If you live in Wisconsin, you know that Wisconsinites value their outdoor recreation. A recent survey in the Badger State found that more than 87 percent of respondents enjoyed activities like fishing, hunting, biking, and walking in the great outdoors. Much of this activity happens on publicly accessible land.
Not all publicly accessible land is publicly owned though. Many landowners help increase the public’s access to land by opening their property to the public for recreation. This provides outdoor enthusiasts with more choices closer to home, which is ideal since most people search for outdoor spaces within an hour’s drive.
A popular program, federally funded through the Farm Bill, is the Voluntary Public Access & Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP). Landowners who agree to share their land for specific activities—hunting, fishing, trapping, and wildlife watching—receive per acre lease payments.
“[The VPA] program is trouble free. I’m glad it’s an option for landowners. It’s helpful to pay taxes and generate income on the land,” said Steven Thaler, a member of Chippewa Valley Electric Cooperative.
Landowners are also eligible for financial and technical assistance to improve their property’s wildlife habitat through the Habitat Incentive Program, which includes invasive species control, native grassland establishment, native shrub planting, and more. For many landowners, the primary reason they share their lands isn’t the money, but rather the ability to keep traditions like hunting and fishing alive for future generations.
Farmers, individuals and families with forest land, absentee landowners, adult children managing land for their elderly parents, and utility companies are just some people and groups that share their land. More than 30,000 acres of property in eligible counties are currently open to the public under the VPA program.
Research conducted by the DNR indicates the most popular activity on VPA lands is hunting, followed by bird and wildlife watching. When the property owner signs up and is approved for the program, a DNR representative will come out and post the boundaries with public access signs. No permission is needed to use these lands. All visitors have to do is follow a simple code of conduct and respect the land. This will help ensure landowners continue to share their properties.
Ready to Share Your Land?
If you are interested in learning more or applying to become part of the VPA-HIP program and sharing your land with the public, please contact Cody Strong, VPA-HIP & THAP coordinator, at email@example.com or (608) 800-1343.
Current lease rates are $3/acre for agricultural land, $10/acre for grassland/wetlands, and $15/acre for forest land. Ideal properties are tracts of 40-plus acres that include some forests, grasslands, or wetlands. Land must be located in eligible counties. (See map to the right.)
Optionally, private landowners with more than 40 acres that have adequate wild turkey habitat may earn money by opening their lands only during spring turkey season (March 1 – May 29) as part of the Turkey Hunter Access Program (THAP). For landowners in this program, the only activity allowed on the property is spring turkey hunting (versus landowners enrolled in the Voluntary Public Access program). Lease rates are $5/acre. Learn more by visiting https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/lands/thap/.
How do I find a property?
• To find new and existing properties, visit dnr.wi.gov and search keywords “share the land.”
Visitor Code of Conduct
• Only access areas posted with VPA signs.
• Know the field boundaries and avoid trespassing on surrounding private land.
• Follow all hunting, fishing, and trapping regulations.
• Leave gates as you found them.
• Stay 300 feet from farmsteads or buildings, especially when hunting.
• Limit your activity to foot traffic only.
• If you pack it in, pack it out. Don’t litter.
• Avoid damage to property and standing crops.
• Be ethical, courteous, and safe. Abuse it—lose it.
• Portable structures (tree stands/blinds) are permitted, but they cannot cause damage and must be removed when you leave.
• Park on the shoulder of a public road or in a designated parking areas. Avoid blocking access to farm fields, pastures, or driveways.
• Dogs may be used for hunting purposes (not training).
• Horses are not allowed on VPA properties.
—Cody Strong is the VPA-HIP and THAP coordinator at the Wisconsin DNR. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (608) 800-1343.