Last week, the United States Senate passed the Modernizing Access to Our Public Land (MAPLand) Act. Introduced by a host of bipartisan Representatives and Senators last spring, the MAPLand Act requires federal land management agencies to digitize and make publicly available geographic information system (GIS) mapping data relating to public access to federal land and waters for outdoor recreation. The MAPLand act passed the House of Representatives earlier this month, and its quick passage in the Senate is a huge win for hunters, anglers and outdoor recreators. The National Deer Association (NDA) celebrates the bill’s final move to the President’s desk for signature.
The NDA outlines hunter recruitment, retention and reactivation (R3) as one of our core focus areas. The MAPLand Act will significantly support R3 efforts by increasing access for hunters and outdoor recreators through digital, accurate and up-to-date information on public land access opportunities. After all, access equals opportunity, and NDA greatly supports increasing opportunities for hunters. The MAPLand Act brings much-needed consolidation and modernization to public lands access information.
Currently, parcel data and access information for much of our public lands is still in the paper form. For example, our conservation partners at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP) point out that of 37,000 existing easements held by the U.S. Forest Service, only 5,000 have been converted into digital files. As the bill notes, a lack of information about publicly available outdoor recreation opportunities depresses participation in those traditional activities. But a significant public interest in this access information, as well as availability of incredibly detailed and accurate GIS technology, has led to the creation and prioritization of the MAPLand Act. Specifically, the MAPLand Act would digitize and make public information about legal easements and rights-of-way across private land; year-round or seasonal closures on roads and trails, as well as restrictions on vehicle-type; boundaries of areas where special rules or prohibitions apply to hunting and shooting; and areas of public waters that are closed to watercraft or have horsepower restrictions.
The Senate companion bill passed out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee last fall, and it needs to pass the full Senate before the MAPLand Act can head to the president’s desk for a signature. Look for engagement opportunities to move this important legislation across the finish line.