Contact: Ellary TuckerWilliams, Rocky Mountain States Senior Coordinator
Why It Matters: Our nation’s abundant public lands are a source of pride for all Americans. Unfortunately, despite being owned by the American public, much of those public lands are inaccessible due to the patchwork of public and private land holding patterns. With almost 16 million acres of combined state and federal land inaccessible in the West, lack of public access to public lands is a pervasive issue in need of fixing. Specific to Wyoming, more than 4 million acres have been identified as landlocked without legal public access. As HB 122 takes effect, providing additional funding for Wyoming Game and Fish Department to work cooperatively with landowners to develop voluntary agreements to provide public access to private, state, and federal lands, it is critical that these agreements are easily and readily available to the public for use.
Public land access issues have been the focal point of many headlines in recent history. Cited as the top reason for decreasing hunter participation trends nationwide, lack of public access to public lands is a pervasive issue in need of fixing. To put into perspective, according to a 2019 OnX published study, there is a total of 6.35 million acres of western state land and 9.52 million acres of western federal land that are entirely landlocked by private lands. With nearly ¾’s of western hunter’s dependent on public lands for some or all of their access and opportunity, it’s clear that the sustainability of our shared outdoor sporting heritage is inextricably linked to public land access and opportunity.
Common to the region, there is a patchwork of public and private land holdings, some accessible, many not. Specifically, Wyoming has 4.16 million acres of combined state and federal land that is inaccessible, the highest of all western states. House Bill 122 – Hunting and Fishing Access Reliable Funding (HB 122), sponsored by Sportsmen’s Caucus Member Representative Western and enacted by Governor’s Sportsmen’s Caucus Member Governor Gordon earlier this year, takes a proactive approach in addressing public land access issues. By providing increased funding to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD), the implementation of HB 122 will improve wildlife conservation efforts while also expanding public land access and opportunities by aiding in the purchasing properties or entering into easements and other agreements with willing property owners by the Game and Fish Commission.
Alongside the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP) and 15 other organizations, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) submitted a letter to Governor Gordon encouraging Wyoming to develop a comprehensive geospatial layer for new access easement agreements that can be integrated into modern smartphone applications and GPS devices to help the public discover legal access routes and waters. Doing so would not only help the public find places to hunt and fish, but it would also make it easier for law enforcement officers to enforce the state’s trespass laws and help state and federal land managers more effectively oversee their holdings.
Studies conducted at both the state and federal level have found that the number of hunters and trappers have been on a generally declining trend over the past several decades. To increase recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) of hunters and trappers, which initiative do you think would have the greatest impact?