By Nicole Pollack
Via- Wyoming News Exchange
CASPER — Outdoor recreation is poised to become more accessible.
A bill to modernize mapping of federal lands that was championed by Wyoming’s U.S. senators cleared Congress last week and headed to the president’s desk.
The Modernizing Access to Our Public Land, or MAPLand, Act allocates $47 million to federal land management agencies for the digitization and online publication of maps detailing how public lands can be accessed, when roads and trails are open or closed, what types of vehicles are permitted on those roads and where certain activities, such as hunting, fishing and shooting, are allowed.
It also requires federal officials to update the maps at least twice per year.
Sens. John Barrasso and Cynthia Lummis, R-WY, both co-sponsored the bill, which was introduced in the Senate a year ago and in the House of Representatives last May.
The bill “isn’t just great for land owners and Americans who love the outdoors, it’s great for America’s economy too,” Barrasso wrote in a Star-Tribune column following the bill’s introduction in the House. “The legislation will help boost our growing outdoor recreation industry, as well as the many businesses located near or on public lands.”
Much of Wyoming’s public land is surrounded on all sides by private land. Under current state law, it’s unclear whether the controversial practice of corner crossing — stepping from the corner of one private-landlocked parcel of public land to another — is legal or not.
However, as Barrasso’s column noted, non-digitized agency records, including agreements with landowners allowing access to public lands via private property, can be inaccessible to recreators.
Approved by the House in March with a vote of 414 to nine (Rep. Liz Cheney, R-WY, voted in favor), the bill cleared the Senate by unanimous consent vote last week.
The only opposing votes came from Republicans representing states east of Wyoming, including three from Texas.
“The bill will help fishermen, hunters, and hikers to easily plan their adventures,” Barrasso said in a statement on Friday. “The people of Wyoming understand the importance of promoting outdoor access while ensuring private property rights are protected.”
Some of the West’s most prominent outdoors and conservation groups have watched the bill’s progress closely and celebrated its passage last week.
“Inadequate or faulty data can spell disaster for the public land hunter,” Land Tawney, president and CEO of Montana-based Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, said in a statement. “The importance of reliable, comprehensive information on access opportunities on our public lands cannot be overstated.”