Outdoors

IHAP looking for more land

Wildside column: Program is good for landowners, hunters

Department of Natural Resources private lands wildlife technician Jason Gritch stands Monday amid an expansive sorghum f
Department of Natural Resources private lands wildlife technician Jason Gritch stands Monday amid an expansive sorghum food plot in the center of a 155-acre Conservation Reserve Program grassland. The site, south of Urbana, is enrolled in the DNR’s Iowa Habitat and Access Program, which provides hunters with public access to private lands. (Orlan Love/correspondent)
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URBANA — The decade-old Iowa Habitat and Access Program (IHAP) has been a triple winner for landowners, hunters and wildlife.

“Landowners benefit from financial and technical assistance in managing their properties,” said Department of Natural Resources private lands wildlife technician Jason Gritsch. “Pheasants, deer, turkeys, quail, doves and other wildlife benefit from enhanced habitat. And hunters benefit from expanded public access to excellent hunting grounds.”

In exchange for funding and technical assistance for habitat improvements, participating landowners allow public access to their land for hunting.

Hunters typically do well at IHAP sites, said Gritsch, who was among more than 10 hunters who shot their 15-bird limits of doves at the Urbana site on the season’s Sept. 1 opener.

“It’s a great program. I’ve hunted a lot on (IHAP plots) and have had some really good hunts on them,” said outdoor writer Phil Bourjaily of Iowa City.

The program would be even better “if we had 10 times as many plots,” said Bourjaily, who frequently hunts Eastern Iowa pheasants with his two German shorthair pointers, Zeke and Jed.

Though a 10-fold increase is not realistic, the DNR has funds available to expand the program, said Gritsch, who manages 11 IHAP plots.

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The funding, provided in part by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program, is sufficient to add about 10,000 acres to the 22,000 acres already enrolled, said Brian Hickman, coordinator of the DNR’s private lands program.

About 160 sites in more than 60 Iowa counties are enrolled in the program, Hickman said.

Site maps are available at www.iowadnr.gov/ihap showing boundaries and the wildlife species most likely attracted to the available habitat.

Because public land is scarce in Iowa — barely more than 1 percent of the state’s area — hunters are quick to take advantage of IHAP sites, said DNR upland game biologist Todd Bogenschutz.

“Though the land remains in private ownership, hunting pressure is more like we see on public land,” he said.

Walk-in public hunting through IHAP is available between Sept. 1 and May 31. Areas are posted with orange signs and are regularly patrolled by DNR conservation officers.

IHAP is accepting applications from landowners interested in getting technical assistance and financial incentives in exchange for allowing hunters to access the improved area.

Qualifying properties must be at least 40 acres. Although most IHAP sites include Conservation Reserve Program grasslands, the program also accepts woodland properties, Hickman said.

Enrollment ranges from three to 10 years, with the average length of participation at eight years, he said.

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Feedback from landowners and hunters indicates satisfaction ratings of 95 percent and 99 percent, respectively, according to the DNR.

Interested landowners are encouraged to contact local DNR private land staff, who will visit the site and help the landowner prepare a habitat plan.

A listing of private lands staff can be found online by Googling Iowa DNR private lands staff.

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