There will never be enough good hunting land. At least that seems to be the sentiment these days when we look at declining wildlife and hunter numbers.
There are myriad reasons for the decline in land, from larger cities to more cropland to less conservation programs to fewer land acquisitions. The decline in hunting numbers may be more complex, but competition for one’s time always seems to be as good a reason as any.
In Minnesota, we are fortunate to have the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, which helps protect our favorite hunting and fishing locations with a dedicated fund to rebuild and restore what once was usable.
One way to ensure we have enough hunting space is through growth and management of wildlife management areas. WMAs provide public land for hunting, bird watching or a leisurely walk. But how many people actually use WMAs, and do they actually bag any game?
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources wanted recently released results of a WMA survey it conducted through the University of Minnesota-based Minnesota Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit. The survey spanned attitudes of WMA users during the 2015-16 season.
Here are a few important nuggets gleaned from the survey:
n 86 percent of WMA users support ongoing acquisition of WMAs.
n 55 percent of hunters are moderately or extremely satisfied with their WMA experience.
n 95 percent of WMA users said they would hunt at a WMA again.
n 63 percent of users hunt on WMAs but don’t visit them for other purposes. Other purposes include wildlife/bird watching, fishing and dog training, respectively
n Nearly 40 percent of users don’t hunt on private land.
n Nearly 45 percent do either most or all of their hunting on WMAs.
n Users are most interested in pheasant hunting (80 percent), duck hunting (37 percent) and firearms deer hunting (31 percent).
n The most satisfied hunters are those seeking spring turkeys, fall turkeys and deer by archery, respectively.
Having read through the study, it’s interesting that most people hunt WMAs for pheasants, ducks and deer, yet they reported the most success when hunting for spring and fall turkeys, hence the higher satisfaction levels.
With Federal Conservation Reserve Programs being cut from 45 million acres in 1986 to 24 million available acres now, WMAs are more important than ever. DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr has said as much.
“Wildlife management areas are the cornerstone of our public lands system in many parts of the state,” he said in a DNR press release. “Minnesota is fortunate to have made an early investment in these public lands that provide a wealth of recreation opportunities.”
Yet, what is left unsaid is the incredible need for volunteers to either a) acquire the land or b) make sure the land is kept up. Sadly, I’ve come to believe that when we have to rely on volunteers, we all lose.
This isn’t a knock on volunteers or volunteering for a cause. Many, many good people do good deeds through the act of volunteering. But giving of one’s time away from family, work or school can be taxing. And with any great volunteer group or organization, volunteer apathy is likely to escalate.
Think of your church or school. How many times have you seen the same four or five people running a bake sale, or a garage sale, or standing in line serving cookies and coffee after service? WMA volunteers are much the same.
One way we can ensure strong public hunting lands is to make sure to give of ourselves, either time or finances, to groups that acquire these lands for the general public. Groups such as Pheasants Forever and Ducks Unlimited were formed with this intent.
Locally, Minnesota Pheasants, Inc.’s Blue Earth Chapter has acquired more than 3,000 acres of land for public hunting and invested more than $1 million in purchases and restoration of these lands.
Clearly, the DNR’s WMA study shows Minnesota’s are willing to hunt on public lands. The survey doesn’t show how many of those same people give of themselves or their finances to maintain WMAs.
Regardless, the state needs help, and not everything can fall on taxpayers. If having public hunting lands is important to hunters, then the time has come for more hunters to volunteer to help the restoration of these lands.
Doug Monson is a Mankato-area writer. Contact him at email@example.com.