In the last few months I’ve been taking an interest in small-game hunting. I bought a rifle, took a hunter education class, and got a license for 2015. This weekend I picked up a new pair of snowshoes. My plan was to head down the road to a place I know is state-owned forest, where hunting is allowed. Then it occurred to me that while I knew of a specific place in that forest, I didn’t know its boundaries. If I was going to park and walk around in there, I’d better school myself on where the state forest ends and some other property—where hunting might not be allowed—begins.
Easy, right? I mean, this is 2015. Governments everywhere have browsable GIS databases that give as much detail as you care to discover, and always updated. So I headed to Alaska Mapper with a simple question: “where is the boundary of the Tanana Valley State Forest?”. After spending two-and-a-half hours there, I was no closer to the answer, and decided that Alaska Mapper was one of the most user-hostile websites I’ve ever used. It’s slow, loaded with undefined jargon (quick now: what’s the difference between “selected” and “acquired” state land?), and gave me peverse results. For example, my own apartment, which sits on private property in an urban subdivision, was shown as being part of a square mile parcel owned by the State of Alaska (!). I later discovered that this is by design; the surface ownership data available on Alaska Mapper only has a square-mile resolution. That is, for each square mile of land, only one landowner is shown, even if there are more than one. Thus, trying to establish boundaries like I’m doing is impossible. I’m still wracking my brain trying to figure out why such a spectacularly stupid and useless product was created in the first place.I continued researching for another three hours and was unable to discover any alternative land ownership data source. Fairbanks-North Star Borough (my “county”) might have it, but it costs a whopping $150 for a password to unlock a zip file. And the data you get is only current for two months. That just ain’t gonna be happening, folks.
In video gaming, there’s a thing called “rage quitting”, which is pretty much what it says. I’m almost at that point with hunting, and I haven’t even been out there to do it yet.I can’t help but feel that there’s something I’m missing with all this. Other hunters seem to magically know where to go; I need to find out how. Sometime soon when my blood pressure settles down, I’ll make one last attempt to figure this out. But time is money, and I’ve already blown over five hours on something that takes five minutes in other US states.