With National Public Lands Day being celebrated last Saturday, it comes as no surprise that there is strong public support for Minnesota’s wildlife management area (WMA) program.
A new survey indicates that 86 percent of WMA users support ongoing acquisition of these public lands that provide wildlife habitat and access to hunters, wildlife watchers and countless others. Sixty-three percent of users also say that WMAs provide high-quality hunting experiences.
“Wildlife management areas are the cornerstone of our public lands system in many parts of the state,” said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr. “Minnesota is fortunate to have made an early investment in these public lands that provide a wealth of recreation opportunities.”
Minnesota’s WMA system began 64 years ago as part of public effort called “Save the Wetlands.” Today, there are more than 1,400 WMAs totaling 1.3 million acres, providing a significant public-land base for users to enjoy prairies, brushlands, forests, and wetlands.
National Public Lands Day is celebrated on Saturday, Sept. 30. The day is designed to encourage visitation and appreciation for the nation’s public lands, and to encourage volunteerism to help improve them.
“Our WMA users are telling us that these public lands are very important to their recreation and Minnesota’s quality of life,” Landwehr said. “On National Public Lands Day, it’s worth celebrating that we have both the Legacy Amendment to help fund WMA acquisition and public support to continue build on this legacy.”
Approved by voters, the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment provides significant funding for WMA acquisition, Landwehr said.
A graduate student at the University of Minnesota-based Minnesota Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit recently completed a scientific survey of WMA users in southwest and northwest Minnesota. The survey evaluated the 2015-2016 hunting season attitudes and experiences of individuals who used the WMA system.
Results showed that 55 percent of hunters are moderately or extremely satisfied with their WMA experience. WMAs are most valued by those hunting pheasants, waterfowl and deer with firearms.
The survey is the most extensive analysis ever of WMA users. The DNR will use the input when making future WMA acquisition and management decisions.
Here are other findings from the WMA survey:
• Sixty-three percent of users hunt on WMAs but don’t visit them for other purposes. For those who do, wildlife/bird watching, fishing and dog training are other top uses, respectively.
• Nearly 40 percent of users don’t hunt on private land, indicating the importance of having public land available for hunting.
• Nearly 45 percent do either most or all of their hunting on WMAs.
• Users are most interested in pheasant hunting (80 percent), duck hunting (37 percent) and firearms deer hunting (31 percent).
• The most satisfied hunters are those seeking spring turkeys, fall turkeys and deer by archery, respectively.
“This survey told us that 92 percent of hunters intend to return to a WMA,” said Landwehr. “That tells us that hunters see these lands as an important resource.”
The DNR buys WMA land from only willing sellers, and that many conservation groups — Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, Minnesota Deer Hunters Association and others — provide financial support.
National Public Lands Day is promoted by the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF).
People can see the Minnesota events by visiting the NEEF’s website (www.neefusa.org) and clicking on the National Public Lands Day event button.
To see the full Minnesota DNR WMA User Study, go online at mndnr.gov/wmas.