September 11, 2023

Maximizing Opportunities for Sportsmen and Women on Private Lands

Article Contact: Kent Keene,

Why it Matters: Throughout most of the Midwest, land is predominantly held in private ownership. While that does pose a challenge for those who are not fortunate enough to own, lease, or otherwise access these private lands, there are many sportsmen and women who rely solely on private access. However, despite facing less competition with other sportsmen and women, private lands don’t inherently mean better hunting without steps to improve habitat for game species. Fortunately for all sportsmen and women, these steps carry benefits that can extend well beyond property boundaries.


  • While many sportsmen and women carry an inherent appreciation for conservation activities on our nation’s public lands, equally important are conservation actions accomplished on private lands, particularly in states in which land is predominantly privately owned.
  • For private landowners who implement conservation practices and programs on their property, benefits can include direct compensation, improved habitat – which consequently results in better hunting opportunities – and satisfaction in knowing that the results of their efforts can extend beyond their property boundaries.
  • For sportsmen and women who lack private access opportunities, private land conservation efforts can still improve the hunt and provide important ecosystem services that benefit everyone.

Private lands have always represented a bit of a conundrum as it relates to wildlife management. At the forefront of the conversation is the critical importance of protecting private property rights. On the flipside, it is just as important to recognize that, under the Public Trust Doctrine, a pillar of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, wildlife are the property of all citizens in a state and cannot be held in private ownership. In many parts of the country, particularly across the Midwest, meaningful improvements for wildlife and their habitats requires buy-in on private lands.

Given the prevalence of private lands across the region, along with the competing interests that influence the decision-making process for landowners, finding opportunities to incentivize and motivate landowners to voluntarily implement conservation actions on their property is a major challenge for wildlife management agencies. Fortunately, thanks in large part to the availability of a plethora of conservation programs and the efforts of both state and federal agencies and many of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation’s (CSF) conservation partners, the availability of such incentives has never been greater.

From supporting Farm Bill conservation programs like the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) that provide rental payments and cost-share assistance, respectively, to advocating for opportunities to implement practices like prescribed fire without liability concerns (see recently passed legislation in Arkansas and Missouri), CSF works at all levels of government to promote conservation opportunities on private lands. For sportsmen and women who lack access to private lands for hunting, these programs and practices may not appear to provide many direct benefits to their outdoor pursuits. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Regardless of your species of choice, it is important to recognize that wildlife do not recognize property boundaries. As a result, improved habitat on private lands near your favorite piece of public land only enhances your opportunity to have a successful hunt. Further, in the case of many game bird populations, information continues to indicate that participation in programs like CRP can directly correlate to increased harvest opportunities for hunters.

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