DNR seeking landowners to participate in new access program

September 03, 2011 at 09:48 PM

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources is looking for landowners willing to roll out the welcome mat for young turkey hunters and others seeking opportunities for outdoors recreation.

DNR has a three-year, $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency to compensate landowners who are willing to provide access for specific activities.

The Illinois Recreational Access Program is open to landowners in the Illinois and Kaskaskia River watersheds, encompassing 68 counties.

Most central Illinois counties fall within the two watersheds.

The initial focus is on providing youth turkey hunts by next spring, so the DNR is trying to sign up landowners now.

Those property owners will receive a lease payment, plus help with habitat management.

Those not already enrolled in conservation programs might be steered towards appropriate programs that have cost-share help available.

Tammy Miller, IRAP program manager, said a coordinator is being hired to meet with landowners to help them develop habitat management plans.

In additional to youth turkey hunts, property owners may agree to allow birders, nature photographers and canoeists to use their property on a controlled basis.

Users will have to register and buy a permit, which costs $10 per year, at their local soil and water conservation district office.

“That way, if garbage happens, we will know who was on the property on a given day,” Miller said.

Landowner fees range widely depending upon the activity and size of the acreage:

Three-year rental agreements for turkey hunting can total from $1,140 for 40-80 acres to $6,453 for parcels above 531 acres.
Fishing and boat access can range from $1,035 over three years for a 1-3 acre pond to $2,415 for ponds more than 9.1 acres.
Stream access for fishing starts at $333 and goes up to $1,087 over the life of the agreement.
Boat access ranges from $1,035-$3,105.
Rental payments from other conservation programs are not affected.

Miller said the program’s goal is to put 100 youth turkey hunters in the woods this spring. She estimates 25-30 landowners will be needed to support 100 hunters.

Youth hunts also are planned during the third and fourth turkey seasons this spring.

Miller said it is essential to get landowners lined up now so young hunters can get permits for the appropriate seasons.

“I’m getting a call a day, an e-mail a day,” Miller said of interest in the program. “I mailed some applications off, and I expect some to come in this week.”

Kent Adams, regional biologist with the National Wild Turkey Federation based in Effingham, said his organization is involved with the voluntary access program on a national level.

“It has been a priority for us wherever it has been put into place, in whatever state it has been implemented, to support it,” he said.

Adams said turkey hunting is a good place to start, because the sport is growing in popularity and spring turkey hunting does not conflict in any way with deer hunting seasons.

“We’ve seen it work with our chapters at the local level, especially for youth hunts,” he said. “The Petersburg chapter, the New Salem Longbeards, has run a successful youth hunt for many years.”

The Longbeards match up children who want to hunt with local landowners willing to host them.

“Access is perpetually listed as the number one problem when we ask people why they quit hunting and why people say they are not trying,” Adams said. “It’s a tough nut to crack.”

He said the program should generate some enthusiasm among landowners eager to help introduce children to the outdoors.

And youth need mentors to show them the ropes. “I hunt because my dad hunted, and his dad hunted and his dad hunted,” Adams said. “We’re losing mentors and the kids along with them. That’s where the challenge comes into play.”

Chris Young can be reached at(217) 788-1528.