Open Fields bill will help hunters, anglers and landowners
U.S. Sens. Kent Conrad (ND) and Pat Roberts (KS), along with Reps. Earl Pomeroy (ND) and Jerry Moran (KS) recently reintroduced their “Open Fields” legislation in Congress. With hunting and fishing opportunities declining, this bi-partisan bill provides incentives for landowners to voluntarily open their land to the public.
"Hunting and fishing are a part of our heritage. They are national traditions as old as America itself," Senator Conrad said.
"One of the primary challenges facing hunting is fewer places to hunt,” said Ducks Unlimited (DU) Governmental Affairs Representative Bart James. “This legislation is a needed first step to address the problem.”
If adopted into law, Open Fields would direct the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide funds for states with existing access programs. Presently, there are 21 states with access programs.
Kansas is one of the 21 states.
States with access and walk-in programs have significantly smaller hunter decline numbers than those without. Estimates are Open Fields could open more than 4 million new acres of private land to the public annually. This would dramatically expand access to hunters and everyone who enjoys the outdoors.
James also says it’s important to make sure the hunting and fishing heritage in this country continues, because hunters and anglers, more than anyone else, pay the bill for wildlife conservation.
“Sportsmen are the best conservationists. They are three times more likely to give their own money to protect, conserve and restore wildlife habitat,” James said. “We need to make sure people this passionate about wildlife conservation have as much chance as possible to pursue their passion. The Open Fields bill will provide more opportunities.”
Open Fields will encourage private landowners - particularly farmers and ranchers - to open their property for hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreational activities. The modest payments are designed as a financial boost to rural America.
"Anyone who has driven through a rural community in the fall has seen the 'Welcome Hunters' signs in front of Main Street restaurants and local motels," Congressman Moran said. "But more and more, reduced access to hunting ground is threatening the future of the sport and the dollars it brings to rural America. This legislation will help continue our nation's outdoor heritage, boost rural economies and provide additional income to our farmers and ranchers."
James says DU believes that providing incentives for private landowners to make their land available to hunting is compatible with its support for agricultural programs that provide incentives for habitat conservation on private land.
"This bill is a classic win-win-win situation," Senator Roberts said. "Those who enjoy outdoor recreation spend their dollars in rural communities, improving local economies, while gaining access to additional lands for hiking, fishing and hunting. By allowing this access, farmers and ranchers can take advantage of beneficial incentive programs."