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February 22, 2024

New Bipartisan Legislation Would Keep Public Lands in Public Hands

TRCP, partners, and hunters & anglers applaud bill introduction

Hunters and anglers have been working to prevent the sale of important public lands for years, and the recently introduced Public Lands in Public Hands Act would maintain valuable hunting and fishing access for sportsmen and women. This bipartisan legislation, introduced by Representatives Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) and Gabe Vasquez (D-N.M.) would require congressional approval for the sale and transfer of public lands to non-federal entities in most instances. The biggest impact of the bill would be to prevent the Bureau of Land Management from selling important access parcels as part of its land disposal process.   

What is the BLM Land Disposal Process?

The BLM is the nation’s largest landowner. The agency administers 245 million acres of federal public land primarily in 11 western states and Alaska. Currently, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act—federal law governing the management of BLM lands—directs the agency to identify lands for potential disposal, including sale, and the agency has been completing land use plans with land disposal lists for the past 45 years. While a comprehensive list of lands available for potential disposal does not appear to exist, estimates put the total at around 3.3 million acres.

When the BLM identifies lands for potential disposal, existing statute does not require the BLM to prioritize retention of parcels with public access. TRCP has analyzed several land use plans and identified numerous accessible and important public land parcels tagged by the BLM for potential sale across the West. The sale of such parcels could result in lost honey holes for hunters and anglers, and we agree that additional scrutiny is needed.

The law governing how the BLM completes land disposals was passed in 1976 and predates the advent of handheld GPS units that are now utilized by millions of outdoor recreationists to navigate property boundaries with confidence. It’s easy to see how small parcels in the past may have been viewed as low value for public access because they were difficult to locate and use. But in today’s world where private-land access is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain, small, isolated parcels of BLM land have become some of the most important for recreational access.

Miles City Field Office RMP. More than 5,000 acres of BLM land with open access from a public road identified by the agency to be potentially available for “all disposal methods, including sale.” This area of Montana is very popular for deer, antelope, and upland bird hunting and public access is limited. The Public Lands in Public Hands Act would elevate congressional scrutiny of the sale of such accessible parcels.  

A Practical Safeguard

To keep these important parcels in public ownership, the Public Lands in Public Hands Act would require congressional approval for the sale of land-accessible parcels 300 acres or larger and water-accessible parcels five acres or larger. Presently, such parcels can be sold without consent from Congress. Some people believe that the BLM should lose their authority to sell any land, and while it is easy to reach that conclusion at first glance, there are several things to consider:

  • First, in 2018, Congress reauthorized a program called the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act that established an account to collect proceeds from the sale of small public land parcels and to use those funds to acquire new public lands, including for the purpose of expanding public access. There are many small BLM parcels scattered around the West that provide very little public benefit. Many of them are landlocked and inaccessible. Selling parcels with low recreation value and using the proceeds to acquire new public lands with higher recreation value is good policy, and it’s good for public access. The Public Lands in Public Hands Act would maintain the BLM’s ability to implement this important land consolidation program.
  • Second, with 16.43 million acres of landlocked public land in 22 western states, it is unrealistic to think that the federal government is going to buy its way out of the access problem. Yes, we need to find ways to acquire access to the largest and most important landlocked parcels, but land exchanges and utilization of the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act also need to be a part of the solution. The Public Lands in Public Hands Act would keep these tools in the box.
  • Finally, there are circumstances when small BLM land transfers to local communities make sense for the construction of a school or fire department. The bill’s acreage floor of 300 acres maintains existing opportunity for communities to work with the BLM on specific local development needs when other options do not exist.

TRCP is excited about the Public Lands in Public Hands Act because of the added certainty it would provide to ensure that your favorite hunting or fishing spot would not be sold and closed to public access. We appreciate the leadership of Representatives Zinke and Vasquez in introducing this legislation, and we look forward to working with them to see the bill passed into law.

Learn more about TRCP’s work to expand public hunting and fishing access HERE.

22 Responses to “New Bipartisan Legislation Would Keep Public Lands in Public Hands”

    • Joel Webster

      Great question, John. The BLM and Forest Service receive millions of dollars every year through the Land and Water Conservation Fund specifically for the purpose of increasing public access for outdoor recreation. We believe that this money should be used purposefully to increase public access, and TRCP is working with our hunt-fish partners and the land management agencies to see these dollars leveraged most effectively. Thanks for your interest in the Public Lands in Public Hands Act.

