Conservation fund identified as key to unlock public land

By Jessianne Wright
EBS Contributor

BOZEMAN – West of the Rocky Mountains, 9.53 million acres of public land is inaccessible, according to a report completed by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and onX Maps.

By utilizing geographic information systems, roads data and county records, TRCP and onX identified public land in 13 western states that is surrounded by private ownership and does not have legal access via a public road with a passenger vehicle.

The findings indicate that 1.52 million public acres are landlocked and inaccessible in Montana, while neighboring Idaho and Wyoming have a total of 208,000 and 3.05 million landlocked acres, respectively. In some of these cases, there may be existing access points, however the easements have not been secured legally and are not guaranteed into the future.

Joel Webster, the TRCP western lands director, presented the report Aug. 27 in Bozeman during the TRCP Western Media Summit, an annual three-day gathering for writers, scientists, conservationists and government officials.

During his presentation, Webster cited the Land and Water Conservation Fund as one of the most important tools in gaining access to landlocked public land.

The LWCF, established in 1965, is bankrolled annually by offshore drilling royalties and funds conservation and public lands projects throughout the U.S. It has been used to secure fishing access sites across Montana and develop several parks in Bozeman and West Yellowstone.

The LWCF is set to expire on Sept. 30.

“This is the tool to address this issue,” Webster said. “If this program is not reauthorized, we’ve got a problem without a solution.”

The TRCP and onX report, called “Off Limits but Within Reach,” was recently distributed to the Department of the Interior, and will be sent to members of the U.S. Congress and related state agencies, in an effort to fuel conversations about improving public access in the West.

“The work is now to be done in pursuing a lot of these kind of policy opportunities that this information opens up,” said Geoff Mullins, the chief operating and communications officer for TRCP.

Conservationists hope these efforts will garner support to permanently reauthorize LWCF after September, making $900 million available every year for public lands and conservation projects, Webster said.

Visit unlockingpubliclands.org to learn more.