamber over. We kicked up more mule deer and then a small group of large, healthy-looking elk with beautiful dark, red-brown coats.
Might As Well Be 1805
As the afternoon faded, we spotted a spacious level area with a scattering of trees and a nice view of the distant Missouri river. Even better, it had a flat, waist-high boulder that made an ideal kitchen table and bar.
I waited as Randy and Luther threw down their packs and put up their tents. I’ve adventured with these guys before, and one is a world-class snorer. I knew I needed to be at least 50 yards away and upwind. On the plus side, the cacophony kept away curious predators.
The next day, we headed out on a loop hike down to the Missouri River to explore along the shores, water up, and circle back up to the other side of our coulee. I knew from reading the Lewis and Clark accounts of their passage through this immediate area that they passed by here in May of 1805. I’m no longer astounded by the sheer volume of wildlife they encountered.
Deer and elk scat was everywhere. Other than a single spent shotgun shell and a well-weathered .30-30 casing, we saw no other signs of humans until we approached the river. There, dozens of geese and ducks took to the sky, making as much noise as possible. Several hundred yards out on the water we spotted three fishing boats working the bays and inlets.
With honking waterfowl swirling overhead, we finally reached the top of the narrow, barren ridge to an expansive, 360-degree view. The perfect lunch stop quickly lost its appeal as the wind kicked up and the skies started to spit cold rain while lightning flashed to the west.
Later on, our path hooked south and west, paralleling the shoreline before heading up one of the adjacent coulees. Navigating up a steep ridge line, we entered a patch of ponderosas that offered three level spots for our three tents, with a nearby clearing that boasted a fantastic view of the Missouri and wild country in every direction.
Even after the sun went down and the world went dark, we couldn’t see a single artificial light on the horizon.
End of the Trail
After hot coffee and a robust breakfast the next morning, we packed up to head up valley and top out. This valley was a little rougher than the one we took coming in, complicated by the fact that we were moving and looking uphill, always a suboptimal perspective for reading the terrain. Randy took the lead and Luther and I trailed behind him.
As we approached the head of the drainage, we hit a pronounced game trail, which led us steeply uphill and then across a bare rock face for about 200 feet. The trail was about 10 inches wide with the rock face to our left and a sheer drop to our right. It was exhilarating to cross. A bit further on, the terrain opened up and we finally hit the rolling prairie where we’d started four days earlier. The several miles back to our starting point went by quickly.
Back at the truck, Luther pulled a cooler from the back. Tucked inside were three cold beers, which we raised in a toast to future adventures in the vastness of the APR and public lands beyond.
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 conservation jobs, restore habitat, and boost fish and wildlife populations.