DES MOINES - The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is accepting public comments on a pilot hunting access program.
The three year Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive pilot program is being funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture as well as a portion of wildlife habitat fees paid by hunters. At least $1 from every wildlife habitat fee is required to be spent in a manner that increases landowner participation in federally funded conservation programs that encourage opportunities for recreational hunting on private land.
Landowner participation for the program is voluntarily and in exchange for allowing hunter access, the landowner would receive payments to create, manage or enhance wildlife habitat on their land.
The proposal states that in order to be eligible for the voluntary program, an applicant shall own at least 40 acres of private land in Iowa, have land that already contains wildlife habitat or be willing to develop wildlife habitat, enter into an agreement with the DNR and allow public access hunting.
"One of the concerns we have heard about this program is the issue of liability," said Dale Garner, chief of the DNR's Wildlife Bureau. "We have visited with our legal representatives at the Iowa Attorney General's Office and what they are telling us is, if the landowner does not charge a fee for hunters to access their property, that they would not be held liable in the case of injury."
Funds would be available from July 1 to June 30, 2012. Enrolled land will be subject to game management area hunting rules according to Iowa law.
Research shows that an estimated 10 percent of Iowa landowners may be interested in this program. The pilot project could potentially fund access to 10,000 acres in each of the three years during the program. Contracts would be from 3 to 10 years in length.
"It is important to remember that this is a pilot project that provides much needed wildlife habitat on private land in exchange for public access. If the pilot is successful, a new funding source, like an access fee, will be needed to continue and grow the program," Garner said.
Any person wishing to make written public comments may send those on or before Feb. 3, to Kelly Smith, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Wallace State Office Building, 502 E. 9th Street, Des Moines, IA 50319-0034 or by fax at 515-281-6794 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A public hearing will be held at 1 p.m., Feb. 3, in the fourth floor east conference room, Wallace State Office Building, 502 E. 9th St., in Des Moines. Any persons intending to attend the public hearing and have special requirements, such as those related to hearing or mobility impairments, should contact the Department of Natural Resources and advise of specific needs.