Outdoors

Access to thousands of acres of state-owned land in Idaho is blocked, report finds

Boise rally: Keep public lands public

More than 2,000 Idahoans gathered at the State Capitol for a public lands rally on Saturday, March 4, 2017. Sponsored by Idahoans for Public Lands, the rally featured speakers that spanned the political spectrum.
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More than 2,000 Idahoans gathered at the State Capitol for a public lands rally on Saturday, March 4, 2017. Sponsored by Idahoans for Public Lands, the rally featured speakers that spanned the political spectrum.

Months after releasing a report detailing the extent of inaccessible federal lands in Idaho, an environmental advocacy group and a technology company have again teamed up to analyze how many acres of state-owned lands are blocked.

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and onX, a GPS hunting app, published a study last week on state-owned land across the West. It found 6.35 million acres of “landlocked” parcels in 11 states, meaning the public land can’t be accessed without permission from a private landowner.

OnX’s geographic information system specialists pored over data from state departments of transportation and other agencies to identify public land parcels that can’t be reached by public roadways or via other publicly accessible land.

In Idaho, the team found 71,000 acres of inaccessible state-owned land. That’s in addition to the 208,000 acres in inaccessible federal lands. Combined, the blocked lands make up less than 1 percent of Idaho’s 34.5 million acres of public land.

But there’s a caveat: Some easements and access information are not legally documented or easily available, according to the report’s explanation of methods.

“As a result, the overall acreage identified as landlocked represents the most accurate assessment possible, but it is reasonable to assume that a nominal percentage of these lands do, in fact, have legally-binding easements on unmaintained two-track routes across private land,” the report said.

OnX’s GIS manager, Lisa Nichols, said Idaho’s information is some of the most accurate data in the set thanks to tools from the Idaho Department of Lands.

“In Idaho, we actually had access to a great easement data (mapping) layer,” Nichols said in a phone interview. “We were able to remove a bunch of parcels that came up as landlocked in the automated process.”

Nichols said the state land data differed from the trends they noticed in blocked-off federal lands. Where inaccessible federal lands sometimes covered broad swaths, the state parcels showed obvious remnants of the township system by which states acquired territory when they first joined the Union.

“The distribution with (inaccessible) state lands was a lot of smaller parcels just spread out all over the state,” Nichols said.

Of the 11 states analyzed, Idaho’s total landlocked acreage was one of the lowest. Only Nevada, Oregon and California had fewer acres of inaccessible state-owned land, while Montana, with 1.56 million inaccessible acres, fared the worst. Idaho also had some of the lowest total landlocked acres of both state and federal land.

The report also pointed to Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s “Access Yes!” program as a step toward “unlocking” some of the inaccessible parcels. The program works with private landowners to secure easements or other access agreements through private property.

Eric Siegfried, founder of onX, said the company encourages recreators to take stock of their surroundings and determine whether access is available.

“We always advocate for people in their communities to look at maps and the situation in the area and get involved (in addressing access issues),” Siegfried said in a phone interview.

And though they’re advocating for better access, the report’s authors also urged sportsmen and women to be mindful of private property boundaries.

“There won’t be a solution if we continue to have a problem with trespassing and not respecting private land,” Nichols said.

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