'walk-in access' program benefits both hunters and landowners
October 23, 2006 | Thanks to
the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources' Walk-In
Access Program, sportsmen in northern Utah have
access to more land than ever before. The program
provides monetary compensation to landowners who
allow the public to hunt on their property.
Chukar and Hungarian partridges
harvested by Dave Dahlgren on the Douglas property
west of Corrine, Utah. / Photo courtesty of
"There's too many private clubs where you have to pay
to get in," said Jay Rinderknecht, of the South Cache
Livestock Association. Their property is one of four
in Cache County to join the program thus far.
According the Utah DWR Web site, the program was approved
by the Utah Wildlife Board on Aug. 11, 2005 as a three
year pilot program in the northern region only. Access
is granted to the public on
participating properties , but there is no motorized-vehicle
traffic and hunters also have to sign a logbook.
The landowners are
compensated monetarily depending on the amount of
acres and length of time they have been in the program.
Landowners are also given liability coverage under Utah
State Law, and their property is patrolled by conservation
officers who check for violations.
Funding for the project came from sportsmen, the Habitat
the Blue Ribbon Fisheries Advisory Council and federal
aid from the Pittman-Robertson Fund. According to the
Toolbox for the Great Outdoors , the Pittman-Robertson
Fund was enacted in 1937 and is made up of money collected
from an extra tax placed on sporting arms. This money
is available for projects that will conserve, develop
and enhance wildlife resources,including those that
protect habitat and encourage participation in wildlife-related
There are minimum acreages that landowners must meet
to qualify for the program. Also, the DWR sends representatives
to evaluate the property, and check for suitable habitat
All of the states surrounding Utah, except Nevada,
and many western and midwestern states have a similar
program in place. Clint Brunson, manager of the Walk-In
Access Program, said Utah's program was modeled after
others in Wyoming
and South Dakota. Most programs were started mainly
to give sportsmen more access to hunt upland game birds
like turkey, pheasant and Hungarian partridge, Brunson
Utah's program lets sportsmen hunt whatever landowners
will allow, but he said landowners have the right and
privilege to choose what can be hunted on their ground.
Brunson said the program will have two falls and three
springs as an evaluation period, which may or may not
"The thing about a pilot program is that you can make
changes," he said.
Landowner cooperation is essential to the success
of the program. Chris Allen, another participating landowner
in Cache County, said he read about the program in Farm
Bureau Magazine, and decided to join because they already
were letting people hunt on their property.
Like Allen, Rinderknecht said they've let people hunt
on their land "from day one." He said they were approached
and told that the DWR wanted to reward them for letting
people hunt on their property. He also feels like the
cattle association wanted to give the public an opportunity
to hunt on their land because they have used public
ground for grazing in the past.
Although the program is still in its infancy, the
benefits are already obvious.
"There are a couple of key benefits. One is being
able to cooperate with landowners to allow them to still
have control over their property," Brunson said. "Two
is getting access to the ground ... there isn't one
that's more important than another."
From a sportsman's perspective, the gaining of new
hunting opportunities is important, especially in northern
Utah where there is a lot of private land. For example,
Brunson said east Box Elder County is almost completely
Dave Dahlgren, a graduate student in wildlife biology
at Utah State and avid bird hunter, said the major advantage
of the program is the access hunters are given to more
"The program as a whole is a great thing," Dahlgren
said. "It's the division (of wildlife resources) doing
the best they can for hunters." Dahlgren is from North
Dakota, a state with a very successful program, which
he still goes back to take advantage of. He said access
programs are a way for the middle class to continue
to hunt. Otherwise Dahlgren feels like hunting would
turn into an exclusive, upper-class privilege like in
England. But with word-of-mouth advertising from landowners,
he hopes the program will succeed.
Part of this word-of-mouth includes landowners telling
those outside of the program how they have benefited
-- monetarily and otherwise. Rinderknecht said they
use the money they receive from the program to rent
ground for their cattle to graze on. In addition to
the money, Rinderknecht said the active role the DWR
plays in managing and patrolling is another benefit.
The program has already eliminated some of the problems
one landowner had during spring turkey season, Brunson
said. The landowner was surprised that after joining
the program he had less trouble with hunters cutting
locks and fences to get their four-wheelers onto his
For the most part hunters have been good, and they
are signing in and doing what they are supposed to,
Brunson said. But Rinderknecht said they have had a
few incidences of people bringing motorized vehicles
onto the property. And Allen said the only problem was
he had to farm around one of the signs the DWR posted.
"Sportsmen have to step up," Brunson said. If sportsmen
aren't mindful and respectful, and accept the responsibility
to care for this new resource, Brunson said they
could lose it. Landowners are less likely to cooperate
if their land isn't being respected.
Rinderknecht echoes this sentiment. The public needs
to be aware that it is private land and they need to
respect the property, he said.
There are also problems from the sportsmen's end.
Dahlgren said because of the program he and a friend
lost a secret spot they had permission to hunt on. The
log at one property showed it had been hunted everyday
except a couple since the start of Hungarian partridge
season, he said. The limited acreage means more hunters,
But overall, Brunson said the program is a "win-win
situation." And every state that has implemented an
access program has succeeded in doing so, he added.
The program in Colorado,
which was set up mainly for bird hunters on Colorado's
eastern plains, was such a success they expanded it
to include parts of western Colorado to provide more
access for waterfowl hunters.
Dahlgren worries if more acres aren't added to the
program the existing areas may get over-hunted. But
he said with more land comes less hunting pressure.
Nevertheless, Dahlgren hopes it continues to gain support,
because he thinks it is "a very viable program."
For more information on the Walk-In Access Program
go to the Utah DWR's Web site,