Improving public access to public lands

We have discussed “corner crossings” and other barriers to public land access resulting from land ownership patterns.  Overlaying this is another barrier – availability of information about the extent of public access that does exist.  It turns out there is a lot more existing public access than meets the eye, and some technology and legislation is making more information about it available to public land users.

… 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. …  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.  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.

Of course funding this in a deficit-reducing environment may not happen as fast as we’d like.

4 thoughts on “Improving public access to public lands”

  1. That is most interesting. It also would not be surprising if, as asserted, the government let these unknown easement instruments repose in filing cabinets and never got around to making them public.

    Efficient governmental operations do sometimes occur, probably more often than is stereotyped, but Dickensian (as in Bleak House) circumstances are common enough to not surprise anyone.

    Let’s hope these data are made publicly available during our lifespans.

  2. Do you want to hear the entire history of people trying to kick me off public land??

    I bird hunt isolated parcels of public land. One time, a landowner came to kick me and a fellow Forest Service employee off OUR land. I offered him my cell phone, so he could call a Deputy Sheriff to resolve the “trespass”.

    At which point, he started backing off and stated he had a lease on the state land and I should have be courteous and ask for permission to hunt MY LAND!!!

    Around my second home, Weyerhauser, put up no trespassing signs on a STATE DNR parcel, where the FOREST SERVICE paid DNR for a public easement!! State owned land, the Forest Service paid for a public easement to the state of Washington and Weyerhauser puts up a NO TRESPASSING sign since they OWN THE NEXT SECTION!!!

    Totally livid on this issue. I have DOZENS of similar stories, one just last fall.

    It is time, for the public to gain access to the lands that they PAID for access. We will deal with access to the lands they OWN at a later date.

  3. Funding.. if BLM can use IRA and BIL funds to map intactness in the name of climate change, I’m sure I could rationalize mapping access in the name of climate change.

  4. Very good initiative. Should also make public aware of where the 16 million acres that’s not accessible by mapping it


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