June 14, 2021

House Natural Resources Committee Holds Hearing on Innovative Public Land Access Bill


Why it matters:  Digital mapping and GPS technologies have fundamentally changed how sportsmen and women traverse federal lands; however, inconsistent and outdated record keeping practices among federal land management agencies hinders the ability of sportsmen and women to fully take advantage of these technologies, which will be addressed in part by the MAPLand Act. The legislative hearing on the MAPLand Act held by the House Natural Resources Committee represents a critical step toward passing the bill in Congress.

Millions of America’s hunters, anglers, and recreational shooters rely on public lands and waters for recreation. Before planning a trip to a new area, any sportsman or woman can likely attest to the fact they spend countless hours glossing over maps on their computers or their handheld devices to get a better idea of the land or waterscape. However, the inconsistency of the data provided on these maps – things like unclear boundaries, missing easement records, and unmarked restricted access or use designations – make it more difficult for sportsmen and women to access, use, and enjoy public lands and waters.

Unfortunately, federal land management agencies most important to sportsmen and women, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Forest Service, lack the necessary financial resources to digitize and modernize mapping information for the lands they manage on behalf of the American public.

Furthermore, for many land management agencies, much of the information is still held in paper format, which is concerning as easements and rights-of-way records could be lost in perpetuity if proper documentation is lost or destroyed. For example, through no fault of their own, it is estimated the U.S. Forest Service has only digitized roughly 5,000 of their 37,000 recorded easements.

To fill this void, the Modernizing Access to Our Public Land (MAPLand) Act will authorize much needed financial resources over three years for the Secretaries of the Interior, Agriculture, and Army to accelerate the modernization and digitization of public land mapping information. The MAPLand Act also requires that public land management agencies make their information publicly available on their respective websites.

If enacted, the MAPLAND Act would provide better information about easements and rights-of-way, whether roads and trails are open to the public, allowable types of vehicles, hunting and recreational shooting boundaries, and information about allowable types of watercraft—all of which is vital information to sportsmen and women.

The bill awaits further action by the House Natural Resources Committee.

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?

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