general hunting access (walk in areas)

Objective 1: To provide the public with added quality hunting opportunities.

Objective 2: To improve the relationships between landowners and hunters.

Objective 3: To improve hunter ethics.

General Concept:

By providing financial and other meaningful incentives to landowners, the department has had great success in opening private land for public hunting. These hunting opportunities expand the opportunities available to hunters as to where and when to hunt. Hunters often experience crowding in key hunting areas during the early part of some seasons; opening thousands of acres of privately owned land for hunting greatly reduces this crowding effect.

In addition to added and improved hunting opportunities, this practice creates shared relationship between hunters and landowners. Hunters gain the privilege of hunting on a landowner's land, but must maintain good behavior in order to keep the privilege.

The purpose of this project is to provide additional hunting opportunities to the public by providing them access to private land. All access contracts require free access to the public without prior permission from the landowner. These areas will be walk-in, foot traffic only. Areas will be properly marked and fenced. The department will provide signs and other necessary materials. For borders of large units, 12"X14" plastic boundary markers are also available. Department personnel will visit all contract land annually to inspect signs.

The landowner and a department representative must sign the hunting access contract. The locations of access sites will be published in an atlas, which will be available for distribution to the public free of charge. This is in addition to any other habitat payment the landowner may be involved in. Payments are made in February following the hunting seasons. Multi-year contracts are encouraged although one-year contracts are available. The landowner will have limited liability immunity as stated by South Dakota law (SDCL 20-9-14) for all free access contracts.

Program Options:

Season-Long Walk-In Hunting Access

The Walk-In Area Program was started by the Wildlife Division to provide hunters with guaranteed hunting destinations, and to provide landowners with liability assurances and fees for allowing unlimited public hunting. To qualify, landowners must own at least 80 contiguous acres in some kind of high quality permanent cover, primarily Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), or other cover such as wetlands, woodlands, abandoned building sites, good winter rangeland or other habitats with a reasonable opportunity to harvest game.

In 2004, the Walk-In Area Access Committee revised the payment system for the Walk-In Area program. The new system is designed to be more competitive in securing access on CRP and other permanent, undisturbed habitats for pheasant hunting in the eastern part of the state while retaining the flexibility in negotiating rates on large tracts or tracts with unique habitats for big game hunting in the western part of the state.

Option 1:

Eastern South Dakota (East River plus Lyman, Gregory and Tripp counties): The primary focus is securing permanent habitats like CRP, wetlands with standing emergent vegetation, ungrazed woody cover, abandoned farm sites or any other permanent habitat left undisturbed during the contract year. GFP will pay $1/acre base access payment, plus $5/acre for permanent habitat left undisturbed during the contract year. In the event that the permanent cover is disturbed, only the $1/acre access payment will be issued on the mowed or grazed acres.

In some instances, habitats with limited hunting opportunity might also be enrolled to gain access to the permanent habitat. For that reason, GFP will accept enrollment on enough of these acres to help "round-out" the boundaries of the Walk-In Areas and help hunters access the enrolled property and payment will not exceed a 1:1 ratio of permanent habitat to round-out lands.

This option is also available on tracts of permanent, undisturbed habitats that provide good to excellent pheasant hunting potential in western South Dakota counties of Bennett, Corson, Dewey, Haakon, Jones, Mellette, Perkins, Stanley and Ziebach. The local GFP Wildlife Conservation Officer must make an assessment of the pheasant hunting potential and get approval from the Regional Review Team before finalizing these types of contracts in these western counties.

Existing Walk-In Area contracts not containing CRP or other permanent habitat with sufficient habitat to harvest game can remain in the program at their existing payment rates with approval of the local Conservation Officer. New enrollments of lands not containing CRP or other permanent habitats may also be enrolled in Walk-In Area program (depending on the circumstances and hunting opportunity) and payments will be based on $1/acre base access rates.

Option 2:

Western South Dakota (West River minus Lyman, Gregory and Tripp counties): Hunting opportunities in western South Dakota are also very important to grouse and big game hunters. Since these types of hunting require large tracts of land, GFP will negotiate access payment rates for hunting access. The negotiated rates will be done in a manner similar to the past and will reflect the unique habitats and hunting opportunity available on the offered acres.

CRP Retention Bonus (available in Eastern South Dakota and on Western South Dakota CRP WIAs with good pheasant hunting potential)

Currently, South Dakota has 1.5 million acres of CRP. While this may seem like a lot of land, it accounts for only 3 percent of the land base within the state. CRP has always been a very important part of the Walk-In Area program. In many parts of the state, past success of the program is a direct result of CRP, with most of the pheasant hunting opportunity tied to CRP. Recognizing this, GFP realizes that any future success is tied directly to new and existing CRP tracts.

