Report: The Upper Midwest’s Inaccessible Public Lands

August 4, 2020 | Outdoors

In our latest partnership with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP) we’ve tackled identifying landlocked public lands in Minnesota and Wisconsin. This report builds on the success of our past projects with TRCP, “Off Limits, But Within Reach: the Federal Landlocked Report” in 2018 and “Inaccessible State Lands in the West” in 2019.
Read “The Upper Midwest’s Inaccessible Public Lands” and our other recent reports with TRCP to learn why landlocked public land exists and why increased access is important for all outdoorsmen and women.

This latest report details the importance of public land for all Americans:

“Public land access is foundational to America’s hunting and fishing traditions. It ensures that outdoor opportunities exist for all of us, regardless of our income, connections, or property ownership.

But in Minnesota and Wisconsin, sportsmen and women are largely losing out on more than 300,000 acres of public land where there is no permanent, legal access.

These local, state, and federal public lands are surrounded by private land with no public roads or trails to reach them. Landlocked parcels range in size from just a few acres to nearly 4,000 acres and—although they are, as a general rule, legally open to public hunting and fishing—guarantee access to no one except the neighboring landowners and those with permission to cross private lands.

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Today, when time in the outdoors is more valuable than ever, unlocking public lands represents one of the most obvious and actionable ways to provide more opportunities for more people to enjoy the woods and waters of our country.”

In this third installment of landlocked reports, we are presenting the total inaccessible acres of city- and county-owned parcels at least an acre in size in addition to the state and federal parcels. Locally-managed land in the upper Midwest, such as certain tax forfeited lands, offer vast and little-known potential for hunting and outdoor recreation. In addition, to reflect the substantial number of lakes and rivers in Wisconsin and Minnesota, we’ve also analyzed the number of publicly-held acres that are adjacent to water which may provide access.

The report notes that, “… For a Midwestern hunter looking to hang a tree stand for whitetails, set up an ambush for turkeys, or work a woodlot for grouse, access to an overlooked public parcel could be a game-changer. And easy access to a lake shore or riverbank might give a parent the only place where they’ll be able to teach their kids to fish for walleye, pike, or smallmouth bass.

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Strategically unlocking as little as a few dozen inaccessible acres at a time could mean the difference between someone having a place to explore the outdoors and not.”

The report revealed Minnesota currently holds 248,000 total landlocked acres and Wisconsin has 55,000 total landlocked acres.

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Landlocked public lands are best made accessible through cooperative agreements with private landowners that result in land exchanges, acquisitions, and easements, but this critical work cannot be facilitated by land trusts, conservation organizations, and public agencies without funding. One of the most significant programs for helping with this is the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The federal LWCF remains the most powerful tool available for establishing and expanding access to public lands and waters. And it just got more powerful, with the recent passage of the Great American Outdoors Act, a bill that fully funds the program at $900 million annually in support of wildlife conservation and outdoor recreation, including $27 million that is dedicated to public access. Importantly, the LWCF is not just limited to federal projects—at least 40 percent of the program must be used for state-driven projects, making it available to help open state- and county-owned lands for public recreation. The bill was recently passed by the Senate with broad, bipartisan support.

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Legislation in Washington, D.C., can sometimes seem very far away. So what can you do to help create more access in the places you spend some of your most precious time? Write and call your state’s representatives. Identify areas of opportunity in your immediate community (and, while you’re at it, share land access opportunities with onX) and connect with your representatives. Let them know the access opportunity and why it’s important to the community.

This will be the first of three regionally-specific landlocked reports released by TRCP and onX in 2020. The next two reports will focus on states in the Northeast and the Southeast.