Saturday, January 28th, 2023
Saturday, January 28th, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

IL: Access program will help state’s hunters, anglers

Springfield —  The Illinois Recreational Access Program will
begin enrolling landowners later this year, thanks to a $525,250
federal grant to DNR to provide public access to private lands for
hunting and fishing.

DNR Director Marc Miller said that the program is part of the
recently enacted federal farm bill.

“We were one of the few new programs awarded this opportunity,”
Miller said “It provides us with an opportunity to do some things
we need to do in Illinois.”

Miller noted Illinois is the fifth most-populous state in the
country, but 95 percent of Illinois lands are privately held.

“As we move further away from our agricultural roots and that
ancestor who owned land, we are losing that opportunity to fish,
hunt and go outdoors,” he said. “We simply cannot hold steady with
the land we have in our fish and wildlife areas and hope that will
be enough. We are going to have to go out and find willing
landowners. This will be a voluntary, incentive-based
program.”

Landowners will be offered $12 to $65 per acre for impounded
surface water; $1,000 to $2,500 per mile of river access; $500 to
$2,500 per mile of stream access; and $1.50 to $35 per acre for
hunting. Each of those figures represents a per year figure.

The program is designed to give individuals, not outfitters, access
to Illinois’ public land.

“We’ll have to write rules in creating this program,” Miller said.
“We are not going to pay an incentive from taxpayer dollars and
then allow private interests to do exactly what is the opposite of
what is written into the program.”

A three-year program, the grant has the possibility to increase to
$1.5 million.

Part of the initial $525,250 includes habitat improvement and some
administrative costs.

Before any agreements can be reached, environmental assessments
must be completed on prospective sites. DNR expects to begin
talking to prospective participants this fall. As a result, some
private fishing areas could be open to the public next year.

“There will be a lot of eyes watching this program,” Miller said.
“We’re going to try our best to put us in a position where both the
program is a success and Illinois will be able to continue
receiving this program’s benefits.”

In the first year, DNR hopes to provide access to 100 youth turkey
hunting sites, two new access points for fishing and canoeing and
boating opportunities on the Kankakee and Iroquois rivers, walk-in
access to 200 acres of impounded waters, fishing access for five
miles of non-navigable streams, and access to 500 acres for youth
deer hunting.

Debbie Bruce, chief of the private lands and watershed division of
DNR, said environmental assessments will have to be conducted on
land to be enrolled to see if there are threatened and endangered
species present and to evaluate any other potential environmental
problems.

Access for fishing should be available next year, she said.

Miller said participants will be required to sign liability waivers
at the local Farm Service Administration office to protect the
landowner. It will not be a requirement that landowners buy their
own liability insurance.

The federal grant for the new IRAP is from the USDA Voluntary
Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program.

Liability insurance is an issue being worked on.

“We are covered for liability for hunting and shooting sports,”
Miller said. “What is not covered under current Illinois law is
fishing activities. The fisherman must sign a waiver so that the
landowner will be protected from undo liability.”

IRAP will provide incentives and liability waivers to landowners
who allow free public access to their properties for recreational
opportunities including hunting, fishing, boating and other
activities.

For more information on the program, call (217) 524-4111.

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