  1. I support the legislation to protect public lands for hunters, fishermen, and other outdoor activist and to prevent the sale of these lands to any other entity, organization or individual which would deny public access or cause environmental damage to public lands. That includes leases as well.

  2. Christine Veirauch

    Access to public land is becoming more difficult every year. Being able to go upland bird hunting, deer, elk, & pronghorn has become very frustrating. CRP land is disappearing, private ranches/farms are charging more per gun each year, if they allow you at all. Land in the plains are being bought up by rich folks for their private hunting areas and don’t allow the Joe public hunting access. The same is true in the mountain states.
    I can’t afford to pay thousands of dollars to hunt with a guide or on private land. The same is true when trying to access streams, rivers, and lakes.
    I hope the proposed Public Land in Public Hands Act goes through. I also wish the BLM would make cattle owners paid more per head for allotment fees. Both cattle and sheep grazing causes habitat destruction for wildlife. Driving through parts of the mountain states there is nothing but sagebrush. Native grasses and plants are nonexistent.

  3. Steve Hartmann

    BLM needs to have the discretion to sell parcels to complete 3rd party land exchanges such as exchanges facilitated by The Conservation Fund. BLM identifies parcels that go through the NEPA process for possible disposal. A Conservation entity helps BLM negotiate an exchange purchasing valuable pvt lands with high value wildlife habitat and purchases those pvt lands at fair mkt value from willing sellers with funds collected from the low value public land parcels. The lands are sold by the Pvt Conservation Fund mostly to adjacent landowners. All these parcels go through the NEPA analysis bu the BLM with public input. This prosed bill would restrict BLM’s existing public land management process which is intended for the public’s benefit. If this bill is passed, the way Congress is deadlocked, could significantly degrade BLM’s ability to process positive acquisitions for sportsman and outdoor rec enthusiasts.

    • Joel Webster

      Steve, TRCP agrees that land exchanges are necessary to consolidate public lands and to increase public access to public lands, and this bill does not alter the authority of federal land management agencies to complete land exchanges. TRCP additionally believes land exchanges should serve the public interest, and that interest includes benefitting public access.

      With regard to land sales, the Public Lands in Public Hands Act is designed to prevent the sale of parcels that should remain in public hands because they are high value for public access. TRCP supports the sale of parcels with low recreation value as long as the proceeds are used to acquire new public lands with higher recreation value—the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act makes this possible. The Public Lands in Public Hands Act would not add additional restriction to the administrative sale of inaccessible parcels and accessible parcels under 300 acres that are not accessed via public waterway. It would also allow for implementation of the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act.

      Finally, the world has changed in the past decade since the advent of GPS technology, and public scrutiny of land sales is at an all-time high. If the BLM were to bring high-value tracts of land with public access up for sale, it could result in a public relations nightmare for the agency and sour decision makers on future land sales. The Public Lands in Public Hands act will reduce the potential for controversial sales, while allowing low controversy sales to proceed—it’s good public policy. Thanks for your interest in the Public Lands in Public Hands Act.

  4. John E. Schweitzer

    This oversight is critical to the future of public lands. All too often individuals within the BLM do not discharge their duties as they should. Rather they are in positions where they can benefit private interests at public expense and enrich themselves in ways that are not readily apparent. Kudos to the Congressmen for this bipartisan effort. Pass this and keep public lands out of the reach of the patronage of wealthy individuals who do not give a damn about the public interest.

  5. John Crouch

    I applaud Representatives Zinke and Vasquez for working together in the public’s best interest. Overlooking their political affiliations to work together for the greater good of American constituents. Doing the job they were elected to do. So many of our politicians have forgotten or ignore that fact. I certainly hope that with the aid of TRCP and other like minded organizations, they can gain enough support to get this bill passed.

  6. I hope there will be sufficient notifications of upcoming sales of public lands so that the public can have a voice in the decisions . Not many people are monitoring what The BLM is doing or what congress is working on for that matter , on a daily basis. It seems like it would still be possible to sell something valuable to the public without the public noticing

  7. Mark Scofield

    This proposed legislation requires congressional approval for most land swaps between USFS or BLM and private owners. Such swaps, proposed and authorized by the federal land management agencies, have helped consolidate federal land holdings and improve public access. This bill would turn that process over to Congress, who can’t agree on how to fold a taco. As Trump’s Interior Secretary. Zinke is a snake in the grass, did nothing to do with protect public land. He advised Trump to remove 2/3 of Bears Ears National Monument so his oil/gas buddies could have at it, and Trump did so. Further, if the day comes when Republicans control the house and senate, this bill allows them to sell all the public land they want to private interests. Remember, selling public lands to industry and private owners is stated GOP national policy, has been for decades. Keeping public lands in public hands is the opposite of the true intent of this bill.
    Strongly opposed!

