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Here’s what you need to know about the bill that will help you navigate your hunting and fishing waters with confidence
While hunters and anglers are known to enjoy their traditions, 21st century technologies have been widely integrated when it comes to clothing, optics, and ballistics.
Yet there is no technology more revolutionary to the modern hunter and angler than GPS and digital mapping. These tools—often housed in smartphone applications such as onX—have transformed the way hunters and anglers navigate their public lands and waters, but there are still growing pains with this technology as federal documents containing valuable access and regulation information must be made more readily available to the public, specifically in the digital space.
The Next Step in Modern Access
The MAPWaters (Modernizing Access to our Public Waters) Act builds on the momentum of the successful MAPLand (Modernizing Access to our Public Land) Act, which was signed into law in 2022.
Just as the MAPLand Act requires our public land agencies to digitize records of easements or rights-of-way across private lands, making it possible for the public to understand where public access has been formally secured in legal records, the MAPWaters Act will direct federal agencies to digitize water and fishing access and recreational use information on federal waterways and make those resources readily available to the public.
This one-two legislative punch will expand public access opportunities and reduce conflict between landowners, managing agencies, and recreationists as everyone will have easy access to the facts about rules and regulations.
The federal waterways specified within MAPWaters include any portion of a body of water managed, or partially managed, by the Bureau of Reclamation, the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Forest Service.
This newly digitized public information would include:
Locations of boat ramps, portages, wake-zones, as well as depth charts and the operating hours of federally managed buildings and services near these waters would also be made available.
Why We Need MAPWaters
Much of this information can be found in agency documents but is difficult for the public to discover and access. For example, in the Code of Federal Regulations, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service includes 42 pages worth of National Wildlife Refuge recreation rules, many of which are tied to waterway navigation and fishing.
The environmental and budgetary factors influencing the management of the thousands of miles and acres of federal waters often make it difficult to construct and maintain physical markers and signs to inform water recreationists of regulations and restrictions. Even where signs have been posted, they are often torn down or physically located at a body of water—which requires driving to the lake or river to read them and discover the rules.
People are busy, and a lack of easily accessible information about recreational access on public water results in days lost enjoying the outdoors. If the danger of breaking fishing regulations because of a lack of available information keeps anglers from fishing certain waters, the American public is being deprived of valuable opportunities to enjoy the outdoors. With the incredible advances in 21st century mapping technology, hunters and anglers should have the ability to reference their handheld GPS or digital mapping apps to instantly know the rules for recreation and where the boundaries of restricted areas are located.
The MAPWaters Act is designed to address these gaps in information by providing funding and guidance to our water management agencies to digitize mapping information about outdoor recreation so you can fish, boat, float, and relax on your public waters safely and legally with confidence.
It should be noted that the MAPWaters Act would not require the digitization or mapping of state or Tribal rules about navigation or fishing. Further, the legislation would not change the definition of navigable waters, affect the jurisdiction or authority of states or federal agencies to regulate navigable waters, or modify the authority or jurisdiction of federal or state agencies to manage fisheries.
This fall I was lucky enough to be a part of three different hunting camps spanning Oregon, Colorado, and New Mexico. The camps transcended hunting. Relationships were forged through powerful shared experiences with diverse groups on awe inspiring landscapes. Put simply, each camp was unique, but a common bond of community and conservation was ever present.
In Oregon, TRCP staff, members of the Owyhee Sportsmen, Durrell Smith from The Sporting Life Notebook, and Sav Sankaran from The Orvis Company, connected to hunt Chukar for a couple of days in the stunning landscapes of the Owyhee Canyonlands. For many of us, this was our first Chukar hunt and it did not disappoint. This was truly a unique hunting camp. Our group ranged in age from 2 to 60 and were accompanied by dog breeds of all kinds. Many in our party drove across the country. The hunting was great, but to be honest, I think the Owyhee Canyonlands stole the show. The amazing viewscapes and colors in Oregon’s high desert were captivating (and often made it hard to watch for a dog on point!). After just a few days of exploring this seemingly endless canyon country, I understand why the Owyhee Sportsmen coalition is working so hard to ensure this region is protected for future generations.
