Game and Fish access programs see rapid expansion
Casper — Participation in a program granting the public access to your private property for hunting and fishing is a big decision, yet an opportunity an increasing number of Wyoming ranchers are grasping.
Game and Fish Access Coordinator Matt Buhler says enrollment in one of his agency’s three programs is a chance to build a partnership in ensuring a more responsible presence by hunters and anglers. Buhler, who has an office in Casper, oversees the Walk-In Hunting, Walk-In Fishing and the Hunter Management Program for Game and Fish.
In 1999, he says, 120,000 private acres were enrolled as walk-in areas. By 2009, he says that number had grown to 670,587 acres. A similar story exists in the Hunter Management Program, which has seen a growth from 123,522 acres in 1999 to 917,438 in 2009.
“It’s based on the number of acres enrolled,” says Buhler of payments received by landowners. Incentives are offered for longer-term contracts and for larger blocks of land. Enrollment, he says, is limited to properties 80 acres or larger in size. Agreements are written to meet the needs of individual landowners and their property. For example, an agreement can be written for angling access or for hunting specific species, such as waterfowl, elk or deer.
Fishing walk-in areas are contracted on an annual basis, while the hunting walk-in program is built around hunting seasons. Access to a walk-in area only requires a valid license. Hunter Management Areas, on the other hand, can either be unlimited or limited and hunters must obtain a permission slip prior to hunting.
“We provide management of hunters and anglers,” says Buhler of all three programs. “Landowners aren’t inundated with a ton of access requests. We provide additional law enforcement on these properties and that’s huge to many landowners.” Buhler says they’ve seen a more general respect for private properties as hunters and anglers realize access to the area is a privilege that can be lost.
“You have to get a permission slip from the Wyoming Game and Fish prior to going into Hunter Management Areas,” says Buhler. “Some are limited on a first come, first serve basis or through a random draw while others are unlimited,” says Buhler. That type of access, he says, is administered via an online system included in the Game and Fish’s website. Beginning in July, sportsmen and women can access the website to request permission or enter into a drawing held to enter a given area.
“There’s a lot of variation,” says Buhler of the agreements inked within the program. “We take a lot of factors into consideration to determine how many permission slips and whether it should be an unlimited or limited draw for access.”
While the above numbers reflect private land, the three programs can also be applied to state land. The Duncan Ranch near Glenrock, owned by the state and managed by the Office of State Lands and Investments, is one example of state property enrolled in the program. Buhler says the program provides landowners an ally in enforcing violations such as off-road traffic and litter. “If the lands are enrolled in the program, we’re able to administer the laws and regulations associated with our program.”
Landowners interested in participating in the programs can contact local Game and Fish personnel or the regional access coordinators in their given area. Typically, says Buhler, the local game warden, the access coordinator and a biologist will meet with the landowner to determine which species could be hunted in the area and the level of access to be extended.
Matt Buhler can be reached at 307-473-3428. Jennifer Womack is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to email@example.com.