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Biden signs bill touted by Idaho congressmen, aims to make public land access easier

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Posted at 7:24 PM, May 01, 2022

This article was originally written by Nicole Blanchard for the Idaho Statesman.

A new federal law backed by Idaho’s congressional delegates and signed by President Joe Biden on Friday will digitize map data, making it easier for people to access public land.

The legislation, known as the Modernizing Access to our Public Land or MAPLand Act, requires federal agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to standardize data on outdoor recreation and digitize geographic information system mapping data.

Idaho’s U.S. Sen. Jim Risch introduced its companion bill in the Senate, which was co-sponsored by Sen. Mike Crapo. Reps. Russ Fulcher and Mike Simpson, both Republicans, signed on as co-sponsors of the House bill nearly a year ago.

Digitizing publicly available records will end the days of reaching a trailhead only to find it’s closed, and reduce trespassing on private land, Risch in a statement to the Idaho Statesman.

“Now that the MAPLand Act is law, I look forward to seeing my fellow Idahoans take full advantage of these modernized records and explore all that Idaho’s vast public lands have to offer,” Risch said.

The data publication is slated to be completed within the next four years.

The legislation earned bipartisan support, with just nine lawmakers voting against it in the House. The Senate passed the act unanimously. Local and national outdoor recreation and conservation groups have lauded the effort.

“We appreciate the leadership shown by Idaho’s congressional delegation in seeing the MAPLand Act through to the finish line,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, in a statement. “Hunters and anglers as well as our partners in the outdoor industry have been vocal champions of the MAPLand Act since it was first introduced, because we know that this common-sense investment will empower more people to get outside and discover new recreational opportunities.”

Brian Brooks, head of the Idaho Wildlife Federation and a longtime proponent of public land access, said the digitized information will be a boon to Idahoans.

“So many of these records weren’t digitized, and they’re in old dusty bins in back offices across the state,” Brooks told the Statesman. “This is a great resource to use some technology to have a one-stop shop and say, ‘Here’s where I can go.’”

Studies in recent years have shown that thousands of acres of public land in Idaho are inaccessible. Brooks said revisiting records, particularly of easements, could unlock access to some of that acreage.