Southwest landowners can get paid by opening land to hunters

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources says certain landowners in 21 southwestern counties can receive payment for giving hunters access to their property.

The Walk-In Access program is looking for privately owned land of at least 40 acres that is enrolled in a conservation program such as Reinvest in Minnesota or the Conservation Reserve Program. 

This year, other areas of high-quality habitat such as river bottoms or wetlands will also be considered. Priority is given to land in conservation programs.

Landowners who enroll in WIA agree to open their acres to public hunting during all legal hunting seasons from Sept. 1 to May 31. The land is opened for walk-in traffic only. 

WIA offers landowners a base rate of $10 per acre on an annual basis. Payment is sent at the end of hunting season. A bonus payment of up to $3 per acre is available to landowners who enroll more than 140 contiguous acre, if the land is within one-half mile of existing state or federal hunting land or if a two-year agreement is signed. 


This is the second year of Minnesota's two-year WIA pilot program. It is funded by USDA. Last year, 90 landowners enrolled approximately 9,000 acres. The goal for 2012 is to have 25,000 acres.

"Studies across the country say that hunter numbers are declining because it's getting tougher to find places to hunt," said the DNR coordinator for WIA, Marybeth Block. "I see WIA as one way to address this, while also rewarding landowners for keeping their land in high-quality habitat." 

Many landowners who enroll in the voluntary program want to see the tradition of hunting maintained.

They should get less calls from individuals requesting permission to hunt on their land because parcels enrolled for 2012 will be listed online at in August. 

DNR conservation officers will address trespass and hunting violations. Hunters are asked to pack out spent shotgun or rifle casings. They aren't permitted to build permanent blinds or other structures. Bright, yellow-green hexagon signs are placed at the property boundaries.

According to Block, Minnesota's recreational use laws apply to landowners in WIA, giving extra protection by holding them to the lowest level of liability. 

Landowners can end their participation at any time by sending written notice to the DNR.

The land becomes closed to hunting 30 days after the DNR receives the notice. The department will send these landowners a partial payment, based on their length of time in the program.


Southwest Minnesota was selected for the pilot program partly because it has the least amount of public land in the state. North Dakota and South Dakota have similar programs that attract pheasant hunters, and the southwest region has quality pheasant habitat, Block said. 

She thinks the program has a chance to eventually expand to other parts of southern Minnesota.

"We are working on some policy language that would establish a program in Minnesota and possibly fund it through user fees," she said. 

WIA is a partnership between the DNR, Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Board of Water and Soil Resources and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Landowners can enroll with their local Soil and Water Conservation District. Sign-up began Feb. 1 and continues through April 15. 

Eligible Minnesota counties are Big Stone, Brown, Chippewa, Cottonwood, Jackson, Kandiyohi, Lac Qui Parle, Lincoln, Lyon, Martin, Murray, Nobles, Pipestone, Pope, Redwood, Renville, Rock, Stevens, Swift, Watonwan and Yellow Medicine. 

More than 20 states have an open fields or WIA program, Block said.  

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