Wednesday, February 1st, 2023
Wednesday, February 1st, 2023

Breaking News for

Sportsmen Since 1967

State hopes for Open Fields dollars, more participation

Madison – If the state is going to receive any part of the $50
million in federal grant money set aside for public access programs
on private land, the DNR is going to have to put together a
stunning application by the Aug. 23 deadline.

That’s on Monday.

And, that date was only about 12 days down the road from the phone
interview Wisconsin Outdoor News conducted with Missy Sparrow, DNR
wildlife biologist and private lands specialist, who was tasked
with putting together Wisconsin’s application for funds.

“It’s a very short turnaround time and it looks like a complicated
application procedure, but we’ll get it done to the best of our
ability,” Sparrow said. “I’m kind of thinking we will expand our
current program and change the rental rates landowners are getting
– it’s a low rate right now – and I’m hoping to expand on that to
get more landowners on board.

“We’re also looking to expanding the program to other areas of the
state – the Fox River Valley, Hudson, Milwaukee areas.”

In an effort to cover more ground quickly and get the application
completed on time, Sparrow invited members of state conservation
groups to a meeting on Aug. 13 in Madison. The groups include
Pheasants Forever, Ducks Unlimited, Wisconsin Woodland Owners,
Trout Unlimited, the National Wild Turkey Federation, Wings over
Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Waterfowl Association, the Conservation
Congress, the Wisconsin Bowhunters Association, the Wisconsin
Wildlife Federation, the Wisconsin Smallmouth Bass Association, the
Ruffed Grouse Society], the Wisconsin Farm Bureau, and the
Wisconsin Audubon Society.

RGS’s Dan Dessecker, of Rice Lake, said his group was a supporter
of the “Open Fields” component of the Farm Bill, for which the $50
million in federal money was made available.

“We worked with many other conservation organizations to promote
this concept,” said Dessecker, RGS director of conservation
policy.

“We don’t have a lot of public hunting areas in the south, compared
to central and north areas of the state,” Dessecker said. “It’s
reasonable to concentrate these efforts in areas where there are
more people. We might have a hard time justifying (in the
application) spending money in northern Wisconsin where we already
have a lot of public access. The south-central, southwest,
southeast? Sure, why not?”

If that’s what happens, Sparrow and the others will build on an
existing program that is almost single-handedly being maintained by
DNR Wildlife Technician Brian Buenzow in Rock and Green counties.
Of the roughly 15,000 acres enrolled in a state lease program,
Buenzow’s efforts account for 9,000 to 10,000 acres annually.

“I inherited the program when I showed up in 1981. Some of the
original leases date back to the 1950s and today I’m leasing from
the third generation from the same farm,” Buenzow said.

“At one time, we had these things all over the state. Guys like Jim
Huntoon and Ray Kyro started it here. Now, we’re barely hanging on.
Pheasants Forever, NWTF, and local conservation clubs paid the
leases for two years. I think it’s a great program. We just have to
have the ambition to keep it going,” he said.

“I’m hoping we can build on what we have – take what we have and be
able to lease more land and do more habitat work at the same time.
Our current program, for some reason, has fallen into disfavor. I’m
not sure why. It does take an annual work effort, but it is such a
good deal that I don’t know why we don’t do more of it,” Buenzow
said.

As for the Open Fields money, Buenzow said it will be good for
Wisconsin if the state’s application is accepted.

Of the $50 million offered through Open Fields, Sparrow said only
$16.6 million will be allocated among all accepted applicants for
this first fiscal year.

“It will be very competitive,” she said. “Each state can ask for up
to $2 million per year, and you can ask for three years at a time.
If every state that applies asks for $6 million, that first $16.6
million won’t go far.

“It’s also an interim rule, so things could change in the future.
If we don’t get accepted this year, the program may be a little
different next year. There is a push to put more money out there
this year,” she said.

Sparrow said Wisconsin’s advantage is that the state already has a
program in place, and that’s one of the requirements or objectives
listed in the application. She said only 16 or 17 states have a
private-land access program.

“We have CREP and a current lease program. We will have an
advantage over other states because of those things,” she
said.

Last year, Wisconsin leased 16,000 acres for $23,000, mostly in
southern and southeastern counties.

Sparrow said successful applicants will be notified by
September.

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