By Ryan Owen, Senior Farm Bill Biologist – Indiana, and Cody Grasser, Ohio State Coordinator
Both the following access programs are made possible through United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Voluntary Public Access - Habitat Improvement Program (VPA-HIP), which was authorized and expanded in the 2018 Farm Bill. Pheasants Forever and other conservation organizations successfully lobbied Congress to increase VPA-HIP funding from $40 million to $50 million in the 2018 bill. This expanded funding allowed new states like Ohio and Indiana to compete for additional funds and develop new access programs like these.
Indiana Private Lands Access (IPLA)
Hunting access in Indiana is set to increase thanks to the Indiana Private Lands Access (IPLA) program that is made possible by VPA-HIP. This effort builds upon the past successes that the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) started with a program they developed to incentivize landowners to allow access on private lands for upland bird hunting opportunities.
The newest revisions to the program will expand hunting opportunities to include waterfowl, turkey, deer and small game, in addition to the pheasant, quail and woodcock hunting that was previously allowed. The number of eligible counties and number of acres available for enrollment has increased as well. The goal is to open 10,000 new acres of private land to hunting access.
The program will benefit both hunters and landowners: more access to game for hunters, and a monetary incentive and technical assistance to landowners in exchange for limited access to their properties. Hunting opportunities will be determined through the IDNR’s Reserved Hunt online portal. This lottery draw system will ensure that the property owner is fully aware of when someone is going to be hunting the property and will help improve hunter experiences by controlling pressure.
The increased scope of species allowed to be hunted means that landowners may see an increase in their incentive payment. Maximum payments are achieved for comprehensive access, which would include three or more species. IDNR wildlife biologists will develop a management plan designed to benefit the desired species. Pheasants Forever Farm Bill biologists are working in conjunction with the IDNR wildlife biologists to identify interested landowners.
Reach out to your local Farm Bill biologist for more information, or visit the IPLA page on the Indiana DNR website.
Ohio Landowner/Hunter Access Partnership (OLHAP)
Hunting access is improving in Ohio through another VPA-HIP grant awarded to Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife (ODOW). The recently announced Ohio Landowner/Hunter Access Partnership (OLHAP) offers farmers and landowners financial compensation for allowing public hunting on private lands. The goal is to provide public access to over 20,000 acres of private land across Ohio.
Habitat practices may also be financially incentivized through the program. Payment rates vary based on cover type with a higher per-acre rate for permanent wildlife cover. Habitat quality, proximity to areas with greater access needs, and participation in Farm Bill programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), will all be considered in the ranking process for offered properties.
Access will be managed through an online check-in system to limit pressure and promote quality experiences. All types of hunting will be allowed, except for firearm deer hunting, and trapping.
“Ohio is 95 percent privately owned, and many of these lands are prime outdoor recreational areas,” said Division of Wildlife Chief Kendra Wecker. “This new program helps connect landowners and hunters through incentives and opens many more acres of land to Ohio’s hunting enthusiasts.”
Pheasants Forever staff in Ohio are partnering with ODOW to promote the program and provide technical assistance to participating landowners. For more information, contact a PF Farm Bill biologist, Ohio DNR private lands biologist, or visit the OLHAP website at ohiodnr.gov.
This story originally appeared in the 2021 Fall Issue of the Pheasants Forever Journal. If you enjoyed it and would like to be the first to read more great upland content like this, become a Pheasants Forever member today!