    • Joel Webster

      Mark, TRCP agrees that land exchanges are necessary to consolidate public lands and to increase public access to public lands, and this bill does not alter the authority of federal land management agencies to complete land exchanges. TRCP additionally believes land exchanges should serve the public interest, and that includes benefitting public access. Thanks for your interest in the Public Lands in Public Hands Act.

  8. Jim Verplancke

    BLM In Wyoming acquired the 36,000 acre Marton property but with severe scrutiny from Governor Gordon. Now BLM-WY will not consider any acquisitions until it has disposed of an equal amount of acreage even though there are current project shovel ready that qualify for LWCF funding. There is very little incentive for private parties to acquire BLM lands especially stock growers who can use the land as their own at a cost of $1.35/AUM.

    • Joel Webster

      Patrick, TRCP recognizes there are circumstances where conveyances to Tribal and other entities make sense, and there are several exceptions listed in the legislation that allow existing conveyance authorities to proceed. The bill text is hyperlinked in the first paragraph. Thanks for your interest in the Public Lands in Public Hands Act.

  9. Martin Siebken

    As one who hunts public land, I fully support his initiative. Gaining access to private land has been increasingly difficult, and many large land owners tie up access to much public land. Finding ways to benefit the public without harming landowner rights would be a real win for everyone. Thank you!

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February 16, 2024

TRCP’s Ian Nakayama Elected to National Fish Habitat Partnership Board

Nakayama will serve a 3-year term representing marine recreational anglers on a diverse board of stakeholders focused on conserving fish habitat across all 50 states.

(Washington, DC) – The National Fish Habitat Partnership held their inaugural Board meeting of 2024 on February 6, with the primary focus being to appoint new members to the Board, filling seats that had expired or were vacant. Ian Nakayama of Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP) was elected to a three-year term on Board, representing marine recreational anglers. Also newly elected were John O’Keefe of Yamaha Motor Corporation, representing corporate industry; Peter Micciche, mayor, Kenai Peninsula Borough, Alaska, representing local government involved in fish habitat restoration; and Chris Horton of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, also representing marine recreational anglers.  

Nakayama has served as the government relations manager at TRCP since June of 2021 and has focused on advancing the Forage Fish Conservation Act, increasing adoption of natural infrastructure, increasing funding for Everglades restoration, and increasing funding for the National Wildlife Refuge System. A native Virginian, Nakayama graduated from the University of Virginia in 2019 and worked in legislative offices from 2019 until 2021.  

“In the face of declining fish populations and fish species diversity, protecting and restoring fish habitat is more important now than ever,” said Ian Nakayama, government relations manager at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “I’m honored to join the Board and I look forward to contributing to the advancement of these crucial fish habitat conservation projects.” 

“The National Fish Habitat Partnership appreciates the continued strong and enduring interest from the conservation community to want to serve on the Board,” said Robert Boyles, Chair of the National Fish Habitat Board. “We had a very strong group of candidates vying for membership on the Board, which I think will strengthen the Board with diverse expertise for the future. I would like to thank all the departing Board members for their contributions to the National Fish Habitat Partnership and for being an integral part of the team.” 

Since its inception in 2006, the National Fish Habitat Partnership has been a driving force behind the successful implementation of 1,300 projects aimed at safeguarding, restoring, and enhancing fish habitat across all 50 states.  This collaborative effort is committed to the conservation of fish habitat on a national scale, effectively leveraging federal, state, tribal, and private funding resources.  By strategically focusing on priority conservation projects through 20 regionally based Fish Habitat Partnerships, the NFHP has been able to achieve remarkable results in bolstering fish populations.  The recognition of the NFHP by Congress in 2020 through its inclusion in the America’s Conservation Enhancement (ACE) Act serves as a testament to the organization’s invaluable contributions.  

To find out more about the NFHP and its endeavors, please visit fishhabitat.org.   

TRCP works to maintain and strengthen the future of hunting and fishing by uniting and amplifying our partners’ voices in conserving and restoring wildlife populations and their habitat as challenges continue to evolve.  

