AUSTIN, Minn. — Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018 — Mower County landowners now can get paid by the state for allowing their private land to be open to public hunting for nine months of the year.
On Wednesday, the Mower Soil & Water Conservation District’s Board of Supervisors approved an agreement that adds Mower County to the Walk-In Access (WIA) program run by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
With 46 counties already enrolled this season, the WIA program provides public hunting on private land while compensating landowners for allowing the access to hunters. Through WIA, more than 26,700 acres of private land have been open since Sept. 1 for public hunting at more than 230 sites in western and south-central Minnesota and will remain open through May 31.
Jim Kellogg, a supervisor on the Mower SWCD board, led the effort to add Mower County to the DNR’s walk-in access program, which mainly covers Minnesota’s western half and only has gone as far east as neighboring Freeborn and Steele counties.
“Mower County has a big need for public hunting land, and we hope this new opportunity will benefit both hunters and landowners locally,” said Kellogg, who represents four townships in Mower County’s southeast corner.
With current enrollment going until April 27, interested landowners in Mower County should contact Mower SWCD technician Larry Callahan, the lead WIA local contact, about potential enrollment in WIA.
Under WIA, land must be at least 40 acres in size or be contiguous with another WIA parcel that covers at least 40 acres. WIA targets land with high-quality natural cover and gives priority to land enrolled in a conservation program, such as Conservation Reserve Program (CRP); Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP); Reinvest In Minnesota (RIM), Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) or other state and federal programs.
In Mower County, nearly 4,800 acres already enrolled in the CREP, CRP and RIM conservation programs are on parcels of at least 40 acres.
“This is a great opportunity for landowners to get additional income on conservation land and pay the taxes on non-productive ground,” said Justin Hanson, Mower SWCD district manager.
While most enrolled WIA parcels are grassland and wetlands, some river bottom and other forested parcels have been accepted by DNR into the program. This provides an opportunity to harvest deer, turkey and other woodland species on WIA land.
Payments to enrolled landowners — who are provided liability protection by the state — are based on number of acres enrolled, length of agreement and proximity to state Wildlife Management Areas (WMA) or Waterfowl Protection Areas (WPA).
Land not enrolled in a conservation program might be eligible if high-quality, natural cover exists and is maintained by the landowner. Property within 500 feet of a home or corral occupied by livestock cannot be enrolled in WIA, unless they are occupied by the cooperator or his/her livestock.
Enrolled parcels must be accessible from a public road; their habitat must be maintained through the WIA enrollment period; and landowners or the state may terminate the WIA contract at any time (effective 30 days after written notice is received).
To legally access WIA land, hunters must have a Walk-In Access Validation, which is available for purchase $3. The fee does not cover costs associated with purchasing access, installing boundary signs or providing online or printed maps of the enrolled WIA properties. The validation fee’s purpose is to help the DNR monitor how many hunters are using WIA land.
Only small inclusions of cropland or hay land may be present in WIA parcels.
Rules for the WIA program include:
- WIA sites are for public hunting only.
- Motorized vehicles are not allowed on WIA properties.
- Individuals with a WIA validation can hunt from 30 minutes before sunrise to 90 minutes after sunset during open hunting seasons, with no landowner contact necessary from Sept. 1 to May 31.
- No target practice, trapping, dog training, camping horseback riding or fires are allowed by the public.
- WIA landowners retain the right to engage in or give written permission for another individual to engage in, those activities listed above and other limited activities that do not impede public hunting, at any time of the year.
- Parking is along roads or in designated parking areas. Vehicles must not block field entrances.
- All hunting rules and regulations apply on WIA land and will be enforced by DNR conservation officers.
For more information, landowners can contact Mower SWCD at 507–434–2603 or go online at: mndnr.gov/walkin