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Iowa hunters can use thousands of acres of private land without asking

A sign on land owned by Ron Grimm's family west of Millersburg.  The approximately 65-acre site...
A sign on land owned by Ron Grimm's family west of Millersburg. The approximately 65-acre site is part of a DNR habitat access program that offers automatic hunting privileges for the public in exchange for maintenance by the state.(KCRG)
Published: Aug. 18, 2016 at 5:14 PM CDT
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In a little more than a week, the first of Iowa’s hunting seasons will begin. And thousands of hunters will spread out over nearly 26,000 acres of private land that’s now open to all public hunting.

It’s called the Iowa Habitat and Access Program (IHAP) and it works like this. Those private landowners who’ve signed up, usually owning land in the conservation reserve, will depend on the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) take over buying and planting cover crop seeds as well as all land maintenance.

In exchange, those landowners must automatically open their land to all hunters from September 1st through May 31st every year.

One approximately 65-acre site in Iowa County west of Millersburg was added to the list back when the program first began in 2011. It was always open to hunters before but you had to find the owners first and ask permission. Now, that step is no longer necessary.

Jason Gritsch, a wildlife technician for the DNR’s private land program, said at first he wondered if many Iowa landowners wanted to take part.

“I’d be lying if I said we weren’t a little skeptical when the program started. We were unsure how many people would be interested,” Gritsch said.

The answer turned out to be quite a few. The Iowa Habitat and Access Program now has 132 private, but public, hunting locations scattered around the state. Gritsch thinks the nearly 26,000 acres in the program could equal as much as 10 percent of all the state-owned land open to hunting now.

For the Iowa County land, the owners are saving about $65-$70 per acre on just the cost of seed, like sunflowers, for cover crops that provide the wildlife habitat.

As part of the DNR program, the state also pays a contractor to plant the crops and do other maintenance including burning the prairie plants every few years to maintain plant health.

Dave Witte is the contractor caring for this particular property in Iowa County. But he’s also a landowner himself with some land in the habitat access program.

Witte, too, typically allowed hunting by anyone who asked. He says hunters, though, like the automatic access even better.

“I enjoy visiting with some of the guys when they get done. They look me up and thank me for doing this for them,” Witte said.

Gritsch, the DNR wildlife specialist, said Iowa has one of the lowest percentages, nationwide, of public land available to hunters. So signing up private landowners is one way to stretch the hunting space.

But the DNR can’t accommodate new private landowners who want in the program now. The money for the Iowa Habitat and Access Program came from Congress as part of the most recent (2013) federal farm bill. That money is already spent. So they can’t sign anyone else up until there’s a new farm bill with new funding.

Hunters interested in locating the private, but public, hunting land can download a map from the Iowa DNR’s website at www.iowadnr.gov.