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New legislation could digitize public access points

New legislation could digitalize public access points

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How easy is it to find public access for hunting and fishing? Well, that depends on where and what you’re looking for exactly. However, new legislation could change all of that and create an easy way to access public lands through digitized, integrated mapping. Last week, U.S. Senators Martha McSally (R-Arizona) and Angus King (I-Maine) and U.S. Representatives Derek Kilmer (D-Washington) and Russ Fulcher (R-Idaho) introduced the Modernizing Access to Our Public Land (MAPLand) Act, which would “digitize recreational access information and make those resources available to the public,” according to the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP).

The bill states that “a lack of information about publicly available outdoor recreation opportunities depresses participation” and that the use of GPS technologies “can provide detailed and real-time information to the public about access to, and recreation opportunities on, Federal land.” However, because most of the access easement records are paper and not electronic, the MAPLand Act calls on federal land management agencies like BLM and the U.S. Forest Service to digitize the information for public availability. In fact, according to TRCP, only 5,000 of the 37,000 existing easements held by the Forest Service are currently available electronically.

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“GPS technology has become an essential part of the public-land user’s toolkit,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the TRCP. “This bill will allow sportsmen and women to take full advantage of the world-class opportunities on our public lands, make it easier to follow the rules while recreating outside, and reduce access conflicts. Quite simply, this is a common-sense investment in the future of hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation. We want to thank Senators McSally and King and Representatives Fulcher and Kilmer for taking the lead on this important legislation.”

Further, the MAPLand Act includes information “about legal easements and rights-of-way across private land; year-round or seasonal closures on roads and trails, as well as restrictions on vehicle-type; boundaries of areas where special rules or prohibitions apply to hunting and shooting; and areas of public waters that are closed to watercraft or have horsepower restrictions,” according to the TRCP. The bill also increases coordination between land management agencies and private landowners to improve existing access or provide new public land access.

“Access is one of the most important aspects for a thriving outdoor recreation economy,” said Jessica Wahl, executive director of the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable. “Yet, it isn’t just access to land and water, it’s also access to information about the very lands we recreate on, where they are, when and how they are accessible and oftentimes this data is antiquated or even inaccurate. In order for us to continue to grow this important sector that makes up 2.2% of the national GDP and employs 5.2 million Americans, we need to know where we can get outside on public and private lands and when and how to best protect them. Modernizing Access to our Public Land Act will help us do just that and improve the information we have to safely enjoy all that outdoor recreation has to offer. ORR is proud to support this legislation.”

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