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Guest opinion by Rob Thornberry - December 20, 2021

Idaho is the fastest-growing state in the nation, and it’s no secret why: 32 million acres of public lands offer unparalleled opportunities to anyone seeking adventure, fresh air, and wildlife. The outdoor lifestyle has been a cornerstone of Idaho’s identity for more than a century and, in recent decades, has attracted new companies and families to Idaho communities.

But, as many Idahoans have come to know, it can be difficult to uncover the rules that guide access and recreation on many of our public lands. This includes finding out which roads and trails leading to public land are open to public use, as well as when and where different types of vehicles can be driven once you get there.

Most people don’t have time to ground-truth every road and trail or study complex rules to know where they can and cannot go on our public lands. And in the age of smartphone mapping applications — which have the power to pinpoint the exact location of a user on the landscape and make all kinds of map-based information instantly available — people shouldn’t have to work so hard to learn the rules and identify new access opportunities.

Unfortunately, many of the federal land management agencies haven’t kept up with mapping technology, and very little recreational information is available in an electronic format. This makes public land access information on smartphone applications incomplete, despite app-makers’ best efforts.

Thankfully, Sen. Jim Risch is leading the charge to make it easier to enjoy our public lands through bipartisan legislation that would digitize recreational access information and make those resources available to the public. As the Senate sponsor of the Modernizing Access to our Public Land Act, or MAPLand Act, Risch is working to make commonsense investments in the future of Idaho’s outdoor recreation opportunities.

If passed into law, this bill would require agencies to digitize the permanent easements that guarantee Idahoans access to the mountains and rivers we love, ensuring that such records are easily referenced and not lost in paper files. From off-road vehicle enthusiasts and dirt bike riders to mountain bikers and hunters on horseback, all types of public land users would benefit from this information.

Furthermore, the MAPLand Act would reduce the potential for conflict between these user groups and private landowners, by reducing the potential for inadvertent trespassing and providing clarity about where the public does and does not have legal access to public lands.

In short, the bill would help Americans find opportunities to get out and enjoy our public lands, while staying safe, following the rules, and respecting private property.

At the same time, the agencies themselves — including the Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service and Army Corps of Engineers — will benefit from digitized access records, giving staff better information, allowing them to better serve the public, and empowering them to use taxpayer dollars more efficiently.

Last month, the bill was passed out of the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee, a testament to Sen. Risch’s leadership on Capitol Hill. What’s more, in an era of rancorous partisanship, the MAPLand Act received unanimous support, making it one of the few proposals everyone can agree on. Now that the bill has passed out of committee in both the Senate and the House, lawmakers have an opportunity to move forward and pass this legislation into law.

Sportsmen and sportswomen are fortunate to have a leader in Washington, D.C., who understands the importance of public land access to the future of hunting and fishing. Sen. Risch deserves our appreciation and support for working to move this bill through the Senate and into law.

To read this article on the Idaho Statesman website, click here

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