DNR Seeks Public Input on Plan to Increase Hunting Access, Opportunity

The Michigan Departments of Natural Resources and Agriculture & Rural Development today announced the kick-off of a 30-day comment period related to the Hunting Access Program (HAP), a tool the state will use to increase access to high quality hunting land in Michigan.

“Providing increased access to high quality hunting land in southern Michigan is a top priority for the DNR,” said DNR Director Rodney Stokes. “Increasing HAP enrollment addresses one of my top goals of getting more people hunting, fishing and enjoying Michigan’s natural resources. Providing access to quality hunting lands close to urban centers is a key component to attracting new and retaining current hunters.”

Last fall, the two departments received a federal Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP) grant to expand the DNR’s Hunting Access Program. As part of the grant, the departments were required to complete a Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA), which determines the impacts a program may have on the environment. The Michigan Department of Transportation was hired to complete the PEA.

The VPA-HIP is a new grant program authorized by the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, which provides grants to states and tribal governments to encourage land owners to voluntarily open their land for outdoor recreation activities such as hunting, fishing, wildlife watching and other activities.

Alternatives outlined in the PEA include the Proposed Action Alternative and the No Action Alternative. The Proposed Action Alternative would expand the existing Hunting Access Program in southern Michigan, increase hunting opportunities for all hunters as well as youth and apprentice hunters, encourage landowner participation by offering increased financial incentives and greater flexibility, encourage high quality wildlife habitat, and increase hunter and landowner awareness of these new opportunities through targeted outreach and program marketing. Grant funding will also be used to hire a coordinator to oversee program expansion and increase DNR presence on HAP lands. The Proposed Action would not result in any land use changes, or disturbances to the ground or vegetation. The No Action Alternative assesses the potential effects of not implementing the proposed action.

The HAP was created in 1977 to increase public hunting opportunities in southern Michigan where 97 percent of the land base is in private ownership, and is now one of the oldest dedicated private lands public access programs in the nation. HAP provides financial incentives to landowners in southern Michigan who allow hunters access to their lands. Eligible properties must be at least 40 acres in size and payments are based on habitat quality. With the help of the new VPA-HIP grant, the DNR hopes to significantly increase HAP from 53 farms totaling 8,000 acres, to 100 farms and 15,000 acres.

“The DNR is excited to overhaul the HAP program completely,” said DNR wildlife biologist and HAP Coordinator Mike Parker. “As places to hunt become harder and harder to find, HAP becomes more important than ever before to provide quality hunting opportunities on privately owned lands. Funding from this grant will help the DNR reach the goal of doubling existing HAP acreage.”

The PEA is available on the DNR Website at www.michigan.gov/hunting. Comments may be sent to Mike Parker at parkerm@michigan.gov or at the DNR Rose Lake Field Office, 8562 East Stoll Rd., East Lansing MI 48823. Comments will be accepted until June 8, 2011. For individuals who may be interested in submitting property into HAP, contact Mike Parker via email or at 517-641-4903, extension 228.