Making Public Lands Public Access Initiative


Federal public lands are an important destination for many Americans, including those that hunt and fish. Despite their popularity, many federal lands are currently unavailable to the public due to land ownership patterns that preclude hunters, anglers and others from gaining access to areas that could support fish and wildlife-dependent recreation. In response to this problem, CSF developed the “Making Public Lands Public” concept in 2006 to advance solutions that provide hunting and fishing opportunities on “landlocked” federal lands. Subsequently, Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus members have introduced several pieces of legislation aimed at improving access to public lands for hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation.


Nearly half of all hunters conduct a portion of their hunting activity on public lands. In western states that feature millions of acres of public land managed by agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), hunters’ dependence on public land is even higher with more than 70% spending the majority of their hunting days on public ground in all states except California. However, numerous reports suggest that access to Federal land is problematic in a number of areas. In fact, a 2004 report to the House Appropriations Committee concluded that more than 35 million acres of BLM and USFS land have inadequate access. Lack of access to hunting lands is cited as a primary reason that hunters stop participating in this traditional sport.

For over a decade, CSF has been at the forefront of documenting the issue of inaccessibility to significant portions of federal public lands. As a result, CSF began the ‘Making Public Lands Public’ initiative with the support and cooperation of allies in the American Wildlife Conservation Partners (AWCP), a group of nearly 50 non-governmental organizations representing millions of hunter conservationists. AWCP requested that an access category be created within the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) to be used by the USFS, BLM, USFWS, and the National Park Service (NPS) to open or improve access to existing federal lands for hunting, angling and other recreational activities.

Recent Activity

In March 2017, Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus (CSC) Members Senator Lisa Murkowski (AK) and Martin Heinrich (NM) introduced S. 733, the Sportsmen’s Act. Amongst other bipartisan provisions aimed at furthering our nation’s outdoor heritage, the bill includes language that would require the BLM, NPS, USFS, and FWS to each develop a priority list of public lands where hunting and fishing are authorized under state and federal law but access to the land is either severely restricted or altogether nonexistent. 

In June 2017, CSC member Congressman Steve Pearce (NM) introduced H.R. 2950, the Making Public Lands Public Act. The bill requires the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture to ensure that 3% or $20 million (whichever is greater) of funds appropriated to the Land and Water Conservation Fund are made available each fiscal year for projects to maintain or increase public access to existing federal public land for hunting, fishing, or recreational shooting or enhance, maintain, or restore access on existing roads, trails, or rights-of-way that provide opportunities for the public to participate in these activities. The legislation would also require federal agencies to annually develop a list of priority projects that would guide the use of available funds for these purposes. 

In August 2017, Senator Murkowski introduced S. 1460, the Energy and Natural Resources Act of 2017 which includes a provision that would dedicate not less than 1.5 percent or $10 million (whichever is greater) of funds appropriated to LWCF to projects that secure recreational public access to federal public land for hunting, fishing, or other recreational purposes


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American Wildlife Conservation Partners: Wildlife for the 21st Century Download file
American Wildlife Conservation Partners: MPLP Brief Download file

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