February 15, 2024

What is the Conservation Reserve Program?

Since its introduction in the 1985 Farm Bill, the Conservation Reserve Program has been one of the nation’s most important conservation programs. But what is the CRP and how does it benefit hunters and anglers?

In this short video, we demystify a crucial Farm Bill conservation program, the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), and shed light on its benefits to hunters and anglers.

Introduced in the 1985 Farm Bill, the Conservation Reserve Program incentivizes landowners to put a portion of their land into conservation cover, particularly on acres that would be more productive as wildlife habitat than they are for crops.

Many of the species we love to pursue find habitat in farm country thanks to the CRP. Without the CRP, pheasant numbers would plummet, the northern plains states would lose much of their duck breeding habitat, sage grouse in the West would be at even greater risk, and brook trout would decline in Eastern headwaters. Put simply, without the CRP, 40 million sportsmen and women would lose hunting and fishing opportunities across rural America.

The Farm Bill is the largest piece of conservation legislation that will come before the 118th Congress.  You can help ensure that habitat and wildlife remain central to sensible farm policy in the United States here

Learn more about Farm Bill Conservation Programs here

Sporting Groups Cheer Senate Introduction of MAPOceans Act 

New legislation will increase accessibility of saltwater recreational fishing rules and marine waters navigation information

Today, fishing and recreation groups joined the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership in celebrating the announced introduction of the Modernizing Access to Our Public Oceans Act. The MAPOceans Act will direct the standardization, consolidation, and digitization of boating and recreational fishing information for federally managed marine waters and federal fisheries administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This bill will enhance and expand recreation opportunities by investing in modern technology commonly found in smartphone applications to provide anglers, boaters, and other users with the information they need to safely and legally enjoy offshore waters and federal saltwater fisheries.

The bipartisan legislation was introduced by U.S. Senators Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Angus King (I-Maine).  

“America’s saltwater anglers must navigate a gauntlet of complex regulations when they boat and fish offshore, and the MAPOceans Act will help ensure that people no longer miss a day on the water because federal agency rules are too hard to find and understand,” said Becky Humphries, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “TRCP thanks Senator Cruz and Senator King for their leadership to introduce and advance this important public access legislation.”  

The MAPOceans Act builds on the success of the MAPLand Act, passed in 2022, and recently introduced MAPWaters Act, by directing NOAA to digitize navigation and recreational use rules for marine waters and federal fisheries, and to make those resources readily available to the public. The hundreds of thousands of offshore ocean miles and numerous saltwater fish species regulated by NOAA present enormous recreational opportunities where restrictions are difficult to access and constantly changing. MAPOceans directs the federal agency to compile those rules in digital form so they can be integrated into GPS units and smartphone applications that are popular with boaters and anglers, making that information available to the public in real time. 

“Navigating the complex web of fishing regulations, anchoring limitations, and restricted areas can be challenging for America’s anglers and boaters,” said Mike Leonard, vice president of government affairs at the American Sportfishing Association. “The MAPOceans Act would help Americans access marine waters with more confidence, ensuring that recreational information is easily accessible through marine electronics, mapping apps, and online platforms. On behalf of the recreational fishing industry, we thank Senator Cruz and Senator King for their leadership of this important legislation.”

This newly digitized public information would include:  

• Status information on which waterways are open or closed to entry or watercraft, low-elevation aircraft, or diving.  

• The areas of waterways with restrictions on motorized propulsion, horsepower, or gasoline fuel.  

• Types of watercraft that are restricted on each area of a waterway, including the permissibility of motorboats, non-motorized watercraft, personal watercraft, airboats, amphibious aircraft, and oceangoing ships. 

• The location and geographic boundaries of fishing restrictions on recreational and commercial fishing, including full or partial closures, no-take zones, and fishing restrictions within or surrounding marine protected areas.  

• Fishing regulations concerning specific types of equipment or bait, such as restrictions on the use of circle hooks, descending devices, and trolling.  

“Access for anglers isn’t just about where you can launch your boat,” said Chris Horton, senior director of fisheries policy for the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation. “With our complicated system of federal fisheries management, and with our network of marine protected areas, it can be especially challenging to know which waters are open for fishing and what type of gear you can use. We very much appreciate Senator Ted Cruz and Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus Vice-Chair Senator Angus King for introducing MAPOceans that will remove barriers and uncertainty for America’s saltwater anglers.” 

