The TRCP-led MAPLand Act was passed in 2022 to help enhance access to our existing public lands by requiring federal land management agencies to digitize their paper maps and records. Here’s how we got this far and what’s next for MAPLand.
America’s 640 million acres of public land represent an invaluable treasure to the citizens of the nation. The vast majority of these public lands are open to hunting, fishing, and other forms of recreation, however, accessing some of these public lands has long been complicated and confusing. It wasn’t until GPS units and smartphone applications started showing precise land ownership boundaries in the 2010s that the average American could navigate small public land parcels without the risk of trespassing.
Using this technology, hunters and anglers can identify many public lands as unreachable. Some parcels of public land are isolated completely by private land and totally inaccessible without permission from a neighboring private landowner. Other public parcels alternate with private land in a checkerboard pattern as a residual effect of western expansion.
To address this challenge, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership teamed up with onX to quantify the scope of the landlocked public lands problem and offer solutions that would open access to these acres. Since 2018, the team has found a staggering 16.43 million acres of inaccessible public land across 22 states.
Landlocked Lands and LWCF
As we began to release these results, authorization for the important Land and Water Conservation Fund—a key tool for opening public access—was nearing its expiration. Landlocked public lands became a critical talking point as the future of the LWCF was debated. Ultimately, the fund was permanently authorized through the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act in 2019 and fully funded at $900 million annually in the Great American Outdoors Act of 2020.
These were historic wins for conservation. With $27 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund dedicated to increasing public land access each year, there is an incredible opportunity to address the landlocked public lands problem through strategic land acquisitions and access easements.
We soon learned that the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service held roughly 90,000 such access easements—where permanent access to public land has already been secured—but 50,000 were only recorded on paper, stored away in the dusty filing cabinets of local agency offices.
Neither the agencies, nor the public, have ever had a complete digital picture of where there is legal access to our public land. Seeing a clear need for a solution, TRCP experts began talking with lawmakers, which led to introduction of federal legislation called the Modernizing Access to Our Public Land Act.
The MAPLand Act requires federal land management agencies to digitize their paper easements, information about roads and trails and vehicle type on federal land, and the boundaries of areas with federal rules concerning weapon type and shooting. The ultimate goal is to make all of this information readily available to the public.
Learn more about Paper Trails, our film with Eastmans’ Hunting, which highlights these access challenges and what is being done.
What’s Next for MAPLand
The outpouring of support for MAPLand from the hunting and fishing community resulted in nearly unanimous passage in the House of Representatives and unanimous passage in the Senate. In April 2022, the MAPLand Act was signed into law.
This means that complete and consistent mapping data about road, trail, and shooting access will be digitally available to hunters and anglers wanting to use their public lands. But it still needs to be implemented before sportsmen and sportswomen can benefit.
That’s why American hunters and anglers are urging federal lawmakers to appropriate $13.5 million toward MAPLand Act implementation in Fiscal Year 2024, and land management agencies must prioritize the law’s implementation by 2026.
“The MAPLand Act will not only help the public better understand where they can and cannot go, it will provide increased clarity about public access and reduce conflict with landowners,” said Joel Webster, TRCP’s vice president of Western conservation.
Hunters and anglers will need to remain vocal to see this solution through. Sign up to be the first to know about opportunities to push for better public land access as TRCP continues this important effort.