April 11, 2023

New Film Uncovers the Complexity of Public Land Access

Paper Trails follows the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Eastman’s Hunting Journal through a confusing patchwork of public and private land

A new Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership film, to be released on Saturday, April 15, unpacks the complexity of public land access in collaboration with Eastmans’ Hunting Journal, onX, Savage Arms, SIG SAUER, and Kenetrek.

With an October 2022 Wyoming pronghorn antelope hunt as a backdrop, Paper Trails and its characters uncover the challenges hunters and other outdoor recreationists face when accessing and navigating their public lands and describe what’s being done to improve that access.

“Hunters know from firsthand experience that public access can be difficult, and even confusing to figure out, but many people don’t know why it is so complex or what to do about it,” said Joel Webster, TRCP vice president of Western conservation. “Recognizing this challenge, TRCP and several of our partners created Paper Trails to uncover several issues surrounding public access that have never before been explored on film—such as difficult to retrieve public easements and inaccurate or absent public signage—and offer solutions to the problem moving forward, such as the MAPLand Act.”

The film highlights the reality that the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management have 90,000 road and trail easements scattered across the nation, of which 50,000 remain on paper file and have not yet been digitized or made readily available. The film further explores the need for better information to be made available about the location of county roads, which are also open to the public. The status of BLM travel management plans are also discussed.

“For many of the lines that people see as roads on our maps, there isn’t a designation between public and private,” said Lisa Nichols, senior access advocacy manager at onX. “And the reason for that is there are very few road data sets that exist in the whole country that classify roads as public or private.”

Paper Trails also features the MAPLand Act, which was passed into law in April 2022 and requires federal agencies to digitize and make information publicly available about recreational access to public lands. This process is presently being implemented and will provide greater transparency to all Americans about the location of public land access easements—unlocking more public land.

“Every state is a little different. Every access issue is a little different. I think the MAPLand Act is going to be a huge benefit to sportsmen,” said Brandon Mason of Eastmans’ Hunting Journal.

“Accessing public land is one of the biggest challenges hunters face,” said Beth Shimanski, Savage Arm’s marketing director. “Public roads, access points, and easements are not always clearly marked or known to the public. This film shines a light on the problem and highlights what needs to be done today to protect public land access for future generations of hunters,”

“SIG SAUER is extremely proud to help support this amazing project in partnership with Eastman’s and the TRCP,” said Jason Wright, SIG SAUER’s vice president of marketing. “The challenge of maintaining the rights of landowners combined with providing access to America’s public lands is immense, and this film demonstrates the incredible work the men and women of the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service are doing to ensure the interests of both parties are met and the tradition of hunting the vast expanse of the western U.S. is maintained.”

“Hunting access to public lands is one of the most challenging problems facing our industry today, and Kenetrek is happy to provide support for this important documentary,” said Jim Winjum, president of Kenetrek LLC.

Watch Paper Trails here. Full film to be released April 15.


Photo Credit: Eastmans’ Hunting Journal

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April 6, 2023

Why Is Public Land Access Via County and State Roads So Unclear?

Lack of readily available information about unpaved roads means hunters and anglers can’t reach their public lands

Anyone who has spent time driving in rural America trying to reach public land or water to hunt or fish knows just how difficult it can be to determine if an unpaved road is public or private. And while you’d think paper maps and GPS units would simplify this confusion, they often don’t.

Road mapping information has traditionally been focused on road surface type—ie. dirt, gravel, or paved—and not whether a road is legally open or closed to the public. This system is good at helping you decide if, for example, you need a high clearance vehicle, but it doesn’t clarify if you have a right to drive down a two-track toward a parcel of public land.

Opportunities afield are being lost because of unclear information, and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership believes that everyone should know if they can legally drive on a road or not. This is just one of the many access challenges we are addressing at the federal, state, and local levels.

To Digitize and Publicize

The root of the confusion around county and state road access is a lack of data. We now enjoy digital tools that have changed the game for finding hunting and fishing access, but they are only as good as the data provided by agencies overseeing public lands and access points.

Solutions are being implemented. The TRCP helped the hunt-fish community achieve a milestone in 2022 with the passage of the MAPLand Act. This legislation directs the federal land management agencies—including the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management—to create digital mapping files of over 90,000 individual access easements that serve to open otherwise difficult to access public lands. The MAPLand Act further orders federal agencies to geospatially map designated roads and trails on 640 million acres of public land, and to specify what kinds of vehicles are allowed on those routes.

