Ohio Landowner/Hunter Access Partnership program creates new opportunities

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Ohio Landowner/Hunter Access Partnership
Hunters who sign up on the Ohio Landowner/Hunter Access Partnership website to hunt deer must do so with archery equipment; no guns allowed. Landowners in the program receive $30 per acre per year for forest, wetland and other environments that provide habitat for wildlife, and $2 an acre for land planted in row crops. (Nina Harfmann, Ohio Division of Wildlife, photo)

One day at a time is how the Ohio Landowner/Hunter Access Partnership program works. Like fans trying to get good seats at a concert or game, hunters might be hovering over a keyboard, waiting for the clock to strike 8 p.m.

Those who click on a green dot representing a property that’s available, fill out a permit application and hit “submit” first have the privilege of hunting there the next day between 5:30 a.m. and 10 p.m. They can hunt deer, small game or waterfowl, whatever is in season.

They’re competing for permission to hunt on that property, but they don’t have to compete once they get there. Only one hunter is allowed per 50 acres of habitat.

Ohio’s hunter access program began with a $1.8 million grant in the 2018 Farm Bill. Funding is through U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service through its Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive program.

Ohio landowners who are accepted into the OLHAP program — and so far all who have applied have been accepted — are given a two-year contract and paid for both years upfront. They get $30 per acre for forest, wetlands, grasslands and brushlands, and $2 per acre for land that is planted in row crops.

“It’s kind of like leasing land on the public’s behalf,”  said David Kohler, wildlife program administrator for the Ohio Division of Wildlife.

There are nearly 20,000 acres and 147 landowners currently enrolled in the program, and there are hundreds of hunters getting on the website to take advantage of it.

How it works

Hunters can find the map with available properties on the ODNR website. If there is no X over the green dot after 8 at night, that property is open for hunting the following day.

Hunters are limited to 10 days a month to hunt the same property. If they’re quick enough in hitting “submit” each night, they might get 10 days in a row. If they go for 10 days at the end of a month and 10 at the beginning of the next, they could theoretically hunt the same property 20 days in a row, Kohler said.

There are a lot of rules for hunters. Perhaps the most important one is for deer hunters, who make up the majority of those using the website. That rule is they must hunt with archery equipment; no guns allowed.

Other rules include no trapping, cutting trees, tree stands, trail cams, camping, campfires, target practice or bait. And no ATVs or other vehicles to get where you’re going from the designated parking places.

How it helps

Jack Barthels lives in Portage County but owns four properties in Ashtabula County that are mostly wooded with some meadows, wetlands and a little cropland. The properties are in a certified tree farm program and managed for selective timbering and wildlife habitat.

Through the OLHAP program, Barthels received contracts for habitat improvement on all four properties and was reimbursed for purchasing and planting 7.2 acres of trees. The program also helped him build 20 brush piles that provide shelter for wildlife.

“I’ve seen rabbits, turkeys, pheasants and even a couple of deer using them,” Barthels said. “Build it and they will come.”

Retired from the USDA’s Farm Service Agency, Barthels says the program provides some income to help with real estate taxes and other expenses incurred in managing his properties. And since overpopulation of deer is a concern to those trying to maintain forests, the hunter access program provides help with that, too.

With the program, hunters “get an opportunity to hunt without a lot of competition, to try out a new place where the hunting is good quality because it’s in a good environment that we manage,” he said.

Since he is often on the Ashtabula County properties working, he frequently runs into hunters. Some he had given permission to hunt in years past, but they are now using the OLHAP website. Under the rule of one hunter per 50 acres, he can still give others written permission to hunt if he wishes. And he can give permission during the OLHAP program’s “summer break” June 1 to Sept. 1.

“I saw one guy two or three times and he showed me the buck he got, a 12-point,” Barthels said. “People seem pretty happy and appreciative of the hunting opportunities.”

The landowner isn’t given the addresses of the hunters who sign up, but Barthels occasionally googles them. He’s found that most are fairly local, coming from about a 50-mile radius.

Coming from afar

Randy Swetnam has seen just the opposite. Most of the OLHAP hunters he’s encountered on his 110-acre property in Hocking County have been from out of state, some as far away as Vermont and Delaware.

His wooded property is surrounded by state parks, hiking trails and nature preserves – and a lot of public lands that he imagines are pretty crowded during hunting seasons.

“One person I met was local; just one,” he said. “I think the locals know the public lands better, or they hunt on their own properties.”

The vast majority of the OLHAP hunters on Swetnam’s property were after deer, although at least one signed up with a waterfowl permit to hunt the ponds on his land. Several signed up to hunt small game.

The fact that deer hunters are only allowed to use bows, and that only two hunters are allowed on his property on any given day “makes us feel like it’s a little safer,” he said. “I’m usually out there every day and our children and grandchildren like to visit.”

Aside from the payments for his acreage, Swetnam has received funding for planting two acres of trees and building five brush piles.

“The majority of hunters I’ve run into have thanked me and say they are grateful beyond belief for letting them hunt on the property,” said Swetnam, who retired from a career in construction that included building log homes. “I think it’s a tremendous benefit to hunters, and for me it’s a little extra income for being retired.”

More information

Interested hunters and landowners can find information by searching for the Ohio Landowner Hunter Access Partnership on ohioodnr.gov. There is a map at the bottom of the page with numbers for five district offices where folks can get their questions answered by phone. Or you can contact Kohler at David.Kohler@dnr.ohio.gov or 614-265-6907.

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Barbara Mudrak was a reporter for 25 years, mostly with the Akron Beacon Journal, and recently retired from teaching English and news writing at Alliance High School. She can be reached at editorial+barb@farmanddairy.com.

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