Landowners in 21 southwestern Minnesota counties can earn money by allowing public hunting on their private land through the Walk-In Access (WIA) program, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
WIA, which is entering its second year as a pilot program, targets privately owned parcels of 40 acres or more that are already enrolled in a conservation program such as Reinvest In Minnesota or Conservation Reserve Program. River bottoms, wetlands and other high-quality habitat will also be considered for WIA this year.
WIA pays landowners by the acre to allow hunting access. Bonuses are added if more than 140 contiguous acres are enrolled, if the land is within one-half mile of existing state or federal hunting land, or if a multi-year agreement is signed. This year’s sign-up period goes from Feb. 1 to April 15. Local Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) offices are handling program details and enrollments.
“We had a great response from hunters and landowners last year,” said Marybeth Block, WIA coordinator. She said that 90 landowners enrolled about 9,000 acres in 2011. In 2012, she hopes to have a total of 25,000 acres enrolled.
“Studies across the country say that hunter numbers are declining because it’s getting tougher to find places to hunt,” Block said. “I see WIA as one way to address this, while also rewarding landowners for keeping their land in high-quality habitat.”
Block said that the program is entirely voluntary for landowners. Recreational use laws provide extra liability protection for WIA acres. DNR conservation officers will address trespass and hunting violations. Enrolled acres are for walk-in traffic only; no vehicles are allowed on conservation land. Parking is along roads or in designated parking areas.
WIA land is for public hunting only. No target practice, trapping, dog training, camping, horseback riding or fires are allowed. Similar rules apply to WIAs as to other public wildlife lands. Once private land is enrolled in the program, bright yellow-green hexagon signs are placed at the property boundaries.
Read more about the WIA program and see a map of the 21 counties involved in the program. Locations of parcels enrolled for 2012 will be on the website in August.
The WIA program is a partnership between the DNR, SWCD, Board of Soil and Water Resources and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is funding the first two years of the pilot program.