Federal lands in Johnson County, Wyoming and the West are a checkerboard of landlocked, isolated parcels: public lands bounded by private holdings and accessible only by crossing private land.
Some of the checkerboard patterns are remnants of a long-gone era when the federal government gave railroad companies alternating sections of land that met corner-to-corner as an inducement to build the railroad. But that past has created a very real headache now.
The problem for recreationists and sportsmen is figuring out how to access public land that they are absolutely entitled to use.
And the challenges extend well beyond sportsmen. Unmapped private roads create a conundrum for anyone trying to read a map. If you’re lost somewhere in Johnson County, and you come to a private road that intersects the county-maintained road, but that private road isn’t mapped, it makes it difficult to orient yourself on the map.
Firefighting efforts are also affected by unmapped roads. If roads aren’t mapped, it’s difficult to direct fire crews to the fire. Firefighters would still need landowner permission to cross mapped private roads, but if there was a map of the routes, getting crews to the fire would be that much easier.
The BLM’s Buffalo Field Office is attempting to remedy the issue by mapping both public and private roads in southern Johnson County near Kaycee. Some of the private routes are ranch roads; others are roads developed for energy drilling.
No one disputes landowners’ rights to keep private property private. Nor does anyone dispute that there are bad actors who will choose to trespass on private lands – no matter what signage is posted. However, most sportsmen are conscientious and well aware that abuse by one is a black eye for all. Increasingly, sportsmen use GPS devices that have the latest, most accurate information for boundaries and routes.
Still, mapping the roads doesn’t mean they have to be opened to the public to cross to the federal lands. They can be marked private. Furthermore, with accurate, up-to-date mapping, there will be no excuse to wind up on a private road accidentally.