While MAPLand will help eliminate confusion surrounding numerous access routes, there are thousands of non-federal public roads and trails, such as country roads and state-held access easements, where public access has been secured but information about the access is difficult to obtain.

Who Can Access County Roads?

To start, county roads are public rights-of-way that have been established by a formal county action. County roads are open to the public and, in rural areas, were often created to serve as local access roads to help people travel from their ranches and farms to town, commonly passing through public lands along the way.

In many places, local governments have been establishing county roads for well over a century, and they never expire. The only way county roads can be legally removed is if they are formally and actively eliminated by the local government in a way that complies with state law.

Some county roads are dusty two-tracks that lead off into the sagebrush toward public hunting and fishing grounds. In many rural counties where budgets are tight, little has been done to clarify the location of county roads, and hunters and anglers have a difficult time telling the difference between a county road and a private lane.

While county road information can generally be obtained by inquiring directly with the county, there should be an easier way. The TRCP is presently investigating possible funding sources to help counties gain the capacity to digitize their county road maps and make that information readily available to the public and mobile app companies.

What About State-Owned Easements?

In addition to county roads, individual states across the nation own millions of acres of trust lands, wildlife management areas, parks, and forests. There are 39 million acres of trust lands in 11 Western states alone. Just like the federal government, states also own easements across private land to make their lands accessible, and access easements may not be physically marked with signage.

Because state access records are held on paper file in government buildings across the nation, the TRCP does not know how many easements are out there, but we know they exist. The TRCP is encouraging state lawmakers in places like Wyoming to dedicate resources toward digitizing these easements and making them publicly known.

Ultimately, the TRCP believes that transparent and readily available information about public access will lower barriers to entry and open new opportunities for outdoor recreation, while also reducing conflict with landowners by making it clear where the public does and does not have legal access.

Sign up to stay informed on this issue and other public access challenges, and watch TRCP’s new film that highlights this topic, Paper Trails.


Photo Credit: Steve Smith

April 3, 2023

New Legislation Would Help Increase Walk-In Access Program Acres

Lawmakers have introduced the Voluntary Public Access Improvement Act to boost an important Farm Bill program that creates public hunting and fishing opportunities on private land

The Voluntary Public Access Improvement Act of 2023 has been introduced by Senator Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), and Senator Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) to strengthen one of the most critical Farm Bill programs for America’s sportsmen and sportswomen: the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program. It is the only federal initiative that helps to create public hunting and fishing opportunities on private land, and this new legislation calls for tripling the program’s impact.

“Lack of access is the largest barrier to hunter and angler participation, and the USDA’s Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program is the single best federal tool to increase recreational access on private lands,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We applaud Senators Daines, Bennet, and Marshall for their leadership on the Voluntary Public Access Improvement Act and look forward to working with Congress to expand hunting and fishing opportunities for all Americans.”

The legislation would invest $150 million over the next five years in the VPA-HIP, which provides grants to states and Tribes to be implemented at the local level. This increased investment was among the recommendations made by TRCP’s Agriculture and Wildlife Working Group in its “Hunter and Angler Priorities for the 2023 Farm Bill” released earlier this year.

The Voluntary Public Access Improvement Act is supported by more than 30 hunting, fishing, and conservation organizations.

“VPA-HIP is an incredibly important program for hunters, opening nearly one million private acres to public hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation over its lifetime,” says Torin Miller, senior director of policy for the National Deer Association. “Not surprisingly, interest and enrollment in the program is growing. The Voluntary Public Access Improvement Act of 2023 recognizes the growing interest in the program and the importance of maintaining quality hunting access across the country. The bill’s $150-million authorization will ensure expanded and continued enrollment in VPA-HIP, benefiting hunters, landowners, and local communities. The National Deer Association is proud to endorse this legislation.”

“The introduction of the Voluntary Access Improvement Act is very welcome news for duck hunters as VPA-HIP has accomplished significant increases in access for waterfowl hunters,” says John Devney, chief policy officer at Delta Waterfowl. “From the WRICE program in Arkansas to the PLOTS program in North Dakota and WIA and COOP in South Dakota, VPA-HIP is providing important access for hunters across the country. We sincerely appreciate Senators Daines, Bennett and Marshall for advancing this key priority in the 2023 Farm Bill.”

