Wednesday, September 11, 2019

6.35 million acres of Western public lands surrounded by private land; report suggests ways to make it accessible

Total landlocked acreage in each state
(Map by TRCP; click on it to enlarge)
"More than 6 million acres of state-owned lands in the rural West are inaccessible because they are surrounded by private land with no easements, according to a new report," Bryce Oates reports for The Daily Yonder. "The study found that nearly 13 percent of state recreational land in 11 Western states was unavailable for public use because it is landlocked." The study was conducted by the nonpartisan Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and outdoor recreation mapping company onX.

The study report says access to public land is a critical factor in the growing outdoor-recreation economy, driving more than $887 billion annually in consumer spending, and that three-fourths of Western hunters depend on public lands for some or all of their access. Almost all of the landlocked acres are state trust lands.

In a report last year, TRCP found that about 9.5 million acres of federal public forest and rangeland are similarly inaccessible; Oates notes that the combined area of inaccessible state and federal land covers about as much acreage as the state of West Virginia.

The study suggests some ideas for making the landlocked acres publicly accessible. For instance, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which pays for local parks and recreation areas across the U.S., could purchase easements to provide access. LWCF is funded by proceeds from fossil fuel extraction on public lands, and though it can get up to $900 million a year for spending, Congress usually appropriates less than half of those proceeds to LWCF, and in some years provides zero funding, Oates reports.

Other solutions include encouraging states to form offices of outdoor recreation, create programs that seek short-term contracts with private landowners to allow the public access to landlocked acres for hunting and fishing, and consolidate their trust-land holdings through land acquisitions and exchanges to make them more manageable and profitable, Oates writes.

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