The House Just Passed an Act That Will Make It Easier for Hunters to Find and Access Public Lands

The MAPLand Act would enhance outdoor recreation opportunities by improving and modernizing mapping data on federal lands
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mckenzie river map BLM
The MAPLand Act aims to modernize the paper maps that public-land agencies like the BLM still rely on. BLM

The U.S. House of Representatives approved the MAPLand Act by an overwhelming bipartisan majority (414-9) last night. The bill aims to modernize mapping systems used by public-land agencies in order to make accessing and recreating on federal lands easier and less contentious. It will now move on to the Senate for a vote.

Introduced last year by co-sponsors Blake Moore (R-Utah), Kim Schrier (D-Wash.), Russ Fulcher (R-Idaho), and Joe Neguse (D-Colo.), the Modernizing Access to our Public Land Act directs federal land management agencies to consolidate, digitize, and make publicly available recreational access information as geospatial files. That’s the digital format commonly used by commercial mapping applications, phone geolocation services, and other modern digital cartographic services.

Those mapping files typically include information as varied and useful as legal easements and rights-of-way across private land to reach public land, surface-use closures or restrictions, transportation restrictions and allowances, and detailed boundaries that govern special rules or prohibitions related to hunting and fishing.

While the private sector has built a digital mapping industry around curating cartographic details, much of this data comes from county tax rolls. Federal land managers haven’t granted the same access to baseline mapping details, in some cases because they don’t have it.

Much of the agencies’ mapping products are “only found on paper maps or in dusty filing cabinets,” says the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, which encouraged the original draft of the MAPLand Act. “And almost all the existing digital [mapping] information was produced for purposes other than outdoor recreation.”

The act will enable better public-land mapping by investing in modern mapping systems that are compatible with handheld GPS technology commonly found on smartphones.

“Hunters want more information on where to gain access to public lands but often don’t know where to start and the information can be incomplete,” says Land Tawney, president and CEO of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. “The MAPLand Act will make it easier for sportsmen and women to enjoy our outdoor heritage with modernized information on how to access our public lands.”

Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, says he’s encouraged to see “broad support from both sides of the aisle. It’s a welcome reminder that conservation and our outdoor heritage transcend party lines.”

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“This is a big win for hunters and anglers,” added Fosburgh, “and we appreciate House leadership for bringing this bill to the floor. We hope to see a Senate vote on the MAPLand Act in the very near future.”

Companion legislation in the Senate, where it’s labeled S.904, passed out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee last November with unanimous support.