By: Brandon Baker

Public Land43

People have been enjoying the outdoors since the beginning of time. Throughout history, people have interacted with nature through hunting, fishing, hiking, among other ways. Relatively recently though, many individuals in the United States have lost their connection to the outdoors.[1] The increase of technology in our everyday lives and our dependence on it has been a major factor in this disconnect.[2] This is a cause for alarm as being outside is not just a great way to spend your free time, but has major health benefits too. [3]  Being outside has been linked to improving mental, as well as, physical health. [4]In an ever-changing society, nature is more important than ever as it allows people to reconnect with the natural world and feel refreshed.[5]

A major factor that is playing a role in society’s disconnect with nature is access. [6] Even if someone does desire to get outside and explore nature, they may not have anywhere to go. [7] In addition, someone may have an idea of where to go, but is unsure of whether the land is public or private. Instead of trespassing on someone’s land, for many it would be easier to just never go out. Lack of access has a major impact on one’s ability to experience nature, whether it be through hunting or hiking. [8] Though, the problems associated with lack of access go further than just someone deciding to stay inside. Many states use funds from hunting and fishing licenses to help conserve precious habitat for wildlife. [9] Additionally, federal legislation places a tax on the sale of firearms and other hunting related goods in which the money is distributed to states for wildlife conservation. [10]  If hunters cannot hunt due to lack of access, then the federal government has less money to distribute to the states to aide in conservation projects. [11] This would be a major blow to conservation efforts across the United States as around 59% percent of funding to State wildlife agencies comes from hunting and fishing related activities. [12]

To summarize, as a society, we are more disconnected with the outdoors than ever before and are failing to reap the mental and physical health benefits that nature gives us. [13] In addition, even if someone wanted to get outside, lack of access could be a roadblock that leads them to stay inside. [14] So how do we, as a society, fix this?

A handful of companies have attempted to tackle the access issue, and thus, play a role in getting more people outside. One such company is Montana-based onX, which provides outdoorsmen with access to hundreds of maps showing what land is public and what land is private. [15] While this may seem like a minor breakthrough, it is not. These maps can be accessed on your smartphone and not only tell the user what land is public or private, but also includes private landowner names. [16] These maps help users by showing them where they can legally go and as a result, can play a role in not only getting people outside, but also by lowering the chances that they are trespassing on someone’s land. If someone is able to see where they can and cannot go, then the chances of them heading outside are increased.

The effects of these maps are that people are aware of what land they are able to access. By having people know what land they can legally be on, they will be more likely to head outside and experience nature.  If more people are outside and experiencing nature, they can reconnect with the outdoors and reap the endless benefits that our natural environment provides.

[1] See U.S. study shows widening disconnect with nature, and potential solution, Yale Env’t 360 (Apr. 27, 2017), https://e360.yale.edu/digest/u-s-study-shows-widening-disconnect-with-nature-and-potential-solutions.

[2] Id.

[3]See Kevin Loria, Being outside can improve memory, fight depression, and lower blood pressure—

here are 12 science-backed reasons to spend more time outdoors, Bus. Insider (Apr. 22, 2018), https://www.businessinsider.com/why-spending-more-time-outside-is-healthy-2017-7.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] See Public access to private lands, Cong. Sportsmen’s Found. http://congressionalsportsmen.org/policies/state/public-access-to-private-lands.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] See Nathan Rott, Decline in hunters threatens how U.S. pays for conservation, NPR (Mar. 20, 2018), https://www.npr.org/2018/03/20/593001800/decline-in-hunters-threatens-how-u-s-pays-for-conservation.

[10] See Sam Schipani, Did you know that gun sales fund state wildlife programs?, Sierra Club (Apr. 12, 2018), https://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/pittman-robertson-wildlife-conservation-fund.

[11] Id.

[12] Rott, supra note 9.

[13]Loria, supra note 3.

[14] Supra note 6.

[15] See The #1 GPS Hunting App, onX, https://www.onxmaps.com/.

[16] Id.

image source: http://montanawildlife.org/public-land-debate/

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