OLYMPIA – Private landowners in Washington will have a greater incentive to open their land to hunters, thanks to a new federal grant announced last week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Under the new federal grant program, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) will receive $837,000 to support development of land-use agreements with landowners who voluntarily make their land available to hunting and other forms of outdoor recreation.
The additional funding is a major boost for current state efforts to open the gates to private lands previously closed to hunting, said Dave Ware, WDFW game manager, noting that the grant will support new landowner agreements in 12 counties.
“Hunters consistently rank access to suitable hunting areas as one of their top concerns,” Ware said. “This new funding will allow us to build on current state efforts to expand hunting opportunities for years to come.”
Washington was one of 17 states to receive competitive grants under the USDA’s new Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program, created by the 2008 federal Farm Bill to expand public access to private agricultural and forest lands.
Ware said WDFW is already working toward that goal, and expects to open more than 200,000 acres of additional private land to hunting by the start of next year’s hunting season.
To support that effort, WDFW has raised $400,000 to expand hunter access through additional fees paid by hunters who apply for new permit-only hunts.
“Our staff is working with farmers, ranchers and owners of private timberlands on multi-year agreements right now,” Ware said. “With the new federal grant, we’ll be able to do a lot more.”
Ware said WDFW has bolstered its Private Lands Access program to reverse the steady decline of land open to hunting due to population growth, suburban sprawl and crowding on public lands. The department currently has access agreements with over 600 landowners, providing access to just over one million acres of private land around the state.
Besides opening their lands to hunters, landowners may qualify for compensation by planting crops and vegetation that attract game or agreeing to allow duck blinds on their property.
Rural communities that provide services to hunters who visit their area also benefit from the program, Ware said. According to a survey conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, hunters spend approximately $313 million in Washington each year, mostly in rural areas.
WDFW plans to use the USDA grant to support projects that provide incentives to:
- Private landowners who allow waterfowl hunting, big game hunting and wildlife viewing in Whatcom, Skagit and Snohomish counties.
- Private forest landowners who allow hunting in Lewis, Cowlitz and Wahkiakum counties.
- Private landowners who allow hunting for pheasant and other wildlife found in fields in Whitman, Garfield, Columbia, and Walla Walla counties.
- Farmers who leave corn stubble untilled through the winter for waterfowl food and allow hunting in Grant and Franklin counties.
In addition, WDFW plans to update its GoHunt online mapping program, and develop an automated system that will allow hunters to reserve hunting days on private lands enrolled in some of the department’s access programs.
For more information on the Private Lands Access program, see WDFW’s website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/hunting_access/private_lands/.