Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Getting the Most Out of Public Land and Water, Part I

This is why many people avoid public land....from the Fail Blog
A lot of outdoorsfolks, bloggers, and other writers have asked the question, "Why Public Land? Why bother?" It's a daunting question, and one that I will intentionally avoid here! Instead, I'd like to discuss "how to reach your outdoors objective on public land and water," which is a topic that few have chosen to bother with - notably among the few is Ben from Ben G. Outdoors, with his series of posts about hunting on public land for upland birds, deer, and maybe one day, waterfowl. Although I read those posts when Ben originally wrote them, for the purposes of this series of posts, I'm writing without referring back to them. When I finish, I'll make some comparison's to Ben's work and see on what points and pointers we agree and disagree.

Before we try to tease out the prospect of "how to have a good experience on public land," I really believe we need to start by considering who uses any given piece of public land, in general terms:

  1. locals who have no access to private land or water
  2. locals who have detailed knowledge of "where to go" on a large piece of public land, water, or marsh, and want a quality experience similar to other local public and private lands, and
  3. non-locals who are looking for better opportunities than they have in their own locale

That's a huge variety in people, attitudes, and motivation for going afield on a piece of land that may be just one giant marsh, one lake, or a set of corn fields in the middle of nowhere. Now let's consider those users on the standard wildlife management area, which may feature forest, ag fields, grasslands, marsh, shoreline, and ponds or impoundments. And let's consider a time of year like April or October, when multiple uses are bound to impact one another, and conflicts will absolutely occur.

That sure got complicated in a hurry! This diversity in users, ethics, and priorities gives rise to an entire list of reasons why many outdoorsmen and women - from birders to hunters to surfers - avoid public access points like the plague. I'll cover that in my next post - but I bet that you've either thought them or yelled them at one time or another, as your public land experience was "ruined" -sometimes an exaggeration, sometimes not - by another member of the public.

So where should we start, as we try to extract more out of our public land experiences? I'd argue that the first exercise, which is overlooked by easily 50% of outdoorsfolk, is to actually know what public land is available. In my state, the state and counties are constantly adding public land via real acquisition, easements, and leases. These properties, which can be anything from stretches of beach to 10 acre woodlots surrounded by (private) ag fields, make it into the state hunting properties list after a few years of ownership, if ever. Do you know who the largest landowner in the United States? Did you answer the Department of Defense? That's right. If you or your spouse have a military ID - on some bases, you don't need one, you just need a base fishing/hunting/recreation license - you should be able to get on post for some outdoor activities. This is especially key for low security annexes or outposts where few other folks are liable to tread.

How do you get a reliable, high quality list of public properties that may or may not allow hunting, fishing, or other activities? You've got to do the homework. Part 1 of said homework is to find out what public land is even out there.

  1. Consult a state list of real properties (created annually for Federal tax purposes) - not just WMAs - look for state parks, rec areas, natural areas, "preserves," "open space areas," "natural heritage areas" and the like. Be ready to read about nearby state properties you've never even heard of! Many of us merely go to areas we already know, or areas that we happened to learn about while doing an internet search. If your area is anything like mine, though, you'll need to go beyond that level to enjoy public land.
  2. Find a list of county/city parks and recreation areas, areas owned by the Department of Public Works, and others.
  3. In some areas, you'll want a list of Federal properties too. Don't overlook US Forest Service (who add land regularly, often in disconnected patches) and the US Department of Energy. At this stage, don't be too concerned about what activities are/not permitted.

Part 2 of your effort - go ahead and cyberscout, I mean, virtually groundtruth, those properties with Google Earth or similar imagery - maybe a property is a paved lot full of schoolbuses, and maybe it's an overgrown site with a tiny pond in the back. It's absolutely critical that this step precedes, not substitutes for your actual scouting and calling work (to be detailed in my next post). At this point, you should either be working on a list or a spreadsheet with the following columns:

Property Name/Address Distance from Home Possible Activities?

Once you've started to get this basic information - it's time for Part 3 of this exercise - learning what's clearly legal, what's clearly not, reading between the lines, and not being afraid of "going deep and dark."
See you then!


Leigh, Andrea Leigh Gil said...

Safety being the primary reason the hunters in this family avoid public land use areas... looking forward to your thoughts in the next post.

Unknown said...

My public land experiences have not been good ones here in the South. Had one guy walk under my tree stand one day and another one shoot a deer out from under me. I travel to Kansas in the fall for pheasants and see public land available every where. That might not be too bad if you can find birds.

Kirk Mantay said...

I could waste a hundred posts complaining about every bad public land experience I've had - there have been many. Wait 'til the next post on the topic, I'll list what I think are the primary reasons why people stay away from public land and I about GUARANTEE that both of you will be reminded of unhappy times when you read each one!

The point of this series of posts will be to show what I believe to be the solutions to many of these problems. One solution that I use - to be honest - is to stay off of public land as much as I can. I want to be in the most remote spot I have access to, which >50% of the time, means private land (when things are working right).

Ben G. said...

Great idea about using google earth and other maps to determin what a public land looks like b4 you go out. I haven't done that yet but maybe soon. I usualy just go out & check them out when I get there.

Safety is a key thing on public land, as it is on any hunting outing. This is how I look at it if you wear lots of orange and know the area fairly well, be on the look out for animals and other hunters. The key while deer hunting on public land is to stay on main trails on your way in and out of the woods espically in low light conditions.

No Video Content For You

Over 12 years ago, I started this blog. There were very few conservation or outdoor blogs at the time, few websites with fast-breaking con...