Walk-In Hunting Program Surpasses 900,000 Acres

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The Walk-In Hunting Areas (WIHA) program is bigger than ever in 2002. More than 900,000 acres of private land have been leased by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks to provide general hunting access for Sunflower State hunters. The acreage total reflects the continued growth of the program since it was initiated by KDWP in 1995.

"The WIHA program has been well received by landowners and hunters alike," said Mike Mitchener, KDWP's private lands coordinator. "It provides participating landowners some income and gives hunters a variety of places to hunt." The program is funded by hunting license fees and federal aid dollars, which are generated through excise taxes on sporting arms and ammunition.

The 2002 WIHA Atlas is being printed now and will be distributed to department offices and license vendors during the first week in September. Hunters with internet access can download all or parts of the atlas at the KDWP website, www.kdwp.state.ks.us. The atlas includes maps of each county that contains WIHA properties, and provides basic information on the size and game species likely to be found on each property.

KDWP district wildlife biologists work with interested landowners to enlist properties in the program. Those properties are selected based on their value as wildlife habitat. Some parts of Kansas, especially western Kansas, have experienced severe drought this year. As a result, habitat on some WIHA tracts may exhibit sparser cover than in the past.

"During drought conditions, the U. S. Department of Agriculture can allow emergency haying and grazing of Conservation Reserve Program grasslands, which are commonly found among WIHA tracts," Mitchener said. Landowners can hay up to 50 percent of a CRP tract and can allow livestock grazing, as well, as long as they leave a residue of vegetation at least five inches tall.

"We realize these are hard times for agricultural producers, especially in western Kansas and some other areas of the state suffering through drought," Mitchener said. While the drought will be reflected in some WIHA tracts, haying and grazing can have positive long term benefits on their value as wildlife habitat, he added.

"We appreciate the cooperation we've had from Kansas landowners participating in the WIHA program, as well as the responsible behavior of hunters who use these properties," Mitchener said.