In 1956, the U.S. Congress passed the Agricultural Act establishing the Soil Bank Program to protect farmland that was at considerable risk of erosion. The idea was to remove that land from agricultural production and replace it with permanent vegetative cover. The program eventually evolved into what is now known as the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
CRP was seen as an expansion of the Agricultural Act when it was included in the Farm Bill of 1985. Under the new program, contract lengths for farmland taken out of production were increased from three years to up to 15 years, depending on the particular piece of land. The CRP was further expanded with the 1990 Farm Bill then again in 1996, 2002, and 2008.
Under the CRP, the federal government provides grants to states who then lease lands from private landowners with the goal of reducing erosion, improving water quality, and helping wildlife propagate. Many of the leased lands are turned into hunting grounds available to the general public. Some 15,000 acres just opened to public hunting in Oklahoma are but the latest example.
Open for Dove Season
The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation announced back in August the opening of some two dozen tracks of land mostly in north-central Oklahoma under the CRP. The land opened for dove hunting on Friday, September 1. Anyone with a state hunting license is eligible to use it.
Most of the land is available only on a walk-in basis. The exception is roughly 7,000 acres in eastern Oklahoma that is large enough to accommodate ATVs. Each of the tracts of land is bordered by boundary signs to ensure hunters do not stray from leased areas, and once dove season concludes, the land will be available for bow hunting.
Oklahoma officials are still working on securing more public lands under CRP. According to News OK, the goal is to eventually have 50,000 acres ready for next year’s dove season.
Good for Landowners and Hunters
The government CRP program represents one of those rare instances in which the public and private sectors come together for the benefit of average citizens. The USDA has a vested interest in protecting certain amounts of land in order to advance its conservation efforts, and private landowners are not forced to give up their land without sufficient financial remuneration. Leasing is the perfect solution.
The landowner who leases to the USDA receives an annual financial benefit from doing so. That benefit makes up for lost crop production. By the same token, the government advances its own goals of conservation and wildlife management by allowing land to be used responsibly by hunters.
Hunters benefit from having access to walk-in hunting grounds whenever they feel the urge to get outdoors and hunt. They do not have to worry about their own hunting leases, securing hunting lease insurance, and handling land management issues on behalf of property owners.
The American Hunting Lease Association says there are still plenty of benefits to leasing land exclusively for single groups of hunters and hunting clubs. Still, they recognize that government land leases provide a vital function in the preservation of land that might otherwise not be well-managed as a result of agricultural operations.
For a list of publicly leased lands in your area, contact your state land management agency. You should be able to find sufficient public lands on which to go hunting this fall. If you are looking for an annual lease for your hunting club, the AHLA is a good place to start.