DES MOINES - Iowa hunters spoke loudly about the lack of hunting opportunities when the Iowa DNR hosted open houses across the state last fall to discuss the fish and wildlife trust fund.
"Frankly, we were not at all surprised to hear that," said Kelly Smith, private lands program coordinator for the Iowa DNR. "We are 49th in the nation in the amount of public land available for hunting. Hunting access on private land is a concern and it grows each year."
Increasing hunter access has been a focal point within the DNR and in an effort to address that need, the Wildlife Bureau was awarded a three year, $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide funding to landowners who voluntarily sign up to install wildlife habitat on their land in exchange for allowing hunters access to that habitat.
"We are excited to see how this pilot project will be received from our landowners," Smith said.
The program works like this. A landowner who is interested in installing wildlife habitat or improving existing habitat contacts the DNR, who will come out to visit the property and together they write a habitat plan that is submitted for consideration. If accepted, the DNR will provide an incentive payment in exchange for the landowner installing the habitat. Agreements last from a minimum of three years to a maximum of 10 years.
The agreement says hunters may have access to the portion of the property covered by the agreement, which will be treated like a public wildlife management area and open to hunting from Sept. 1 to May 31. DNR law enforcement will provide assistance and enforcement if needed.
"Some landowners expressed concerns that if they choose to participate, they would be held liable for hunting accidents or for the people who come on to their property, but landowners are specifically covered by Iowa law for limited liability pertaining to incidents or accidents by hunters on their property," Smith said.
"We believe this program is good for natural resources by creating more wildlife habitat and good for hunters by working to increase hunter access to private land," Smith said.The pilot program will last for three years. Landowner participation is completely voluntary.