The Cost of Lost Land Access

Archery season is in full swing throughout the West. This time of year I curse my love of fine walnut and blued steel over compound bows. To be sure, I lose six weeks of hunting opportunity here in Montana by not picking up a bow and chasing elk during the rut. One day though, hopefully soon, I’ll take up the challenge.

Archery season is also when we start to hear more and more about lost access to public lands. That’s no different this year. Recently, Southwick and Associates, a firm that specializes in measuring participation in and attitudes toward hunting, angling, and the shooting sports, released a survey that showed 23% of America’s hunters and anglers have lost access over the last year. The report is eerily similar to what I’ve heard throughout Montana when it comes to decreased access for hunters and anglers:

1.) Increased leasing of private land
2.) Decreasing budgets for land managers to keep roads open
3.) Decreased budgets for game agencies to work with landowners to open up more areas for hunting
4.) Increased illegal closures of public roads
5.) Changing landownership patterns closing traditionally open ranches and farms

Meanwhile, the Department of the Interior released a report showing that hunters and anglers are growing in numbers. While that’s fantastic news, it does mean one thing: What’s out there for public lands are even more important than ever. Lack of access has been shown to be one of the greatest reasons why people leave the outdoor life.

Access to public lands is getting to be even more difficult. Sportsmen’s organizations are forced to sue in order to keep county roads open, congressmen are getting involved by trying to increase funding for opening up landlocked public land, and while we all fight to maintain our right to keep and bear arms, we often times fall down when it comes to fighting to keep our rights to access our public lands. Programs like Montana’s Block Management program, which opens up 8 million acres of public land, are valuable assets when it comes to increasing access to public wildlife. Other states have followed suit and places like Wyoming now boast over 1 million acres open to walk-in hunting. Other states like Kansas pay per acre, providing hunters more opportunity to harvest fin and fur.

It’s clear that collaborative solutions like the HUNT Act are needed more and more. Funding for programs like the Land and Water Conservation Fund which opens up public lands to public hunters (and the small businesses that rely on public hunters) need adequate funding. The Farm Bill, one of Americas’ biggest generators of wildlife habitat on private land, sits stalled in the House of Representatives while the big dogs play games at their conventions.

That’s a damned shame. The next time you walk up to your favorite fishing hole or hunting ground, and that shiny new plastic “NO TRESPASSING” sign is put up, remember that unless we all hang together, we will surely all hang up our rods and guns separately.