The second hunting camp was a personal trip with a close friend to do some elk hunting in a special place in Colorado where I used to hunt with my grandfather. The trip almost didn’t happen, but we were able to squeeze in a couple of days between balancing young kids and work trips. We put in several hard miles, found several beds, and got close enough to smell elk, but harvesting a bull just wasn’t in the cards for us this year. The ability to slow down, unplug, and reconnect with an old friend was well worth the trip.
The third hunting camp was with Matt Monjaras and Impact Outdoors New Mexico. It was an opportunity to join several Veterans in the field for two days of waterfowl hunting. This particular hunt and experience is one that I will always chase in the hopes of replicating. Connecting with these Veterans for two days was fantastic. Together, we constructed blinds, limited out on ducks, harvested a few geese, and forged strong interpersonal bonds in a special place. I’ll never forget crossing the reservoir in a boat, two or three people at a time, to set up our blinds and layouts in dense fog. It was a special and memorable experience.
Each of these camps was very different and yet very similar. They all started with high energy and early mornings. They each ended with the sharing of stories around a fire, often late into the night. Each experience reinforced my belief that we need to share with the public that hunting is much more than harvesting an animal, it is about community and shared experiences. It is about building new relationships reflecting on those who taught us how to hunt, and reconnecting with important people in our lives.
On the second day in New Mexico, I woke up at 3am to a Veteran blasting Luke Bryan’s song “Huntin’, Fishin’ and Lovin’ Every Day.” This song that will always remind me of those men and an experience I will forever try to recreate! I am looking forward to the next hunting camp and fire I get to share, knowing that my community will continue to grow alongside my adventures afield.
Organization thanks Senators Lummis and Padilla for keeping migration conservation bipartisan
On November 14, TRCP’s director of the center for public lands, Madeleine West, appeared before the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Fisheries, Water, and Wildlife to encourage lawmakers to make strategic investments in migration corridor research and conservation.
“TRCP thanks Senators Padilla and Lummis for their time and attention to the bipartisan issue of wildlife migration corridor conservation,” said West. “This commitment is also evident every day in Wyoming where Governor Gordon has prioritized the conservation of migration corridors for some of our nation’s most impressive big game herds.”
Senator Alex Padilla (D, Cali.) is chairman of the subcommittee and Senator Cynthia Lummis (R, Wyo.) is the ranking member.
TRCP has worked with elected officials and state, Tribal, and federal agencies to support partnerships, policies, and funding that advance the research and conservation of big game migration corridors and crucial seasonal habitats.
“Wyoming is a haven for big game species: bison, elk, moose, pronghorn, mule deer and many others whose habitats vary by season,” said Senator Lummis in her opening statement. “Wildlife migration corridors allow these big game species to move between seasonal ranges, of which there are many in Wyoming. In many cases, a herd’s migration route will encompass a mix of federal, state, Tribal, and private property, which makes their management a challenge that must be addressed with a collaborative spirit.”
Since the inception of Department of the Interior Secretarial Order 3362—Improving Habitat Quality in Western Big-Game Winter Range and Migration Corridors— in 2018, federal funds have helped support infrastructure and habitat projects across the West. This example of federal dollars helping state agencies has been expanded by the Biden administration to more directly include Tribal governments and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which incentivizes voluntary big game corridor conservation on private lands in Wyoming.
“Wyoming is a leader in conserving migration corridors for some of our nation’s most impressive wildlife herds, and their leadership will be critical for future conservation success,” added West.
While this bipartisan support and invaluable on-the-ground work has been a bright-spot in conservation, West cautioned that the discretionary nature of existing federal programs and funding sources established through Secretarial Order 3362 generates uncertainty about the future of wildlife corridor conservation work. West specifically requested help from Congress to provide:
• Clear Congressional direction for federal agency programs that support the research, mapping, and conservation of wildlife corridors.
• Dedicated and consistent funding for research, mapping, and conservation programs.
• Increased coordination between federal, state, and Tribal agencies, as well as private landowners and hunting, fishing, and conservation organizations.
Click here to read more about West’s testimony.
