Photo credit: Adam DiPietro for USFS

MAPLand Act Aims to Unlock Access to Public Lands

More than 37,000 easements exist on our public lands. Only 5,000 of them are easily accessible to the public. The MAPLand Act aims to change that and more.

Access to public land isn’t always cut and dry. And unfortunately, a bevy of information across land management agencies is currently hidden away in paper files. Furthermore, it’s often located in the institutional knowledge of land managers.

In 2018, the digital mapping brand onX worked in partnership with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership to identify inaccessible public lands in the West. Their research turned up 9.52 million inaccessible acres.

Noticed by lawmakers, outdoor brands, and conservationists alike, the Modernizing Access to Our Public Land (MAPLand) Act seeks to address this lack of access.

The Access Problem at Hand

Whether hunting, hiking, camping, or biking, understanding regulations, private land boundaries, and easements is paramount to staying within the confines of the law. In some areas, it can require studying multiple maps that can be hard to find and decipher.

Some of the information isn’t even accessible to the public. And currently, only 5,000 of 37,000 known national public easements across private land are digitized.

Historical access to public land through easement is also an issue that often causes friction, especially in the West. Easements can take on many forms. But, the access easements the bill looks to digitize are held in perpetuity and most were purchased by the agencies, same as a property right.

Access can also entail knowing what you can and cannot do on certain swaths of public land. Some lands are off-limits to shooting and hunting, whereas others are off-limits to motorized use. This process would make such info easy to follow, lessening the chance for unintended illegal use.

What the Bill Does

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Photo credit: Lance Cheung for USFS

Introduced by Senators Angus King (I-Maine) and Martha McSally (R-Arizona) as well as Congressmen Russ Fulcher (R-Idaho) and Derek Kilmer (D-Washington), the bill is garnering bipartisan support amid a partisan political culture.

If passed, the bill will aid the creation of a digitized database across public agencies. This would allow land managers to easily identify public access easements, projects, and historical use cases. It will provide $32.5 million across 3 years to specifically address the need for human resources and dedicated funding.

And the information it unearths will also ease the process of accessing grant funds through programs like the Land and Water Conservation Fund that will help create access at problem points on public land.

The data collected will become a national digital public record, meaning that it will be free for citizens and mapping companies — like onX or Basemap — alike. And it will digitize recreational access info, making it GIS-compatible for the long haul. This includes ease of digital access to recreation restrictions, public easements through private land, and seasonal access that is often shrouded in confusion.

Job Creation, Accessing Vital Information

With the Great American Outdoors Act poised for a vote in the House on July 22, public lands and funding are top of mind for many in the political landscape. In contrast, the GAOA provides $9.5 billion in funding to the $32.5 million of the MAPLand Act. This amount is all that’s required to dedicate 3 years’ worth of resources to the important effort of digitizing vital access information for outdoorspeople of all kinds.

This small allocation of funding could have big impacts for future access. Further, it will likely set legal precedents protecting public use for the long haul. Should you want to reach out to your Senate and House representative in support of the MAPLand bill, you can do so here. Or, you can use the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s Take Action link here.

Nicole Qualtieri
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Based in Montana, Nicole Qualtieri is GearJunkie's Hunt + Fish Editor. When she's not writing or editing, she's likely hunting, fishing, or on the back of her little brown horse with a border collie named Butch Cassidy on heel in the mountains. Find her on Instagram at @nkqualtieri.

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