Local landowners can earn money by allowing public hunting on their private land through the Walk-In Access (WIA) program, according to Tom Maher of the Brown County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD).
"WIA is an effective way for landowners to generate extra revenue from their habitat acres," Maher said. "We hope to enroll 500 WIA acres in Brown County by spring. This will be added to 254 acres of WIA in our county which were enrolled in multi-year agreements last year."
WIA pays landowners by the acre to allow hunting access. The program targets privately owned parcels of 40 acres or more that are already enrolled in a conservation program such as Reinvest In Minnesota (RIM) or Conservation Reserve Program. River bottoms, wetlands and other high-quality habitat will also be considered for WIA this year.
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. WIA is entering its third year and has added an additional 14 counties this year.
"We have had a great response from landowners," said Marybeth Block, WIA coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Block said that 12,500 acres are already enrolled for 2013 through multi-year contracts and hopes to add another 12,500 acres in new enrollments.
"Studies across the country say that hunter numbers are declining because it's getting tougher to find places to hunt," Block said. "WIA is one way to address this, while also rewarding landowners for keeping their land in high quality habitat."
Maher said it is important for landowners to know that enrollment in WIA is voluntary, and recreational use laws provide extra liability protection for WIA acres. Landowners can opt out of the program in 5 days by notifying the state and returning the boundary signs.
WIA land is for public hunting only. No target practice, trapping, dog training, camping, horseback riding or fires are allowed. No vehicles are allowed on conservation land. Parking is along roads or in designated parking areas. Once private land is enrolled in the program, bright yellow-green hexagon signs are placed at the property boundaries.