More hunter access to private lands

Hunters can look forward to some new public lands this fall, thanks to the new Voluntary Public Access (VPA) program. This program will open more land for hunters, fishermen, trappers and wildlife enthusiasts, beginning in September, but it may be a short-term gain.

The VPA program is brand new to Wisconsin and funded by a grant through the 2008 Federal Farm Bill. The money goes through the Farm Services Agency and is used and allocated by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Melissa Keenan, VPA coordinator for the DNR briefed partner conservation organizations on the progress of the program and said that because of the current funding concerns in Washington, D.C. the state may not get any more funding for this program after 2015.

However currently the state has received $1.9 million for 2010 and 2011 and is using the money to lease more land that will be open for hunting, fishing, trapping and wildlife observation.

"The program is modeled after the Open Fields walk-in access programs in the Western states, where they have seen it stimulate the local economy, provide access to private land and promote conservation," Keenan said.

Of the $1.9 million the state received, $1.4 million will be used for lease agreements. In addition, another $300,000 will be used to "upgrade" some of the state's existing Public Hunting Ground leases, another $300,000 is going to specific focus areas in eastern and central Wisconsin, and $150,000 will specifically go to the southwest Driftless Area of the state.

The DNR also hired Keenan as the VPA coordinator, in a Limited Term Employee (LTE) position, and has hired four LTE employees each for six months who are out meeting with landowners to sign up new land and put up signs on properties.

Landowners who participate can receive $3 per acre for agricultural land, $10 per acre for grassland, and $15 per acre for forestland.

The leases will go for three years or less, with each ending on August 31, 2014. That way there will be one end date to the program, unless any additional funding is received before that.

The DNR currently has its existing PHG program that totals 16,000 acres in 15 counties, with individual landowners receiving payments of $1 to $3 per acre per year. The state realizes that the current payment level is low and

As an incentive to get new landowners into the program, the payment to the landowner will come as soon as they sign up for the program.

The focus areas for the program are in the southern half of Wisconsin, in order to be closer to the population centers. This is also closer to most of the land that is enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP).

The DNR will be sending out cards to landowners who might be interested, and the land will be highlighted on the DNR web site. More information will be included in the 2012 hunting regulations pamphlet.

As part of the grant, the DNR did have to provide some money, $70,000, and will also have to evaluate the program and provide comments on hunter acceptance and economic impacts.

Groups such as Wisconsin Waterfowl Association, Pheasants Forever, Trout Unlimited and the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation helped to support the DNR's application for the grant and will include information on new lands available in their publications.

To sign up:

Landowners who sign up can receive from $3 to $15 an acre, depending on the land. The DNR does not want to emphasize taking agricultural land out of production, but instead will look at land where wildlife habitat can be improved.

Interested landowners should contact one of the following VPA field liaisons:

· Sherry Shivy, Dodgeville. She covers the southwestern counties (LaCrosse, Monroe, Vernon, Crawford, Richland, Grant, Iowa and LaFayette counties) where CREP acres are located. She will also work to expand state wildlife and fishery areas and stream conservation areas. The land in this area that is expected to be leased will focus along streams to improve fishing access.

· Bobbi Winebar, Green Bay. She covers the northeast (Marathon, Wood, Portage, Shawano, Waupaca, Outagamie, Brown, Winnebago, Calmut, Manitowoc, Fond du Lac and Sheboygan Counties) and will work on expanding public hunting ground properties. Other priorities include developing new access in the Fox River Valley and Wolf River bottoms, and Central Wisconsin grasslands.

· Stan Jonus, Lake Mills. He will cover south central counties (Dodge, Washington, Ozaukee, Dane, Jefferson, Waukesha, Green, Rock, Walworth, Racine and Kenosha Counties). He will look at expanding current public hunting grounds, and expanding the Glacial Heritage area.

· Drew Hawley, Baldwin. He covers the west central counties (St. Croix, Dunn, Chippewa, Pierce, Pepin and Eau Claire Counties). He will work on expanding existing public hunting grounds and Western Prairie Habitat Restoration Area. Some landowners already participate in Project Respect, where landowners allow public use and are not paid and should be interested in this new program.

Keenan said that landowners currently in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) as well as those who have land currently in the Managed Forest Law (MFL) can participate in this program.

The DNR intends to provide additional technical assistance to landowners, including help improving wildlife habitat.

People can go online at the DNR web site (www.dnr.wi.gov) and then put a search in for VPA. Or contact Melissa Keenan at (608) 266-5560 or melissa.keenan@wisconsin.gov.

Categories: Bloggers on Hunting, Wisconsin – Tim Eisele

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