Only two states offer a smaller percentage than Kansas of public land available for hunting and fishing, lawmakers were told Thursday morning.
“Our state is pretty shy on public lands,” the Kansas Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee heard from Brad Loveless, secretary of the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks.
KDWP hopes to improve on this, he said.
Sen. Alicia Straub R-Ellinwood suggested residents might look at the issue “the other way around” and instead appreciate that Kansas apparently has the third-largest private land ownership among the states.
KDWP hopes to buy land in north central Kansas
Loveless asked committee members to support his department’s ability to purchase a 264-acre tract that the owner is willing to sell to him at the western end of Lovewell Reservoir in Jewell County, north-central Kansas.
Kansas law requires specific legislation to pass for KDWP to acquire a tract totaling more than 160 acres, Loveless said.
The property would become available for public hunting, fishing, birding, mushroom hunting and wildlife habitat, he told The Capital-Journal after Thursday’s hour-long committee meeting.
‘I no longer have places to hunt like I used to’
KDWP conducts “many” polls on various topics and ends each one by asking for general comments, Loveless told committee members.
The most common comment respondents make is something along the lines of, “I don’t have any places to hunt anymore like I used to,” she said.
Loveless said Kansas has become “sort of a victim of our own success when it comes to deer hunting,” with out-of-state hunters becoming increasingly willing to pay considerable sums of money to lease property here on which they can “come in and shoot a trophy Kansas deer.”
KDWP doesn’t chide those landowners for having a way to make money off their land, Loveless said.
However, the “challenge becomes more complex” in terms of public land provision, he said.
“More motivated than ever”
Public access is a top priority for KDWP, said Nadia Marji, head of public affairs and engagement manager.
“It’s a long-standing problem, which has only become more nuanced and challenging with time, especially in light of recent increases in hunting participation by non-residents,” he told The Capital-Journal.
“That’s why KDWP is more motivated than ever to continue to develop and improve current access programs, as well as identify opportunities for strategic land acquisitions where possible,” Marji added. “It is a challenge that will not be solved overnight, and certainly without the support of partners and the legislator. But it is a challenge that can and must be overcome. Our residents deserve it and our natural resources depend on it “.
How much public land does KDWP own?
Currently, Marji said, KDWP can offer the public access to a total of 1,544,764 acres for outdoor recreation purposes.
That figure includes state-owned land, federally owned land and private land enrolled in programs that allow public access, he said.
Of those 1,544,764 acres, only 127,587 acres are directly owned by KDWP in the form of wildlife areas, state fishing lakes and other lands considered to be in the public domain, Marji said. That’s less than 1%, she said.
Most of the remaining acreage is privately owned, with 295,719 acres in federal ownership, he said.
These figures do not include Kansas state parks and/or county, city or community-owned areas open to the public, Marji said.
Public access programs
Loveless also spoke at Thursday’s meeting about the public access programs that KDWP makes available.
The best way for the public, including landowners, to learn about public access programs in Kansas is to access the Kansas Hunting and Furharvesting Regulations Summary, Kansas Hunting Atlas, Kansas Fishing Regulations Summary, and/or Kansas Fishing Atlas, ha stated Marji.
These publications are offered in print at most licensor locations and major outdoor retailers, as well as all KDWP offices, he said.
Contact Tim Hrenchir at [email protected] or 785-213-5934.