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Bipartisan public lands mapping bill becomes law

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Hunting

A pair of hunters watch a herd of whitetail deer — grazing safely on private land near the boundary of a public hunting area — at dawn in Converse County in 2017. A new law is expected to make it easier for hunters and anglers to access public lands.

Western public lands are going digital.

President Joe Biden signed the MAPLand Act — a popular piece of legislation intended to boost access to the country’s public lands — into law on Friday.

The new law affords federal land managers $47 million to publish online maps of U.S. public lands, including how they can be used and how and when they can be accessed, within the next four years. It previously cleared the House of Representatives in mid-March and the Senate in early April, cosponsored by Sens. John Barrasso and Cynthia Lummis, R-WY.

Barrasso, who has advocated for the bill’s passage since it was first introduced in the House last spring, called it “a win for both landowners and outdoor enthusiasts.”

“Now that the MAP Land Act has been signed into law, America’s sportsmen and women will have better tools to help them access our public lands,” Barrasso said in a statement to the Star-Tribune. “It will boost our outdoor recreation economy, protect private property, and improve public land mapping.”

Its passage and signing have been cheered by some of the West’s most visible outdoors and conservation groups.

“The single biggest obstacle to hunters and anglers venturing afield is insufficient public access,” Backcountry Hunters & Anglers President and CEO Land Tawney said in an emailed statement.

He went on, “By funding public land management agencies to standardize and release digital maps to the public, the MAPLand Act will make it easier for citizens to access great places to enjoy the outdoors,” adding, “we thank our congressional leaders for expediting its passage, and we thank President Biden for signing the MAPLand Act into law.”

The bill was signed the same day a jury in Carbon County found four hunters not guilty of trespassing on private property when they crossed from one adjacent corner of public land to another in 2021 — an outcome that Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, which raised more than $70,000 to pay the hunters’ legal fees, called “a major win for public lands access.”

According to a report published last month by GPS mapping service OnX, 8.3 million acres of Western lands are “corner-locked” — boxed in by private lands except at their corners — and inaccessible to recreators.

Sen. Jim Risch, R-ID, one of the lawmakers to introduce the bill in the Senate, said in a Monday statement that the mapping law would “help reduce trespassing on private land by showing new public land users where they can and cannot go.”

In Wyoming, providing access to detailed mapping information, including through the Wyoming Hunt Planner, has already been a priority for state officials, according to Sara DiRienzo, public information officer for the state’s Game and Fish Department.

“We have tried to really put that information in people’s hands,” she said, “to help them be empowered to plan their own hunts.”

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