In response, GFP is offering a CRP retention bonus for maintaining long-term Walk-In Area agreements on CRP. Landowners choosing to participate in the CRP retention bonus will receive a one-time, up-front payment of $1/acre for each hunting season remaining in their CRP contract. Landowners will be required to enroll CRP fields and the adjacent property (commonly a quarter section) necessary to define a reasonable Walk-In Area boundary for the duration of the CRP contract. In the event the Walk-In Area contract is terminated before the end of the CRP contract, the landowner is responsible for paying back the entire bonus.

Delayed Opening Walk-In Hunting Access

In some parts of the state, landowners may give exclusive hunting rights to family and friends during the first couple weeks of pheasants season. Also, some landowners may offer fee hunting for pheasants during the first couple of weeks of pheasant season. In response, GFP is offering a Delayed Opening

Walk-In Area option

This would allow landowners to maintain traditional early season hunts for friends, family and paying customers and allow them to provide Walk-In Areas beginning November 1 for late-season pheasant and other types of hunting. Landowners choosing the Delayed Opening WIA option will receive a payment equal to one-half the payment rates mentioned in Option 1.

FY 2009 Budget: $2,000,000

Minimum contract size: 80 acres

Application Deadline: Contracts must be in the Pierre Office by June 1.

Signs: All areas must be posted with signs by August 31.

Goal: 2,000,000 acres

Requirements: Hunting access contracts require free access to the public without prior permission from the landowner.

Answers to questions you may have on the Walk-In Area Program:

Why has GFP changed their payment system?

Answer: With recent strong pheasant populations, more land has been leased for commercial pheasant hunting. Our past payment levels were much lower than the "going" rate for pheasant hunting access in many parts of the state. With those trends likely to increase in the future, GFP needed to increase its rates if we were going to continue to provide free hunting opportunity for the public.

At the same time, GFP had been doing well leasing lands for hunting in the western part of the state. The reason for the success was because local wildlife Conservation Officers were given the ability to negotiate WIA leases with landowners to secure hunting opportunities by compensating landowner based on unique conditions on their ranch lands. For that reason, GFP decided to keep that system in place in our western counties.

If I have CRP, can I hay or graze the tract, as authorized by the federal government?

Answer: Yes. It is your private land and as such, you can hay or graze your CRP if you have the required approval from the federal government (US Department of Agriculture). We will still make payment to you as per item # 4 of the Walk-In Area contract, but your payment will be determined that year depending on your base access payment and $5/acre for permanent habitat left undisturbed.

For example, if you had 160 acres of CRP enrolled in the program, you would earn $160 for the base access payment ($1 times 160 acres) and you would earn $800 for undisturbed permanent habitat ($5/acre times 160 acres) for a total payment of $960 in a typical year. In the event you hayed or grazed 40 acres of your CRP, then you would earn $160 for the base access payment and $600 ($5 times 120 acres of CRP left undisturbed) for a total payment of $760. This payment adjustment would be made regardless whether the hayed portion of the field partially regrew or not that year.

The only exception to this policy will be made if the enrolled acreage is also enrolled under a CRP retention bonus of 5 or more hunting seasons left in the CRP contract as of 2008. If the enrolled acreage under a GFP CRP retention bonus of 5-10 years (with 5 or more hunting seasons left as of 2008), then 1 manipulation (including CRP haying and grazing) is allowed during the life of your Walk-In Area contract without reducing the $5/acre bonus payment for permanent habitat for that year. If the enrolled acreage is under a GFP CRP retention bonus with more than 10 years left as of 2008 (in cases of 15 year CRP contracts), then 2 manipulations (including CRP haying and grazing) is allowed during the life of your Walk-In Area contract without reducing the $5/acre bonus payment for permanent habitat for those two years. Again, this only applies to Walk-In Area contracts enrolled under CRP retention bonuses of at least 5 years as of 2008.

Why is GFP only allowing manipulation of CRP on retention bonuses of 5 or more years?

Answer: The 2002 Farm Bill requires all new CRP contracts enrolled after 2002 to be manipulated at least once for 10 year CRP contracts and twice for 15 year CRP contracts. This is known as "CRP mid-contract management". The intent of this was to ensure the vigor of CRP planting during the duration of the CRP contract. The South Dakota State Technical Committee approved a variety of tools, including CRP haying and grazing for some CRP practices (check with USDA regarding whether a particular practice is eligible) to meet the federal mid-contract management requirements. Because significant numbers of CRP contracts will soon be at the time when federal rules require some type of disturbance, GFP wanted to make sure that was taken into account in its payment guidelines.

I have a Walk-In Area contract with numerous CRP retention bonuses. How will the manipulation exception mentioned above work?

Answer: For example you have 3 CRP contracts enrolled in your GFP Walk-In Area contract. On CRP contract # 1, you took a GFP CRP retention bonus for 3 years on 100 acres of CRP, on CRP contract # 2, you took a GFP CRP retention bonus of 5 years on 50 acres of CRP and on CRP contract # 3 you took a GFP CRP retention bonus of 15 years on 20 acres of CRP. You would be eligible for 1 manipulation on 50 acres and 2 manipulations on the 20 acres (or a total manipulation on 90 acres) for the duration of your GFP Walk-In Area contract.

