BY SCOTT RALL
The Globe outdoors columnist
Last week I was looking for an outdoor activity and ended up buying all of my hunting licenses instead. This week we had kind of a little flurry of wildlife-related activities.
I met up with Scott Roemhildt. He is the Southern Region Director for the DNR, but he is also in charge of the state’s Walk in Access Program. It is a program that pays private landowners a small fee to allow members of the public to hunt on their private land.
The fee is around $10-$12 per acre per year and contracts run from 1-3 years. The whole cost in Minnesota for a year is about $600,000. Most of it comes from a portion of the federal farm bill. Other funds come from the state of Minnesota and donations from hunters.
I donated $10 to the program when I made my license purchases last week.
You need to pay at least $3 to utilize these private lands acres. There is just shy of 30,000 acres available in Minnesota and most of those are in the south west portion of the state.
Three dollars is pretty cheap to get you access to almost 30,000 acres of habitat. Nobles County does not have many spots, but the ones that are enrolled are totally awesome.
There are 320 acres just north of Bigelow and another 300-plus acres just north of Reading. Those two spots alone are worth way more than $3.
You need to be diligent when you purchase the right to hunt on the lands. I donated $10 to the WIAP and, in the end, I still did not have what I needed.
The donations in and of themselves do not get you access. You need to purchase the validation for $3.
This is number ELS code 190. ELS stands for electronic license system.
The agents who sell you your licenses don’t always know exactly what you need. I went back and purchased the validation separately for the $3. Not the end of the world, but you can skip the second trip if you pay attention the first time.
The lands are open to hunting during regular seasons and allow foot traffic only.
You need to understand that the landowners who participate can back out anytime they choose. You need to be respectful of their property and make sure you don’t block traffic, leave litter laying around or anything else that will cause the cooperator any heartburn. If you see some trash left by someone else, make sure you pick it up and dispose of it properly.
The dove season opens on Sept. 1, and that would be the first time you could utilize the acres enrolled in the WIAP for the 2018 hunting season.
I dropped off printed maps of the WIAP acres to Walmart, Runnings and Ace Hardware in Worthington. There is another stock of these maps at the Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce and the rest stop on highway 60 just south of Worthington. Stop in and pick one up when purchase your license.
I had another interesting encounter this past week, as well. I was asked to give a short presentation to a group of agency folks from around the state. There was a gathering of people from the MN DNR, the Board of Soil and Water Resources (BSWR) and several different watershed districts. There was also some different Soil and Water Conservation district personnel on hand as well. They were on a tour of project sites that were completed or were in the process of being completed, all with the desired outcome of protecting our surface and ground water resources.
I explained to them how Nobles County Pheasants Forever and the Worthington Power and Light Commission (Worthington Public Utilities) had worked together for the past 15 years to protect the Worthington water supply in the wellfield near lake Bella south of Worthington about seven miles. We have partnered to convert row crop acres to permanent grassland cover in the most highly vulnerable spots of the wellhead protection area to reduce the chances of a contamination of the water supply.
The grasslands provide habitat for wildlife while at the same time reducing flooding, absorb chemicals and pollutants and benefit pollinators. I knew many of individuals in attendance from my wildlife activities of the past 30 years.
I thanked them for the work they do to keep Minnesota a great place to live and raise a family.
I think the quality of life in southwest Minnesota is just great. Having clean water and a few wild places to go for a walk are just two of the many reasons it is so.
Take a drive this week at sunset to the Lake Bella area and check out this great partnership effort yourself. It is a small slice of heaven on earth.