Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever of Nebraska is proud to present the second Conservation Success Story: Open Fields and Waters.
“Over 97% of Nebraska is privately owned, so obtaining access to private lands is a major barrier for today’s hunters and anglers,” states John Laux, Upland Game Program Manager for the Nebraska Game & Parks Commission (NGPC). One way of adjusting to those needs is through the NGPC’s Open Fields and Waters (OFW) program.
Landowners willing to open their properties to hunters, trappers and anglers can enroll through the NGPC and receive annual payments for open access for the public. Funding for the OFW program comes from habitat stamps and hunting license sales, federal funding, Pittman-Robertson Act dollars—stemming from an excise tax firearm and ammunition purchases that go to funding programs like these, and contributions from conservation partner organizations including Nebraska Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever chapters. Annual payments are made to landowners using a combination of these funds. Hunters, anglers and trappers, in turn, are provided with access to properties across the state. This creates a “win-win” situation where landowners receive payment, and hunters and anglers receive access to private land.
Prior to OFW, the CRP_MAP program (Conservation Reserve Program—Management Access Program) started in the 1990’s with primary focus of providing access for upland bird hunting in privately owned CRP. In 2009, the Open Fields and Waters program was started and provided an expansion to start looking at things beyond CRP for public access. The purpose was to add deer, turkey and waterfowl opportunities while maintaining and expanding upland game opportunities throughout the state. “We really have expanded to include a lot of other habitat types, a lot of other hunting opportunities, and fishing opportunities as well,” states T.J. Walker, Assistant Division Administrator for Wildlife Partners with the Nebraska Game & Parks Commission.
Laux shared that there are “currently over 750 participating landowners, and 346,000 acres enrolled statewide, which is at a record high.” In addition, 42 ponds and lakes and over 44 stream miles are enrolled. Landowners interested in enrolling their land in OFW should reach out to a local NGPC office for more information. After the initial contact to NGPC, the property will be evaluated for habitat quality and suitability for enrollment, with a contract to follow. Program participants can expect between fifty cents to fifteen dollars an acre depending upon location, habitat type and quality. Landowner payments are made following the hunting season in February and March. From there, boundary marking bright yellow signs are posted on each site so hunters and anglers can easily find them. The Public Access Atlas is printed annually showcasing the sites and is available at NGPC offices and vendors across the state. The NGPC website also has an interactive atlas for ease of use.
“Landowners understand that places to hunt and fish are limited, and they take pride in providing that opportunity. They love seeing kids out there and realize the economic development they are providing to their communities. This is economic development, this is tourism,” remarks Walker of NGPC.
Jake Koenig of Wahoo has had nothing but positive experiences as he came off the property with the landowners asking about the hunt and providing tips on where to find the next one. He states, “I know all of the hunters that use these properties are grateful to have access to these landowner’s properties, so they respect the OFW properties that are enrolled and are always grateful whether they have success or not”.
Aaron Herring, NRCS, summarizes it best, “OFW’s offer a lot, and if you are to drive out and see some property you can definitely find what you are looking for.”
To start your next experience with the Open Fields and Waters program, grab your 2019-2020 Public Access Atlas booklet today, or visit it online at https://OutdoorNebraska.gov/PublicAccessAtlas/ Nebraska has over 1.2 million acres of publicly accessible lands including OFW, state, federal and conservation partner lands. All of which are displayed in the Public Access Atlas.
Thank you to all the participating landowners for providing access to opportunities for our hunters, anglers, and trappers. We appreciate your support!
To check out last month’s release of Working Lands for Wildlife visit: https://nebraskapf.com/conservation-success-stories/