Updated: Mar 17
"Illinois ranks 46th in the nation for publicly-owned land with more than 97% of the land privately owned. In order to carry on our outdoor traditions, we need to connect youth and families to the land."
Many states throughout the US have large tracts of publicly accessible land. This land is generally set aside for hunters, anglers, hikers and general outdoor recreation. The further west you travel the more access you have to this type of opportunity, as early on in our country's history this land was not as valuable to the private purchaser and thus easier to enroll into a conservation program. Head back east and you'll see the public land availability shrink.
As an Illinois resident, I have always banked on permission to private property or the sparse selection of public sites sprinkled throughout the state. Up until recently there just wasn't much available to us as outdoor enthusiasts. In 2011, Illinois' Department of Natural Resources broke major ground in the way of their Recreational Access Program. This program employs the US Department of Agriculture’s NRCS Voluntary Public Access–Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP). This program opens private land to the public by offering private landowners grant funds towards habitat restoration in exchange for a lease agreement. As stated by the IDNR, "Landowners who chose to lease their property to IRAP will have a comprehensive habitat/forestry management plan written and be eligible for assistance to implement habitat restoration projects."
Since the program's inception, 24,000 acres have been leased and available for Illinois anglers, hunters and recreationalists. With positive landowner feedback and the growing availability of USDA grants, this should continue to grow! Landowners are enjoying the reclamation of their property from non-native plant species, as well as the planting of trees and native pollinators. Outdoor enthusiasts are enjoying the access to more property to enjoy their past times. Great news for both parties!
photo - Illinois Science Council
IDNR is not only working to secure more places for their outdoorsmen/women. They are also working to educate adults and youth alike on how to begin hunting and enjoying the outdoors! As we know, hunter numbers have declined in correlation with the lack of property availability. Now with the Illinois Learn To Hunt Program and the increase in property availability, maybe we can bring more folks into the sport to support the conservation and enjoyment of our Illinois wildlife!
photo - Illinois Learn To Hunt Facebook Page
If you are a landowner interested in seeing your property enjoy habitat enhancement you can apply for the program with this landowner enrollment form. For everyone else, general information and accessibility options can be found on the Illinois DNR IRAP page.