State Hunting and Angling Access Programs – Unique Approaches in the Western States

By Zach Widner, Northwest States Manager, Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation

As a native of southwestern Idaho, I was fortunate enough to grow up in an area where I had ample access to hunting and fishing. Whether throwing spinners for rainbow trout and smallmouth bass in the Weiser River, chasing pheasants and quail along the edge of chopped corn fields, or pursuing mule deer on the broken timbered ridges of the Payette National Forest Service lands, I didn’t have a problem accessing my favorite haunts. However, many other hunters and anglers in Idaho and across the United States are not so fortunate.

Hunters and anglers consistently cite lack of access to places to hunt and fish among the primary reasons they give up their sporting pastimes. A wide variety of factors have led to the loss of access opportunities including development in suburban areas; closure of private lands where recreation has traditionally been allowed; state trust lands being sold or leased; and public lands becoming landlocked (inaccessible except through accessing via adjacent private property).To address access issues and their impacts on hunting and angling participation, state fish and wildlife agencies in the western U.S. have started to address these problems through a number of programs meant to increase access to both public and private lands.

Some of these successful programs include;

Montana’s Land Banking Program proceeds are raised through the sale of trust land sales are placed in a special land banking account where restricted funds can only be used to procure “other real property interests,” including “land, easements, and improvements.” Since the creation of the Land Banking Program, just over 68,000 state trust acres have been sold, while nearly 67,200 offsetting acres have been purchased. All of the lands acquired via land banking funds “…are legally accessible with recreational opportunities,” including hunting and angling.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s (IDFG) Access Yes! Program is designed to improve sportsmen's access to private land or through private land to public land by compensating willing landowners who provide access.” As of February, IDFG is operating 77 Access Yes! agreements, opening 295,529 private acres and 339,555 public acres across the state for the purposes of hunting, fishing, trapping, and other forms of recreational access. Access Yes! funding is provided through revenue generated from the sale of IDFG’s 32 Super Hunt Tags, as well as donations.  

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s (WGFD) Private Lands Public Wildlife Access Program allows landowners to provide access to select private lands and easements to landlocked public lands in exchange for monetary compensation and wildlife management assistance. PLPW is comprised of the Hunter Management Program, the Walk-in Hunting Program, and the Walk-in Fishing Program, and funded from both the WGFD budget (mainly via hunting and fishing license sales) and the state’s Access Yes Program. With all three programs, participating landowners enter into voluntary agreements that define the location, harvestable species, and dates for which access will be allowed, along with any other considerations/restrictions.

These are just a few of the unique approaches our fish and wildlife managers have taken to address issues surrounding sportsmen’s access. As someone who hunts and fishes on both public and private lands, I am greatly encouraged by innovative ideas like these that have led to tangible improvements in access for hunters and anglers in the West. We need to continue to explore these sorts of inventive programs in order to combat further erosion of recreational access, and by doing so, may also be able to realize a rebound in hunting and fishing participation.

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