Grant program aims to open more private acreage to outdoor recreation


SPRINGFIELD -- A generation ago, a hunter who wanted to hunt on another’s land knocked on the door to get permission.

Today, it’s not that simple. The owner may live far away or the hunting rights may be leased to someone else. And landowners have limited liability protection.

A new federal grant is designed to make it easier for landowners to say yes.

Funds will be available to reimburse private landowners who allow hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreation on their property starting next year.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources will receive just over $525,000 – the first part of a three-year grant potentially worth $1.5 million – from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture for the Illinois Recreational Access Program.

DNR director Marc Miller says an access program is sorely needed, because 95 percent of Illinois’ land is in private hands.

Illinois is the nation’s fifth most populous state and ranks near the bottom in the amount of land owned publicly.

“Public access is one of the toughest nuts to crack,” he says.

Landowners already enrolled in the USDA’s Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program are eligible for additional payments if they agree to provide access. CREP provides payments to landowners who agree to take bottomland out of production and plant trees.

The program also provides incentives for large landowners, such as mining companies, non-governmental organizations and utility companies to open their lands for recreation.

DNR will start contacting landowners in the Illinois River and Kaskaskia River watersheds soon, but the program will not be ready for this fall’s hunting seasons.

“We have 11,000 acres in CREP in Kankakee and Iroquois River basins,” said Debbie Bruce, chief of private lands and watersheds divisions. “We’re going to focus our efforts initially in one area so we can get landowners enrolled and have an example to show other regions of the state so they can see how it can be organized.”

Bruce said environmental assessments will have to be conducted on land to be enrolled to see if there are threatened and endangered species present and to evaluate any other potential environmental problems.

Access for fishing should be available next near, she said.

Miller says participants will be required to sign liability waivers at the local Farm Service Administration office to protect the landowner. It will not be a requirement that landowners buy their own liability insurance.

Landowners have liability protection only if they allow hunting or shooting on their land – not fishing, boating or other forms of recreation. Miller says the lack of other liability protection for landowners has had a crippling effect on access to private land.

Chris Young can be reached at 788-1528.

Illinois Recreational Access Program

Reimbursement rates for cooperating landowners:

*Impoundments: $12 to $65 per acre for ponds or other impoundments.

*River access: $1,000 to $2,500 per stream mile per year.

*Fishing streams: $500 to $2,500 per stream mile per year.

*Youth turkey hunting and public access: $1.50 to $35 an acre.