Why doesn't GFP pay the annual permanent habitat bonus on manipulations on annual Walk-In Area contracts or on CRP retention bonus contracts of less than 5 years?

Answer: Since CRP mid-contract management is required on all new CRP contracts enrolled after 2002, GFP wants to make sure that landowner remain compliant with USDA CRP rules. CRP contracts with 5 or more years remaining will represent the best opportunity to conduct a disturbance and enough time to provide good habitat for hunting after the manipulation. Shorter-term contracts may not offer enough time for the cover to fully recover after the manipulation within the time remaining in the Walk-In Area contract.

If I take the CRP retention bonus, can I hay or graze my CRP, as authorized by the federal government?

Answer: Yes, you may hay or graze your CRP, as long as you have approval from USDA. You do not need prior approval from GFP. GFP will make the appropriate payment adjustments prior to issuing payments in the early winter.

If I take the CRP retention bonus, can I hay or graze my CRP, as authorized by the federal government?

Answer: Yes, you may hay or graze your CRP.

Do I have to pay back a pro-rated portion of the retention bonus?

Answer: No, the only time you would ever have to payback the CRP retention bonus is if you cancelled your Walk-In Area contract before your CRP contract expires. If you do cancel your Walk-In Area contract early and a CRP retention or seeding cost-share payment from GFP was paid, then you would be responsible for repaying the entire CRP retention bonus and any CRP seeding cost-share paid by GFP.

I currently have a CRP seeding cost-share contract on my Walk-In Area. Can I also re-enroll my lands to get the new rates and CRP retention bonus?

Answer: Yes, your contract can be updated to new program options. In the case of lands enrolled in an existing CRP seeding cost-share contract, we will compare the Walk-In Area CRP seeding cost-share paid on your existing contract to the CRP retention bonus. If the new CRP retention bonus is greater than the CRP seeding cost-share paid, we will pay you the difference. If the CRP seeding cost-share is greater than the new CRP retention bonus, your existing contract will be treated like a CRP retention bonus contract, but you will be eligible for the new annual payment rates.

For example, you have a 10 year, CRP seeding cost-share contract with us where we paid you a one-time, up-front payment of $800 for establishing 160 acres of CRP as Walk-In Area for the term of the CRP contract beginning in 1998. You decide that you want to convert that contract to the new CRP retention bonus. We would calculate the value of the retention bonus for a new enrollment (160 acres times 4 years left=$640). Then, we would take the new enrollment value ($640) and compare it to the existing Walk-In Area CRP seeding cost-share paid ($800). Since the previous Walk-In Area CRP seeding cost-share contract was greater than the new retention bonus, it would be converted to a CRP retention bonus contract as is with no additional up-front payment made, but you would be eligible for the newly revised annual payment rates.

Another example might be you have 320 acres of CRP under a Walk-In Area contract. Of that, you have 160 acres in a CRP seeding cost-share contract with us where a larger payment was made in return for no annual payments. If you wished, the existing seeding-cost share contract would be converted to a CRP retention bonus and you would be eligible for the newly revised annual payment rates. On the portion that was not under an existing CRP cost-share payment, you would be eligible for the CRP retention bonus, plus the annual payment.

Can I still control noxious weeds on my property?

Answer: Yes. State law requires that noxious weeds be controlled and there is nothing in our Walk-In Area agreement to prevent you from spraying or clipping listed noxious weeds.

Is the Walk-In Area contract an easement?

Answer: No, the Walk-In Area contract is not an easement. To cancel a Walk-In Area contract, the Cooperator needs to give GFP 30 days advance written notice. In the event that an up-front payment was made for a GFP Walk-In Area CRP seeding cost-share or a GFP CRP retention payment, then the entire sum of the GFP Walk-In Area cost-share or GFP retention payment would have to be paid back before the contract was cancelled.

I am concerned about liability. What does the state do to protect me?

Answer: This is a very common question. Currently, the state hold people who open their lands to free public hunting and state-leased public hunting at the lowest liability level. Essentially, these laws grant immunity from normal, non-negligent or intentional liability.

Are there other reasons for me to participate in the Walk-In Area program?

Answer: Aside for the financial benefits and the state statutes providing landowners with immunity from normal, non-negligent or intentional liability, there are numerous benefits to the participating in the Walk-In Area program. Those other benefits include foot traffic only, vehicular traffic limited to designated parking areas and trails only, minimal contact with hunters, signs to tell hunters where they can hunt on your property, the harvest of animals which can help minimize later depredation problems and being part of South Dakota's rich hunting heritage.

How does GFP pay for the Walk-In Area program?

Answer: The Walk-In Area program is funded from the access portion of the $5 surcharge on most adult hunting licenses and from Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration federal funds. These hunting license funds are used specifically to restore, create and enhance habitat, or provide free public access for hunters.

To Enroll: Contact your local Conservation Officer.

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