Walk-in access adds 6,000 acres for hunting this fall

Hunters heading to southwestern Minnesota will have access to an additional 6,000 acres of hunting land this fall, as the Walk-In Access (WIA) program grows to more than 15,000 acres, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

“Sign crews are out right now marking boundaries on the new walk-in land,” said Marybeth Block, WIA coordinator for the DNR. “Hunters will have access to 158 sites across 21 counties, beginning Sept. 1.”

WIA provides public access to private land and pays landowners by the acre to allow hunting access. This is the second year of a three-year WIA pilot program.

“We continue to get feedback that walk-in is working for both hunters and landowners,” Block said. “We look forward to the success of our first year carrying into 2012.”

She anticipates that maps of all sites will be available for viewing at www.mndnr.gov/walkin by mid-August. Printed atlases of WIA sites will be distributed across the 21-county pilot area or will be available by calling the DNR Information Center at (651) 296-6157 or toll-free 1 (888) 646-6367.

Block said the majority of WIA acres are enrolled for multiple years and are also enrolled in a federal or state conservation program designed to maintain cover on the acres. Many of these conservation programs have been opened to emergency haying and grazing in response to severe drought conditions across the country. Landowners under WIA contracts will be allowed to remove a portion of the forage from those conservation lands, but their WIA payment will be reduced 25 percent for the year. The WIA Web site will list the sites that have been approved for emergency haying or grazing.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) funded the first two years of the program. The Minnesota Legislature has approved additional funding for WIA. A $5 surcharge on non-resident hunting licenses has been directed to the program. Resident hunters have the opportunity to donate $1, $3 or $5 to the program when purchasing a small game or deer license.

“Hunter support is key to this program,” Block said. “Using the land, respecting the land and donating to the Walk-In program will help build future access for hunters.”

WIA land is open to hunting from Sept. 1 to May 31 each year.

WIA is a partnership among the DNR, soil and water conservation districts, Board of Water and Soil Resources and USDA.