Public lands with no way in: New report details access problems

 

What do the Troublesome Wilderness Study Area in Colorado, the Sabinoso Wilderness and Cowboy Springs WSA in New Mexico, and the Fortification Creek WSA in Wyoming have in common?

They’re all public lands – and none of them can be reached by the public.

Western lands have long had a patchwork of owners: federal, state, local, tribal and private. In the late 1800s, the federal government gave railroad companies every other square mile along rail corridors, creating a public-private checkerboard. But because it’s illegal to even step across a corner from one public parcel to another, many of those pieces of land remain inaccessible. Others are marooned in a sea of private property with no right of way. Some landowners even illegally close public roads across their holdings.

In the Rocky Mountain West, more than 4 million acres of federal public land are effectively off-limits, because there’s no permanent, legal way to access them. The nonpartisan Center for Western Priorities, a Denver-based group focusing on public-land protection, recently used GIS mapping to quantify such “shuttered” lands, mostly managed by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. Their analysis, which the Center describes as "conservative," came up with the  acreage figures shown in the map.

hcn3map.jpg
Nearly 4 million acres of federal land in the Rocky Mountain West have no legal access. Image from the Center for Western Priorities. Data Analysis: Josh Gage, Gage Cartographics.

Federal land managers often can’t get access to those parcels either, as the Bozeman Daily Chronicle notes. So those lands effectively become part of the private domain of adjoining landowners.

“We have no authority over private land, so unless we have permission, we cannot access that,” BLM spokesman Brad Purdy said. “These little pieces are not only difficult for the public to access but they’re difficult for us to manage.”

But private-property rights advocates defend the ability of landowners to close roads across their property. Reports the Great Falls Tribune:

PERC President Anderson, a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, says a well-organized effort is underway by access groups that believe public access to public and even private resources is “somehow a God-given, Constitution-given, somehow-given right.” In his view, the public and public agencies are becoming more aggressive in seeking public access through private property.


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