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Public-private partnerships— a winning combination

Two MDC programs offer landowners incentives while increasing public access, hunting opportunities and improving wildlife habitats

The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) has two programs that provide landowners, farmers and hunters with a win-win situation.
The first is the Missouri Outdoor Recreational Access Program (MRAP) which is a voluntary program that compensates landowners for opening their private property to the public for outdoor activities such as hunting, fishing and wildlife viewing. The second is the Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP) which is designed to assist Missouri landowners in reaching deer management goals for their properties.

MRAP
MDC’s private land programs supervisor, Lisa Potter, serves as the MRAP manager. She explained that landowners can earn $15 to $25 per acre for each year of participation and that there are six different access options landowners can choose from when enrolling. The options are youth hunting and fishing; all access hunting and fishing; archery hunting; fishing; small game and turkey hunting; and wildlife viewing.

“This diverse list of access options allows landowners to enroll in an access type that best matches their comfort level and provides unique outdoor recreation opportunities to the public,” said Potter, adding that these private lands are open to public foot traffic only. “For example, if a landowner is interested in deer hunting but also wants to enroll their property into MRAP, the acreage can be enrolled into the small game and turkey access. The public can only pursue turkey and small game species, while the landowner can continue to hunt deer on their lands.”

With this program, the public now has additional lands for outdoor recreation, often closer to home. One of the objectives of MRAP is to afford more outdoor opportunities to youth under the age of 16.

“Currently, there are several youth-only properties enrolled that provide sites with high-quality habitat and less competition with other hunters and anglers,” Potter said. “MRAP properties can also increase economic development for nearby towns by bringing both Missouri and out-of-state outdoor recreationists into the area.”

Another benefit of MRAP is the incentive to maintain existing habitat and help create additional quality wildlife habitat.
“We provide up to 90% cost-share and annual payment incentives to MRAP landowners for voluntarily choosing to complete habitat work on their properties,” Potter explained. “For a property to be eligible for enrollment, at least 20% of the offered acres must be considered quality wildlife habitat. The average amount of quality wildlife habitat on MRAP properties is greater than 60% of the enrolled acres, far exceeding the minimum program requirements.”

MRAP was piloted in northeast Missouri by MDC in 2016 and was fully funded in 2018 through the USDA Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program. Since its inception, the program has grown to more than 15,000 acres enrolled with properties distributed across the state.
MFA Natural Resources Conservation Specialist Emily Beck said she was surprised by the number of farms signed up near her farm in northern Missouri, adding that, “Having an increase in foot traffic can be worrisome so MDC covers that with liability protection with the Missouri Recreational Use Immunity Statutes. This is only offered if you do not have any outside hunting leases or charge extra fees to enter your land.”

DMAP
The Deer Management Assistance Program was launched in seven Missouri counties in 2019 and now is available throughout the state.
“The program addresses a broad suite of deer management goals including reducing damage caused by deer to agriculture, forest or other plant communities; improving the health and quality of the deer herd by balancing deer numbers; plus creating a more balanced female-to-male ratio,” said Kevyn Wiskirchen, MDC’s private lands deer biologist and DMAP administrator.

Jim Starr, a Boone County timber, row-crop and cattle farmer, is participating in the DMAP program to help reduce deer pressure on his property in a sustainable way.

“My main business is a sawmill, and I harvest timber off our farm,” said Starr, who has approximately 400 acres of forest. “The deer can really harm oak and hickory tree regeneration by stripping leaves, shoots and bark of the trees. The damage to the trees was really affecting the growth.”

When his family first moved to the farm, Starr said he rarely saw a deer. “Now there are about 100-125 deer per square mile. It should be about 25-30. You know that the population is really out of hand when you see all the dead deer on the side of the road,” he said. “I was looking at getting a nuisance permit when Adam Doerhoff (Boone County MDC agent) told me about DMAP. With DMAP hunting permits, we can now harvest the deer meat and not have it go to waste.”

Deer damage authorizations allow landowners to remove deer during the summer when high temperatures make it more difficult to utilize the venison. However, DMAP permits are used to harvest deer during the regular hunting season, thus providing landowners with another tool to address deer damage while making it much easier to utilize the meat from the deer that are removed.

Starr gives the DMAP tags to a few hunters and family members who are able to use the meat. He has also donated deer harvested from his property to Missouri’s Share the Harvest program, which helps hunters provide surplus venison for the hunger-relief needs. Share the Harvest is administered by the Conservation Federation of Missouri and MDC.

With DMAP hunting permits, farmers are able to keep the deer population lower on their lands, which benefits the landowners and their crops as well as the deer.

“In the first year, we harvested about 25 deer. I think 22 were mature females,” Starr said. “That’s really what you want.” He plans to continue enrolling in DMAP each year to help address his concerns with deer pressure.

Just down the road from Starr’s farm is the Missouri Soybean Association’s Bay Farm Research Facility. Brady Lichenberg, conservation programs manager for the association, said that the research facility enrolled in DMAP this year.

“We were interested in participating because of the extensive deer damage we have observed,” Lichenberg said. “Having the opportunity for increased available antlerless firearms deer permits will be key to reducing deer pressure on our soybean research plots.”

He added that the enrollment process was very simple. “I contacted our local conservation agent and gave him some basic information. All I had to do was submit some maps of the farms that we were enrolling and some information on the hunters who will have tags allocated to them. The process was very straightforward, and thus far it has been headache-free.”

Landowners with large acreage or those with above-average deer densities on their property may need additional harvest opportunities to effectively manage the local deer population, Wiskirchen said.

“There are other options that can help landowners reduce deer damage, such as being authorized by an MDC conservation agent to remove deer during the growing season,” Wiskirchen said. “However, DMAP offers the advantage of allowing landowners to remove deer during the hunting season when the weather is cooler and when it is generally easier to enlist the help of other hunters to help them meet their goal.”

For more information on DMAP, visit mdc.mo.gov/dmap.

To view an interactive map and description of MRAP properties go to: mfa.ag/MRAP_access.
Interested landowners can find the MRAP application form at mfa.ag/MRAP_apply.

Enrollment opportunities are offered on a continuous basis.

CLICK HERE to read more from this November Today's Farmer Magazine.

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