ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Scott Rall: Creating multiple benefits at every turn

SCOTT RALLDaily Globe outdoors columnist I was in the office the other day and got a call from a good friend of mine by the name of Scott Roemhildt. We met when he was a regional rep for Pheasants Forever. A few years back, he took a job with the...

SCOTT RALL
Daily Globe outdoors columnist 

I was in the office the other day and got a call from a good friend of mine by the name of Scott Roemhildt.  We met when he was a regional rep for Pheasants Forever.  

A few years back, he took a job with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources as the southern region information officer.  We have stayed friends and have been hunting companions for at least the last decade or more.

He recently transferred jobs within the department to take a position as the grassland programs coordinator   He has more than a few responsibilities, but one of the big ones he has been really busy with as of late is called the Walk In Access Program.

He was out delivering WIA maps in our area and we got together for lunch.

ADVERTISEMENT

This is a pretty new effort for the DNR and it has only been in existence for a few years.  It started in 2011 as a result of a federal grant. In the first year there were 15,000 acres that got enrolled.

The WIA program pays individual landowners to allow foot traffic-only hunting on their private lands. Scott works with Soil and Water Conservation Districts to find, inform and ultimately sign up property owners interested in participating.

A landowner first has to have land that is suitable for enrollment.  Most of the areas in southwest Minnesota that are suitable are currently enrolled in a farm bill program called CRP.  CRP stands for Conservation Reserve Program and it pays landowners to set aside marginal areas and plant them to diverse habitat. In CRP the property owner still controls all aspects of the land and he/she can open or close those areas to anyone they choose.

The Walk In Access program targets parcels of land that are at least 40 acres in size or larger. The interested owner then signs a contract for a period from one to three years and is paid between $10-$13 per acre per year. There is no penalty if the landowner cancels in the middle of the term. The longer the term and the bigger the parcel, the higher the rate of payment.

Almost all of the currently enrolled access acres (23,500 for 2016) are grasslands, but river bottoms and forested areas qualify as well.  There are current contacts in 46 counties in Minnesota and all of the 46 counties are in the pheasant range.

Any landowner type is eligible to participate.  This can be individuals, counties, watersheds and even conservation organizations that might own land and are willing to let the public have access to those acres.

Lincoln County has more than 3,300 acres in the program with four more counties enrolling more than 1,300 acres each. The goal is to reach the 30,000 acres and add about 10 more counties to the program.  

By doing so, the diversity of habitats will increase, and other hunting besides pheasant hunting will benefit the most by the expansion.  Deer hunters and turkey hunters will all have more places with good habitat to hunt and recreate. Most of the private lands in the program have habitat that resembles habitat that you would find in a state Wildlife Management Area.

ADVERTISEMENT

Areas enrolled will allow foot traffic hunting only for any species that has an open season from Sept. 1 to May 31. So a dove hunter could start on the opener and a crow hunter could hunt in March. This would include duck hunting, deer hunting, raccoon hunting with dogs and everything else in between. Trapping is not allowed without separate permission granted by the landowner to a specific person in order to do so.

 There has been a great challenge to state wildlife agencies in recruiting new hunters. Hunters dollars pay for the greatest share of wildlife management costs, and when hunter numbers fall the budgets of those agencies fall as well. The most common reason given for reluctance to start hunting, or for existing hunters to stop hunting,  is the lack of places to go. This is the case to a greater extent in some areas over others, but adding 30,000 acres across about half of the state for all hunters to use is certainly going to increase access and opportunity for those having a hard time finding a place to go.

In order to use these private lands open to hunting in a WIA program the hunter has to pay a fee of $3.  This fee is used primarily to count the number of individuals using these areas and to help in a very small way to pay for the costs to run it.  There is also a $5 fee added to every non-resident hunting license of every kind that is doing a small part in operating the program in future years.

Each parcel has a special sign on its boundaries to identify where you can and cannot go.  There is also a very cool map booklet that was just completed and distributed across the state.  

In the Worthington area you can get one of these maps at my office at LPL Financial Scott Rall, the Worthington Chamber office, Walmart and Runnings. This map shows not just the walk-in areas but all public lands in the area and is the most up-to-date map the state has of those areas. It is also available online at mndnr.gov/walkin

It is unfortunate that both Nobles and Rock Counties have zero places enrolled, but there are not very many blocks of 40 areas or more to enroll.

The WIA program is actually a multiple benefits program.  The local economy can benefit from the additional tourism. The local hunters get additional places to hunt and the landowner can can a few extra dollars for, in many cases, doing nothing different than they were already doing.

The only downside to the deal is, if you have a sweetheart private hunting spot to yourself on private land that the owner decided to enroll in this program, you might have to share that spot with others.

ADVERTISEMENT

I have purchased the $3 endorsement on my license every year even though I have never hunted on a parcel of WIA land.  I just never want to drive by a spot and say I can’t go there because I was too cheap to pay the three bucks.

In an upcoming column I will cover all of the other things that Scott works on as the director of grassland programs coordinator.  He told me he is crazy busy but loves the new job and will make time to travel with me to Nebraska in December to hook up with my son Brandon for a pheasant/quail combo hunt.  

I don't wish for winter but I am looking forward to that trip.

What To Read Next
It's been a struggle for the Minnesota West men's basketball team this winter, but coach Brian Stoebner's Bluejays keep plugging away
Former JCC sports star Rudy Voss retires from SDSU football for medical reasons
ST. CLOUD -- The Minnesota West women’s basketball team eased to victory over host St. Cloud Tech on Saturday, 93-40. But it was St. Cloud Tech getting the better of the West men’s team, 84-64.