Creating Public Access Through Working Smarter

I’m a fan of the “work smarter, not harder” mantra. The folks at Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation seem to be … Continued

I’m a fan of the “work smarter, not harder” mantra.

The folks at Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation seem to be as well. Though it must be noted that they seem to be working pretty hard while working smarter.

RMEF has just signed off on yet another land acquisition project that will not only secure and conserve 560 acres of critical elk habitat in Oregon, but will also open up thousands of acres of BLM and U.S. Forest Service lands in the process.

This is a trend that’s been more and more noticeable across the board — buying or securing easements to lands that are desirable not just for their habitat components but also because of their proximity to other public areas.

In Iowa, for example, the National Wild Turkey Federation has paired up with the Iowa DNR and county conservation boards to acquire a number of parcels in recent years that increase the available acreage on existing public lands as well as provide additional access points.

“The Iowa State Chapter (of NWTF) has always been very forward-thinking. Years ago, when the state chapter was organized, access to hunting land was one of the major goals,” said Dennis Conger, Senior Regional Director for the NWTF in Iowa. “They wanted to have more public hunting ground because there was a very real need for it. There isn’t a lot of public hunting land in Iowa and they understand how important access is to the future. Creating more public hunting opportunities was — and still is — one of their focuses.”

Non-profit organizations aren’t the only ones working smarter when it comes to public land acquisitions for access either. In my home state of Michigan, for example, the Michigan legislature recently passed legislation dealing with state-owned lands. The intent of the bill is to create a system for determining what types of land should be kept under state ownership, which ones may not serve a true purpose and to establish a formula for evaluating future land purchases. The legislation certainly isn’t perfect and has been fairly controversial.

But the underlying premise is sound: The state should have a system of checks and balances in place to ensure that any public land that’s sold is sold for good reason. And any lands that are purchased should also be bought with purpose.

If there is a model to follow, it might be that which RMEF has employed of late with the 560-acre Oregon purchase serving as a prime model.

Dubbed the “South Basin Springs Acquisition,” the land is located in Grant County near the John Day River.

The deal included a strategic land swap along with a land purchase. The end result is the consolidation of Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife landholdings in the Phillip W. Schneider Wildlife Area and improved access to surrounding BLM and federal lands. The purchase also protects the South Basin Springs parcel from pending development.

The entire area will be open to public hunting and fishing access and is home to excellent populations of elk, mule deer and antelope.