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MDC program offers landowners payments to let public use their land

St. LOUIS, Mo. — The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) works with and for landowners to improve outdoor access for all Missourians. A new tool MDC has developed to do this is the Missouri Outdoor Recreational Access Program (MRAP).

MRAP is a cooperative effort between MDC and willing landowners to offer portions of private land for public access to hunt, fish or view wildlife, while at the same time financially benefitting the landowner.

According to MDC Private Land Conservationist Jeff Esely, who heads up the program, it spells a win-win situation for the landowner, the public, and Missouri’s natural resources.

“The main purpose is to enhance public access opportunities for people in Missouri, especially in areas where public land availability is more limited,” Esely said. “There’re a lot of counties where public land accounts for less than 5% of the total area of the county. So this program represents a way for us to address that.”

MDC is also targeting MRAP to four urban proximity zones that comprise the largest population centers in the state. The St. Louis region is one of these.

Any Missouri landowner, even a non-resident one, is eligible to participate in the program. To be considered for MRAP, a land offer must be real property under the ownership and control of the applicant.

Landowners may offer all, or portions of tracts, as long as the offered acres meet minimum acreage and habitat requirements. Offers must be at least 40 contiguous acres in size, and at least 20 percent of the tract must provide quality habitat. The exception is land offered for fishing access, which is not subject to the minimum acreage and habitat requirements.

Examples of targeted cover types include native grass fields, wildlife-friendly field buffers, restored wetlands, tree and shrub plantings, brushy fencerows and edges, managed woodlands, and old fields.

A landowner may enroll a particular parcel in one of six public use categories;

Small Game and Turkey (allows hunting of turkey and certain small game species only)
Youth Only (allows youth hunting and fishing only)
Archery (allows hunting by archery methods only)
Wildlife Viewing (allows hiking and wildlife viewing and photography)
Fishing (only allows fishing on enrolled water bodies)
All Access Hunting and Fishing

“We set up six different options to give folks some choices based on what their land use interests are. Hopefully there’s an option for anyone who might be interested in the program,” Esely said.

In exchange for enrolling in the program, the landowner receives a number of benefits. These include:

Annual incentive payments, with varying rates depending on what criteria are met—such as length of commitment and location. Most participants can expect to earn $15-$25 an acre, per year.
Up to 90% cost share incentives for completing planned practices that improve habitat
Liability protection by way of Missouri’s Recreational Use Immunity Law

Esely explained that being in one of the urban proximity zones mentioned above, owners of land near St. Louis would receive higher priority in the application process and larger yearly payments. All applications will be considered for MRAP; however, lands north of the Missouri River will receive additional consideration due to more limited public land availability in those areas.

Absentee landowners are also eligible to apply for the program, which could represent a way to derive financial income from their property.

Enrolling in MRAP is 100% voluntary and does not preclude a landowner from enjoying any activity they choose. For example, if a parcel is enrolled for public archery hunting, the landowner—or anyone they designate—may still hunt with a firearm during appropriate seasons.

MRAP gives landowners a chance to earn financial incentives for sharing their property with other Missourians and offers the public additional land for quality outdoor recreation. The potential benefit of MRAP, however, goes well beyond that.

“Another big goal for this program is benefiting wildlife,” said Esely. “Since MRAP offers various incentives to encourage landowners to improve habitat on their land, we could see more of that being done. This program might be another tool we have to increase the amount of quality wildlife habitat in Missouri.”

For more details on MRAP, go to https://mdc.mo.gov/property/property-assistance/voluntary-public-access. Those interested should note that the deadline for applying to the program for this year is July 15.