New partnership hopes to open up Hunting Access Program

Open farmland has pristine hunting.

Open farmland has pristine hunting.

LAPEER — A decades old hunting access program may get new life with the Lapeer Conservation District now in charge. If your hunting grounds are in Lapeer County, take note.

Mary Brown of the Lapeer Conservation District explained that it’s pretty common knowledge for Michigan farmers to market traditional farm products, but some fail to realize the value of the wildlife resource available on their land. The Dept. of Natural Resources, former overseer of the program added that allowing hunters on private property to hunt wildlife could be an added boost to landowner’s income.

The DNR has been successfully leasing hunting rights on private land in southern Michigan since 1977 through the Hunting Access Program. HAP provides public hunting opportunities on private lands across southern Michigan. And, with more than 96 percent of southern Michigan property being privately owned, allowing hunters onto that land helps the farmer’s bottom line and is what the DNR calls “critical to managing wildlife populations and protecting Michigan’s hunting heritage.”

Brown said that because of continuing budget cuts at the DNR and with so much land and so few people to manage the program, the LCD hopes to increase awareness of the program to farmers and hunters, and to help nonlandowners gain access to private hunting areas.

“Working with Lapeer Conservation District staff, landowners can set a limit to the number of hunters allowed on the land at the same time,” Brown said. “Landowners control how and when the hunters can have access and are able to choose to have a mandatory check-in or a self-check in for hunters so they know who is on the property, where on the property they are and what species they are hunting. Lapeer Conservation District staff has the responsibility to place signs to designate that the leased land is part of the program and also marks any safety zones around outbuildings, barns, livestock pastures, etc. State statute provides liability protection to landowners enrolled in HAP.

In order to take part in HAP, Brown noted that farmers’ parcels must be at least 40 acres, of which 20 percent must be forest, wetland or grassland capable of providing good hunting opportunities. Payment to the landowner is based on the type of habitat on the land and hunting options allowed on the property. Farmers can limit what hunters can harvest, what seasons they can hunt and more, limiting the hunting to all legal species, youth and apprentice only, deer only, small game only or wild turkey only.

Brown noted that a new federal grant makes the program more enticing to farmers, as the lease rates have been significantly increased. HAP pays up to $20 per acre for high-quality habitat, with an additional $5 per acre incentive for habitat enrolled in a United State Dept. of Agriculture program such as the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), Wetland Reserve Program (WRP) or Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP).

New HAP leases are for two years and run September 1- May 31. Payments are made by the DNR after hunting seasons are completed in May. It’s also noteworthy that HAP does not pay for any land within the required safety zone, and ?landowners are free from liability.

Anyone interested in taking part in the HAP program either as a landowner or hunter is encouraged to the Lapeer Conservation District at 810-664-3941 ext. 5, 1739 N. Saginaw Street, Lapeer or Mike Parker at the DNR at 517-641-4903 ext. 228 or

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