Awareness of the critical role that providing hunting access plays in reversing the downward trend in hunting license sales appears to be increasing on a national scale. This increased awareness is reflected in an increasing number of state agencies that have public land and/or private land hunter access programs, as well as an increasing diversity of hunter access programs.
The majority of state agencies clearly recognizes the importance of providing hunting access and is developing innovative programs to meet this need. While outside influences are increasingly working to resolve this issue, 81% of states that responded to the question reported that internal recognition of the importance of providing hunting access is the driving force for improving access. Improved access program development will play a critical role in preserving the North American hunting heritage tradition.
Hunting access program-types are fairly uniformly distributed across the country. The most common types documented by this assessment are access leasing programs, where hunting rights are acquired by agencies for the public (26 states), access easement (purchase or lease programs) (25 states) and cooperative management programs (22 states). In addition, 38 states have a public lands hunter access program, 37 have a private lands hunter access program, and 27 have a corporate lands hunter access programs.
While the increasing number and diversity of hunter access programs bodes well for the future, budgets for these programs do not appear to be keeping pace with the need. New sources of funds will be needed to allow programs to grow in order to meet the anticipated demand.
Studies have documented that most federal public lands can be accessed with minimal or no barriers (see Highlights of Key Access Research). However, there are numerous examples where inadequate hunter access to public lands exists. This will require continued focus and effort.
Access challenges to private land appear to be greater than those on federal lands and are considered to be getting worse (see Highlights of Key Access Research). State agencies are responding to this trend by developing innovative programs that provide landowners with considerable flexibility in designing public hunter access programs.
While this assessment did not inquire about any specifics regarding the geographic distribution of hunter access program lands, it did ask if geographic distribution was used in evaluating hunter access programs. Only 10 states reported using it. It is difficult to draw conclusions from this information; however, it may be surmised that directing additional effort, or developing a specific strategy that addresses the need for providing hunting access near human population centers, will pay long-term dividends in supplying future hunters with places to hunt.