“Expanding access to the information anglers and boaters need to safely get out on the water will help fuel America’s $1.1 trillion outdoor recreation economy,” said Jessica Wahl Turner, president of Outdoor Recreation Roundtable. “The Outdoor Recreation Roundtable appreciates Senators Cruz and King for introducing the MAPOceans Act and for finding innovative ways to allow more Americans to enjoy the outdoors.” 

“Accurate charts are one of the basic safety tools for all boaters,” said David B. Kennedy, manager of government affairs for BoatUS. “The over half-a-million BoatUS members applaud the MAPOceans Act as a major step forward in getting the information collected by federal agencies into boater chart plotters, mobile devices, and even good old paper charts.” 

 “When enjoying time on the water, ensuring compliance with complex federal navigation and fisheries regulations is essential to protecting critical habitat and ensuring the conservation of various sport-fish populations,” said Chad Tokowicz, government relations manager for the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas. “The MAPOceans Act will make it easier for recreational boaters and anglers to seamlessly navigate our federal waterways and comply with fisheries regulations, ultimately creating a more positive boating experience for all Americans. We thank Senator Cruz and Senator King for increasing access for recreational boaters and anglers while simultaneously ensuring compliance with important federal regulations.” 

February 9, 2024

Wyoming’s 2023 Public Land Access Survey Results

Hunter & Angler Insights to Public Land Access in the Cowboy State

Wyoming boasts renowned expanses of public land, however, some of this public land remains difficult to access or is completely inaccessible. The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership recently explored Wyoming’s public land access debate by conducting an access survey of resident sportsmen and women. Our goal was not only to identify the current sentiments surrounding public land access, but also to foster a deeper connection with Wyoming’s outdoor enthusiasts.

The survey was distributed to Wyoming residents in-person at six public land access listening sessions hosted throughout the state, as well as digitally through social media and TRCP membership emails in November and December of 2023.  

Results

At the campaign’s conclusion in December 2023, a total of 960 Wyoming residents completed the survey. The survey results highlighted a desire among Wyoming’s outdoor enthusiasts to enhance public land access. In fact, 73% of respondents, including both public and private land users, believe there should be more public access in the places where they currently hunt, fish, or recreate.  

Other findings include:

  • 76% of respondents support voluntary land acquisitions by federal land management agencies from private landowners.
  • 88% of respondents support state purchases of small parcels of land from willing private landowners to unlock access to larger parcels of inaccessible public land.
  • 82% of respondents support acquisition of voluntary access easements across private land by federal land management agencies to create new public roads that open access to inaccessible public lands.
  • 85% support state legislation that clarifies and facilitates public access to corner locked public lands while respecting private property rights.
  • 91% of respondents support voluntary agreements between state agencies and private landowners that expand public access to inaccessible public land and private land such as access easements, walk-in areas, and Hunter Management Areas.
  • 92% of respondents support consistent and thorough mapping software to show public access available to state and federal land through existing state-held access easements.

Through the survey and listening sessions, TRCP heard that collaboration will be necessary for solving public land access issues facing Wyoming. Collaboration between state and federal land management agencies can help minimize mapping discrepancies and fill the gap in digital access information. In addition, collaboration between public land recreators and private landowners resonated with many attendees, as surveyed landowners are willing to work with hunters and anglers on access issues. Wyoming’s private landowners understand how important their role is for healthy wildlife populations by providing habitat and refuge, but they also support sound wildlife management practices like hunting and fishing. They desire responsible management of resources and respect for their land and personal property. Finding common ground is an important step in taking care of the public land we all love. It’s the Wyoming way.

What’s Next

The TRCP looks to elected leaders to keep Wyoming sportspeople in mind this coming legislative session. Hardworking Wyoming residents value public land, open spaces, and robust wildlife herds. We urge lawmakers to represent Wyoming values by protecting current access to public land and looking for opportunities to increase ease of public access that is beneficial to all stakeholders.

In the meantime, conservation organizations including the TRCP will take steps to help hunters and anglers advocate for increased public land access by keeping constituents informed of relevant news, offering ways for the public to get involved, and advocating on behalf of public land hunters and anglers. Read more about TRCP’s work to expand public access HERE.

For an in-depth look at the survey findings, be sure to check out our PDF companion. This comprehensive resource offers a detailed breakdown of Wyoming’s public land access sentiments and provides insights into the perspectives of hunters and anglers within the state.

Photo credit: Josh Metten

HOW YOU CAN HELP

CHEERS TO CONSERVATION

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.

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