The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP) is a non-profit 501 coalition of conservation organizations, grassroots partners, and outdoor-related businesses. Their main goal of which is increased federal funding for conservation while preserving access for hunters and anglers. This article was contributed by Randall Williams, TRCP’s Western Communications Manager. Before joining TRCP, he worked as an editor for Montana: The Magazine of Western History, the Montana Historical Society Press, and guided fishing expeditions in Alaska. Williams holds a Ph.D. in history from the University of Montana, where his research explored the evolving significance of hunting in twentieth-century American politics and culture.
Digital mapping and GPS technologies have become an essential part of outdoor recreation. By pinpointing on a handheld device a user’s precise location, hikers, hunters, anglers, boaters, and others can see exactly where they stand relative to landmarks and property boundaries.
However, the full potential of these technologies to enhance our enjoyment of public lands is hampered by incomplete and inconsistent mapping data from agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and Army Corps of Engineers. Thankfully, a bipartisan bill introduced in both chambers of Congress in March 2020, the Modernizing Access to our Public Land (MAPLand) Act, addresses this shortcoming.
The MAPLand Act would revolutionize the public land recreation experience
The MAPLand Act would direct land management agencies to digitize recreational access information and make it available to the public. That would include information about legal easements and rights of way that provide public access across private land; seasonal or vehicle-type restrictions on public roads and trails; boundaries of areas where any special rules or prohibitions apply to activities such as target shooting or hunting; and areas of public waters that are closed to watercraft or subject to horsepower restrictions.
While some of this information might, in certain places, already be available on certain apps, in most places it’s unavailable or incomplete. The Forest Service alone has an estimated 37,000 recorded access easements, but only 5,000 have been digitized and uploaded electronically.
Consequently, research on recreational opportunities can be unnecessarily time-consuming and uncertain. This may discourage newcomers to the outdoors, and prevents others from taking full advantage of their opportunities. Many would avoid driving on a road if they were unable to confirm that it is, in fact, open to public use. Others might decide not to visit a particular section of National Forest if there are site-specific rules in place that cannot be easily apprehended without a GPS-based point of reference.
Outdoor enthusiasts need a comprehensive, easily accessible, and smartphone-compatible suite of access information. The MAPLand Act would revolutionize the public land recreation experience and open new opportunities to outdoor users of all experience levels.
The agencies themselves would also benefit from such a resource. It would enable land managers to reduce user conflict, identify public lands with limited or nonexistent access, and take steps to expand recreational opportunities.
One effect of the COVID pandemic has been to make clear the value of access to the natural world, and our public lands have seen record visitation levels. A modern mapping system to serve the growing numbers of outdoor enthusiasts is a long overdue, common-sense investment. It is critical that lawmakers hear your voice on this issue.
Visit TRCP.org/mapland to learn more and take action in support of the MAPLand Act.