Saturday, August 23, 2014

Agency seeks to open more public land for hunting

By RYAN MCCARTHY, KU Statehouse Wire Service | 5/9/2014

TOPEKA — Each fall, Kansas is an ideal place for hunting, whether it’s pheasant or big game.

The problem: There isn’t enough public land in Kansas to accommodate out-of-state hunters.

TOPEKA — Each fall, Kansas is an ideal place for hunting, whether it’s pheasant or big game.

The problem: There isn’t enough public land in Kansas to accommodate out-of-state hunters.

During the past few months, the Kansas Department of Parks, Wildlife and Tourism has identified two different areas that could be converted to public hunting lands and help boost the $600 million hunting and fishing industry in the state.

The State Finance Council and the Ways and Means committees have worked to approve both plots of land at Cherokee and Pottawatomie counties.

“Only about 3 percent of Kansas land is in public ownership and we only own about less than 1 percent of that for public access (hunting),” said Ron Kaufman a Department of Parks, Wildlife and Tourism spokesman. “Hunting is all about opportunity and places to go and accessibility where you can hunt. For hunting purposes it’s important to have places set aside.”

The members of the Kansas Senate have considered and passed the two bills, Senate Bill 366 and 370. Both bills were folded into Senate Bill 357, which was then approved by the Senate and House. Members of Franklin County’s Statehouse delegation — state Reps. Blaine Finch, R-Ottawa, and Kevin Jones, R-Wellsville, along with state Sen. Caryn Tyson, R-Parker — voted for the legislation dealing with the public land.

The bill now goes to the governor.

Both plots of land are next to existing public lands and should be solid investments, Kaufman said.

The Cherokee Country property of 398 acres should be purchased at or about $433,500, Kaufman said, adding the land had been used in the private sector for other reasons in the past.

“There had been some agricultural activity on the property and so when we talk about restoration we’re really not talking about the soil, we’re just putting it to other uses,” he said.

During his testimony to the Senate Committee on Ways and Means in February, Secretary of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism Robin Jennison said there are benefits to the public outside hunting season.

“The proposed acquisition would be open to the public for a variety of uses including, hunting, wildlife viewing and hiking,” he said.

The other section of land in Pottawatomie County is on the east side of Tuttle Creek reservoir near Manhattan.

This plot of land for hunting was set at 484 acres on the east side of Tuttle Creek Reservoir, adjacent to the Tuttle Creek Wildlife Area.

The purchase of the lands is expected to increase state revenues. The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism reported that in 2011 hunting and fishing generated more than $610 million in the state.

The land would be purchased with a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grant that is funded through Pheasants Forever and the National Wild Turkey Federation.

In November, Steven Riley, the Regional Director of Pheasants Forever based out of Waverly, Neb., testified in support of the purchase.

“We look forward to partnering with State of Kansas and KDWPT to improve our public land habitat and increase access for all Kansans,” Riley said in a written statement.

Pheasants Forever secured a purchase option on the property for $768,000, Jennison said.

Another key factor for the Pottawatomie Country area is preserving parts of the original area.

The land was important for several reasons, including preserving the Flint Hills region of Kansas and the tall-grass prairie, Jennison said, noting that public ownership would provide protection and conservation to the area.

After these projects are completed, the state wildlife agency will not be pursuing any new areas in the near future.

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