Minnesota's walk-in access (WIA) program, which had been on shaky financial ground, will continue.

A $1.67 million, three-year federal grant that funds the program has been awarded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, officials announced Monday. The grant means hunters in western and south-central Minnesota will continue to have access to more than 22,000 acres of existing WIA hunting land, and will get at least 8,000 additional  acres over the next three years.

Here's the rest of the DNR news release:

“We are thrilled to receive news of this grant award,” said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr. “These funds open up more opportunities for hunters, especially in areas of the state that are predominately privately owned. The funds also help enhance habitat on these lands.”

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced the grant award., which is through the USDA’s Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program, which was authorized in the 2014 Farm Bill to enhance public access to privately held and operated farm and ranch lands, and improve habitat for wildlife-dependent recreation.  

Launched by the DNR in 2011, WIA increases hunting opportunities in western and south-central Minnesota. In 2015, there are 22,800 acres enrolled in WIA across 31 counties. Bright yellow-green signs mark boundaries of the 200 sites. 

The program provides public hunting access to private lands and pays landowners to allow that access. Landowners are paid $10 per acre to enroll their lands in the program. Bonuses are added if more than 140 contiguous acres are enrolled, if the land is within one-half mile of existing state or federal hunting land, or if a multi-year agreement is signed.

WIA sites are open to public hunting from Sept. 1 to May 31, with no additional landowner contact needed. Hunters must have a $3 WIA validation on their hunting license to legally access WIA lands.

In addition to sustaining the WIA program, the  grant provides funds for landowners to enhance the habitat on WIA acres. The grant will also fund a research project through the University of Minnesota to study both landowner and hunter interest and participation in the program. 

Maps of WIA sites and more information on the program can be found at www.mndnr.gov/walkin.

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