By Bethany Erb, PF/QF Washington DC Government Affairs Representative photo by Joe Fladeland
For many of us, our outdoor pursuits take place on a combination of public and private lands. We often find it challenging to navigate the boundaries of lands in mixed ownership and to find the access points that get us to and from our public lands.
Many of the land management agencies’ records of access and easements across private lands are held on paper files at local offices and cannot be easily accessed or reviewed. The Forest Service alone has an estimated 37,000 recorded easements but only 5,000 have been digitized and uploaded to an electronic database.
To address these challenges, Congress recently introduced the Modernizing Access to our Public Land Act (S. 3427/H.R. 6169), also known as the MAPLand Act. This new legislation will standardize the digitization and accessibility of information regarding recreational access on millions of acres of federal public lands throughout the United States.
Digital mapping services provided by great partners like onX Hunt – a leading handheld GPS and smartphone application company – have changed the ways we find access to unmarked and difficult-to-reach public lands.
Recognizing remaining deficiencies in public land accessibility, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP) worked with onX to develop, distribute, and promote two reports that revealed the acreage of landlocked federal and state-owned public lands across the western United States. These projects discovered that 15.87 million acres of federal and state lands in the West are inaccessible to the public without permission from adjacent private landowners.
Federal land management agencies – including the US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, US Fish & Wildlife Service and others – each maintain their own site specific access rules around the country. With the advent of Geographic Information Systems and handheld GPS technology, the need for all those records to be translated into a common, digital format for easy public use became clear.
These findings, in part, created the initiative for the MAPLand Act. The MAPLand Act would also require that federal land management agencies digitize recorded access easements held across private lands.
“The MAPLand Act would make it easier for the public to discover outdoor recreation opportunities, while simultaneously helping our land management agencies make informed decisions about where to acquire access to currently inaccessible public lands,” says Joel Webster, Senior Director of Western Programs at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We encourage Congress to advance this legislation and move public land access into the 21st century.”
"At onX, we gather mapping information from thousands of different sources and standardize it across state and county lines so that no matter where they are, hunters and outdoor recreators can easily interpret the information in the field," says Lisa Nichols, Access Advocacy Manager at onX. "But we found that some kinds of information our customers need in order to discover all the access opportunities available to them simply do not exist in a digital format yet. A lot of this work has been done, but there is still a lot of work ahead. The MAPLand Act would decrease the amount of time for the remaining easements to go from paper records to being right at the people's fingertips."
Dave Nomsen, VP of Government Affairs for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, says the time is right for the MAPland Act. “Cutting-edge technology has enhanced access to our favorite places to hunt and fish. Now is the time to standardize government agency records and support our agency partners’ work so that we can continue to enjoy better access. Contact your member of Congress today and let them know we need this legislation.”
Currently the agencies have a lack of resources and capacity to digitize, standardize, and modernize the information. If passed, the MAPLand Act will help them complete the process and create better access for you!
To take action on this bill click here
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