WASHINGTON, D.C. — Maps are central to our outdoor economy, and our industries like ranching, timber and mining here in Montana.
But getting access to the vast database of federal maps hasn't always been the easiest. However, that could change under a bill advancing in the U.S. Senate.
If you spend any time outdoors in Montana you quickly realize that not all maps are created equal. And that situation hasn't been helped by not having equal access to the extensive mapping data still trapped between the paper and digital age.
The new MAPLand Act seeks to change that.
The Modernizing Access to Our Public Land Act just moved out of the Senate and Energy Natural Resources Committee this week and is headed to a vote on the floor of the Senate.
"So what this does, this ensures that our federal public land agencies are modernized and caught up to the digital age by making maps and other information that's publicly available, available also in a digital form. It's exactly what my bipartisan bill does," explained Senator Steve Daines.
"Of course, we always want to protect private property rights. But the better access we have in these maps, the more clarity it brings to where the public land's end and the private lands begin. So it's a win for private landowners and, importantly, it's a big win for Montanans who love our public lands," Daines continued.
While there has been a growing ability to access public agency maps in recent years, there are frequent "holes" in the information and if you can find digital versions, they frequently cost far more than subscription maps from commercial services. Or the maps you might find online are out of date and don't provide road and trail information to keep up with the boom in outdoor recreation.
"Right, and they have a common uniform standard across all of these federal agencies that have jurisdiction over our public land. It's time to bring the federal government up to the 21st century standards and digital age," said Daines.
More of us are depending on commercial mapping solutions, like Gaia GPS, which I've used for several years, or the Montana-based onX maps. Daines told MTN News the MAPLand Act shouldn't impact those services.
"So many Montana including myself have the onX maps on our phones and I use that all the time when I'm out hiking and hunting and fishing. This just requires now the Department of Interior, the Forest Service, the Army Corps, to digitize and publish mapping data on road and trail closures, hunting boundaries, transportation restrictions. It's just a way to better communicate to the public about what's going on in public lands."