The results of a recent poll on www.HunterSurvey.com indicate that access to hunting land continues to be a major issue facing American hunters.
Nearly 23 percent of those hunters polled indicated that they had lost access to hunting land in the past year.
When compared to the previous year’s results to the same question, hunters who lost land access grew by less than 1 percent, a statistically insignificant bump, but their numbers still reveal that nearly one in four sportsmen nationwide are potentially affected by losing access to available hunting land.
“Finding a place to hunt remains one of the biggest challenges to hunters and hunter recruitment,” says Rob Southwick, president of Southwick Associates, which designs and conducts the surveys at www.HunterSurvey.com. “As available lands for hunting diminish or change ownership, some hunters will inevitably grow frustrated and pursue other activities.”
Indeed, more than half (52 percent) of those respondents who admitted to losing access to a hunting location said their time spent hunting last year was reduced as a result—a 7 percent increase over the previous year—while 11 percent said the lost land kept them from hunting altogether. Only 7 percent of those respondents said they acquired access to another property where they were able to hunt more than planned.
Southwick pointed to the NRA-backed Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP), which was part of the 2008 Farm Bill, as a key example of programs designed to improve access to hunting and fishing lands and waters. VPA-HIP was intended to provide three years of funding to augment state land access programs that provide incentives for private landowners to open their lands to hunting and fishing. The program ended prematurely, however, due to federal budget cuts. With slashes in government funding and private properties increasingly restricted, land access will continue to be an issue for many sportsmen.
With more and more private land being sold, developed or otherwise closed to hunting, it is imperative that hunters have access to public lands. That is why NRA is asking Congress to approve the Making Public Lands Public Act, which would help improve access to existing federal public lands.
A 2004 report to the House Appropriations Committee concluded that nearly 36 million acres of federal lands are virtually inaccessible to the public, largely because they are surrounded by private land. The Making Public Lands Public Act would ensure that funding is made available to purchase easements and rights-of-ways so that the public—including hunters—can use these lands.
The Making Public Lands Public Act, which is pending in the U.S. Senate as part of the Sportsmen’s Act of 2012, would require the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior to utilize 1.5 percent, or a minimum of $10 million annually, of their Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) budgets for projects that secure public access to existing federal public lands. The LWCF was created to receive payments from offshore oil and gas leases. Every year Congress gives money from this fund to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to buy land. NRA made the case to Congress that money from this fund should be used to ensure that those lands already purchased are accessible to the public.
The Sportsmen’s Act of 2012 was attached as an amendment to the new Farm Bill and is scheduled to be considered by the Senate as soon as this week.
One way sportsmen and women can make sure their voices are heard on important issues such as land access is by participating in the monthly surveys at www.HunterSurvey.com, www.ShooterSurvey.com, and www.AnglerSurvey.com. Each month, participants who complete the surveys are entered into a drawing for one of five $100 gift certificates to the sporting goods retailer of their choice. Results are scientifically analyzed to reflect the attitudes and habits of anglers and hunters across the United States.