Photo credit: Josh Metten
In eastern Oregon, the Burns Paiute Tribe is leading an effort to make roads safer for drivers and deer
Most hunters in Oregon know the Malheur River and surrounding canyons offer great mule deer and chukar hunting. Most are also aware that US Highway 20 cuts right through the heart of prime deer winter range and has become a well-known hotspot for wildlife-vehicle collisions. Oregon Department of Transportation data shows that every year 3-5% of Oregon’s total recorded deer-vehicle collisions occur in the Malheur River Canyon as wildlife attempts to cross the highway to access seasonal and daily needs. The result is accidents that pose a major threat to human safety, ecosystem connectivity, and wildlife conservation. This level of mortality, particularly occurring in early winter and spring, has significant implications for the sustainability of deer populations that use the area for winter range and fawning grounds.
Thankfully, the Burns Paiute Tribe is leading a multi-year comprehensive effort with TRCP, local landowners, elected officials, and other partners to reduce the habitat fragmentation and deer mortality caused by Highway 20. Healthy populations of mule deer are important to the Tribe, which manages a Wildlife Mitigation Site that is bisected by the highway. In 2020, the Burns Paiute Tribe published a blog in collaboration with TRCP that detailed the problem the highway poses to mule deer and the ongoing research to study the movements of mule deer in the canyon and their patterns on and across the highway.
Since 2020, the Tribe and partners have had several successes to advance connectivity in the canyon and the coalition.
New Funding Means Good Work Ahead
The Oregon State Legislature, led by Representative Ken Helm (D, House District 27), passed bills allocating $7 million (2021) and $5 million (2023) for wildlife crossing projects in Oregon. A portion of these funds have been set aside for funding future wildlife crossings design and construction in the canyon.
In 2021, the Burns Paiute Tribe contracted a consulting firm to complete the “Highway 20 Wildlife Connectivity Feasibility Study” to better understand critical issues and the variety of challenges related to wildlife connectivity documented along this corridor. In June 2022, the Tribe hosted a community forum in Juntura, with support from Oregon Solutions, to gauge public perceptions about the issues and to determine if the local community members were interested and ready to collaborate. At a Wildlife Passage Summit in Burns in September 2022, presentations were shared with a broader range of stakeholders and relevant agencies about the current research, data, and information collected to date.
Additionally, in 2023, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, in cooperation with the Tribe, used Pittman-Robertson funds and commissioned another report by well-known wildlife crossing expert Dr. Marcel Huijser with the Western Transportation Institute. The report details potential future mitigation measures that would reduce collisions while maintaining permeability for wildlife.
During the winter months, many deer cross the highway regularly. However, some mule deer will winter further south, and these animals may only cross US Hwy 20 twice per year, once during spring migration and once during fall migration. The location data from 10 individual mule deer were used in the report to calculate the diameter of the winter home ranges (Figure 2). Based on the diameter of the home range of mule deer that winter along both sides of the highway, a suitable crossing structure would be needed every 1.04 miles to allow 50% of the mule deer to access at least one suitable structure.
The report also indicates the design specifications for wildlife fences, crossing structures, wildlife jump-outs, measures at fence-ends and access roads, and a spatially explicit configuration of the mitigation measures. It also recommends that to achieve a substantial (>80%) reduction in collisions with mule deer, the entire road section should be fenced and additional designated wildlife crossing structures are needed.
The combination of funds raised to date, research completed, and the level of community involvement in this effort is encouraging progress, and the TRCP is committed to continue our work with the Tribe and agency partners to see these crossing structures through to completion as soon as possible.
Moving forward, the Tribe, TRCP, and partners look forward to engaging in the 2024 stakeholder engagement process with Oregon Solutions. For over 20 years, Oregon Solutions has helped communities across the state implement hundreds of projects by facilitating an impartial forum that fosters public-private-civic partnerships to address community-based problems and projects that support economic, environmental, and local objectives.
Ultimately this process will develop functional solutions that improve wildlife and habitat connectivity through the development of safe wildlife crossings in the Malheur River Canyon. Those involved in the project are excited to have the support and expertise of the facilitators at Oregon Solutions to craft a locally driven solution to this fixable, and expensive, barrier to migration.
Learn more about the migration and conservation work being done in the Pacific Northwest here.
Photo credit: Nigel Hoult
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