“Since 2008, the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program has opened millions of acres of private lands and waters to America’s anglers,” says Glenn Hughes, president of the American Sportfishing Association. “We thank Senators Daines, Bennet, and Marshall for their support of this program, which will expand sportfishing opportunities for generations to come.”

The VPA-HIP, once commonly known as “open fields,” has a very special place in the hearts of TRCP’s staff and supporters, as it was championed by our inspirational co-founder, Jim Range, before his untimely death. The program was established and funded through the 2008, 2014, and 2018 Farm Bills—most recently at $50 million over five years—with its impacts felt across the country.

Apart from creating more outdoor recreation access, VPA-HIP funding is also utilized to provide technical and financial assistance to landowners for wildlife habitat improvement and enhancement projects. It is often layered with other Farm Bill programs that have habitat benefits, such as Conservation Reserve Program and Wetland Reserve Easements. And the program allows states to address liability, alleviating a roadblock for many landowners to open their lands to the public.

Recent studies have shown that the VPA-HIP has a more than eight-to-one return on investment in the form of outdoor recreation spending in rural communities.

Click here to watch a video about some of the many benefits of the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program.


Photo by USDA

March 22, 2023

It’s Time to Build on Recent Commitments to Addressing Drought in the Colorado River Basin

Once-in-a-generation investments have just been made, but it’s only a down payment on the long-term effort needed to ensure the future of hunting and fishing in this critically important watershed

The Colorado River has the well-deserved nickname of the hardest working river in America. The river’s usage is as diverse as the people and species it serves.

Thirty different Tribes and a third of the U.S. Latino population depend on the Colorado River, which flows through two countries and provides drinking water to 40 million people across seven states. Its waters provide us with power for our homes and businesses, irrigate crops that are sent all over the country, and support critical fish and wildlife habitat that power our hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation opportunities.

Currently, the Colorado River Basin is in a 23-year drought—the worst dry period in 1,200 years. With above average snowfall so far this year in portions of the basin, some have indicated that the drought is over. The truth is that we need several years of above average snow across the basin to make a substantial dent in the drought.

The news is not all bleak for the Colorado River. Recently, $4 billion in federal funds were made available to address drought impacts and support habitat restoration in the West, with the vast majority of these funds going to address the Colorado River crisis. The Bureau of Reclamation and seven states, with input from Tribes and other critical stakeholders, are also in the process of developing new strategies to manage the Colorado River system in ways that address the concerns of agricultural producers, sustain drinking water supplies, and benefit the environment.

We commend the Biden-Harris Administration for its leadership and the substantial investments it has made to tackle drought in the West, and specifically the Colorado River Basin. In February of this year, for example, the Bureau of Reclamation announced that $728 million would be spent to address Western drought and improve climate resilience.

This new funding, made possible by legislation passed in the last two years, supplements unprecedented investments to protect the stability and sustainability of the Colorado River System now and into the future. Additionally, the Department of Interior recently announced an additional $120 million to rebuild and restore units of the National wildlife Refuge system and partnering State wildlife Management Areas.

But there is more to be done. These federal investments are only a down payment on the longer-term need to address the challenges facing the Colorado River Basin. Sustained, durable investments in a broad range of adaptation strategies will be necessary.

The challenges in the Colorado River Basin serve as a reminder that we need to live as part of nature and not separate from it. If you agree, help us advocate for additional long-term solutions that will ensure the future of hunting and fishing in the Colorado River Basin. Tell Congress and Interior Secretary Haaland to build on recent commitments to conservation in the Colorado River Basin.


Learn more about what is at stake for the Colorado River here.

March 16, 2023

Video: Where Private Land Creates Public Hunting Opportunities

If you use state walk-in access programs to hunt or fish on private land, you’ve already benefited from a key Farm Bill program

Join TRCP’s Aaron Field and Ian Nakayama as they hunt private farm lands in Minnesota thanks to the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program. This one-of-a-kind access program complements the full suite of habitat improvement programs that invest federal Farm Bill dollars at the local level. In the case of the VPA-HIP, there is a nine-to-one return on this investment in the form of outdoor recreation spending in rural communities.

In the video, Greg Hoch with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Craig Lingen with the Wilkin Soil and Water Conservation District share information about the importance and success of the VPA-HIP program in their state.

You can support strengthening this important public access program in the next Farm Bill right now.



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.

$4 from each bag is donated to the TRCP, to help continue their efforts of safeguarding critical habitats, productive hunting grounds, and favorite fishing holes for future generations.

Learn More

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