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Utah's Walk-In Access
By Clint Brunson - Walk-In Access Manager
Published in Utah DWR Magazine -- Wildlife Review: http://wildlife.utah.gov

A new program in Utah is opening thousands of acres of private land to public hunting.

As any hunter knows, wildlife does not respect property lines. And some of Utah's best wildlife habitat is on private lands. A new program called the Walk-In Access (WIA) program will give sportsmen access to some of this prime hunting and fishing. At the same time, it'll help landowners better protect and manage their property, and it'll help the division better manage wildlife. It's a program that has the potential for big benefits for people and wildlife, but sportsmen bear the burden of responsibility for making it work.

How the program works:
The WIA program is a three-year pilot program in Box Elder, Cache, Davis, Morgan, Rich, Summit and Weber counties in northern Utah. Other states, including Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota and South Dakota, have very successful WIA programs that are used by thousands of sportsmen, including nonresident sportsmen, every year.

The WIA program compensates landowners for providing access for the public to hunt, fish or trap on their lands. Landowners also receive conservation officer patrols and liability protection while still being able to work their land.

Landowners are able to designate parking, registration and access sites that must be used by sportsmen who access their property.

UDWR biologists evaluate each property to ensure it has good wildlife habitat and that wildlife are present on the property during hunting seasons. After the property has been evaluated, the landowner and the UDWR biologist sign a one-, two-, or three-year contract.

Travel on WIA areas is usually restricted to foot travel only, but some landowners do allow horses or four-wheel-drive vehicles on established roads or trails. The landowner's contract lists species that are available to hunt, the time access is allowed and whether sportsmen need to sign in and out or personally contact the landowner before entering the property.

Landowners can specify several different ways that sportsmen can gain access to their property.

One option is for landowners to allow anyone on their property without requiring them to sign in or out.

Or, a landowner may require all users to sign in and out before entering and leaving the property. Requiring all users to sign in and out provides valuable information that the UDWR can use to evaluate the success of the program, provides landowners a list of those using the property and gives conservation officers information on who has complied with the requirements set forth by the landowner.

A final option available to landowners is to require all users to personally contact them before entering the property. Compliance with these requirements is a very important part of the program.

Finding Walk-In Areas
How do you find the WIA areas near you? It's easy. Just go online to wildlife.utah.gov/walkinaccess, click on "Participating Properties" and view "Properties Enrolled in the Program."

A map will appear that shows the borders of property you're allowed to hunt, fish, or trap on; rules that apply to that property and any special requirements that the landowner has for sportsmen (for example, the requirement to sign in and out or call ahead for access).

Sportsmen can print these maps off the website or they can go to the UDWR office and have UDWR staff print it for them.

A paperback atlas that includes all of the maps and rules for each WIA area will be available in the future. It's very important that sportsmen follow the rules for the properties they visit.

"The sportsmen have to respect the landowners and their property in order for this program to work," says Arthur Douglas, who is a landowner and the president of the Utah Farmers Union.

The rules may vary at each location, so it's important that hunters, anglers and trappers learn the rules for the areas they visit.

Early Success
In spring 2005, turkey hunters became the first sportsmen in Utah to try the program out, and they found great success.

On opening morning of the hunt, one hunter watched 130 turkeys approach his location. He had watched the birds roost and was in the right spot the next morning as they flew down and made their way toward him. He said it was awesome just to be there and watch it all happen.

After setting in ambush, another hunter had four toms lined up in a single-file line. He had to wait until on broke off from the group before he could shoot. He had seen and watched many birds, but he knew this tom was the one he wanted. It had a 12.5-inch beard and great spurs.

At registration sites, turkey hunters signed in (a requirement at these areas) and left gracious comments for the UDWR and the landowners.

One hunter called before the season and asked why an area he had permission to hunt had been posted as a WIA area. I told him about the program and about other nearby areas in his hunting unit that were also enrolled in the program. After scouting these additional areas, he killed a tom on one of the new areas and was very excited that he had additional areas to hunt.

The Walk-In Access program has created great opportunities for both sportsmen and landowners in Utah. As more landowners enroll, and more hunters, anglers and trappers become aware of the program, I hope everyone will do their best to make the program a success.