Do you know Utah has privately owned land you can hunt and fish on for free?

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Courtesy: Steve Ross/DWR

Utah (ABC4) – Utah is known for its rich land. Utahns and visitors travel to hunt, fish, and trap throughout the state. Did you know some of this land is leased and off-limits to those without a permit?

These areas are called Walk-in Access, or WIA, areas.

According to the Utah Division of Wildfire Resources, DWR, Utah has contracts with Walk-in Access properties statewide. When you arrive at a property, the access points are posted with Walk-in Access signs. Depending on the type of property, it may also have signs occasionally placed along a fence line. 

So what exactly is a Walk-In-Area?

Courtesy: DRW

Bryan Christensen, Utah DWR Dedicated Hunter and Walk-in Access Programs Coordinator, tells ABC4 Walk-in Access is a program run by Utah DWR that creates special leases with private landowners who are interested in allowing their property to be open to the public for hunting, trapping, or fishing.

“These private lands would otherwise be inaccessible to the public, without the Walk-in Access program. Some walk-in access properties also create pathways for the public to get to other public land that is surrounded by private land,” Christensen shares. 

Simply, DWR partners with landowners to provide free public access to their private lands, so there are more quality places available to hunt and fish.  

Walk-in Access land is managed by DWR and landowners who establish a written agreement together. Christensen says the landowners maintain all the rights and responsibilities of managing their lands. “Landowners are expected to maintain the wildlife habitat needed to support the types of activities that are being offered on the property,” Christensen adds. 

There are currently 124 properties enrolled in Walk-in Access statewide. Totaling about 65,000 acres of land, 48 miles of stream, and 191 acres of ponds are being made available to the public through this program, Christensen tells ABC4. 

Landowners that participate are “genuinely interested in making their land available to the public,” Christensen adds. He says landowners of these areas want their land to be used for hunting, trapping, or fishing, but would like it used in a way that minimizes any damage or negative impacts.  

“Walk-in Access formally establishes boundaries and designates a parking area and specific locations to enter or exit each property. Most of the properties don’t allow any vehicle use, and that helps minimize any impacts,” Christensen shares. He says walking into these areas is the best way to maintain them.

He says landowners also receive a basic annual payment from the DWR as part of the agreement. The amount paid is based on an evaluation of acreage or stream length that is being opened to the public.

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ABC4 wanted to learn more about Walk-in Access areas in Utah, below are a few questions surrounding these areas. 

What can be done on Walk-in Access land? 

Christensen says different things can be done on each property. “Each Walk-in Access property is unique, and each has its own list of things that are allowed,” he says. 

Some areas only allow fishing, others only allow upland game hunting. Some only allow specific types of hunting and others don’t allow anything at all. 

The Division of Wildlife Resources has a webpage with a map of each property and the details of what is allowed.

What are the benefits of owning Walk-in Access land?

“Each landowner likely has their own set of reasons for why they benefit by being a Walk-in Access property,” Christensen shares. 

Landowners can receive the financial benefits and others simply “desire to make their land available for use,” Christensen adds. “Many feel that this is a way to give back to the community and share what they have with others.” 

Since Walk-in Access land is privately owned certain steps must be taken to legally utilize this land. 

Below are steps that must be taken to use the land. 

Step 1:  Obtain a Walk-in Access authorization number from the DWR website:  

“The process is just like buying a fishing license, except the WIA authorization is free,” Christensen says. He says walk-in authorization is really just a unique number issued to each person. The authorization is valid for one year.

The DWR uses this process to determine how many people are using the properties and evaluate the value of the program to the public, the DWR, and the landowners.  

Step 2:  Visit the DWR Walk-in Access webpage to see what properties are available.  

Christensen says leases expire and land changes ownership.

Step 3:  Visit the DWR Walk-in Access webpage to see what types of activities are allowed for visitors and if there are any special species, season, or weapon type restrictions.   

Step 4:  Arrive at the property and enter through the designated access points. Some of the bigger properties allow some limited vehicle travel on designated roads, most only allow access by foot.  

Those who access Walk-in Access land illegally could potentially be prohibited from future access to the property, receive a trespassing citation, or perhaps even a wildlife suspension. “It is important for all Walk-in Access visitors to use these properties only for what is permitted. Respecting the rules also helps ensure the landowner will want to continue making their property available to the public,” says Christensen. “Most properties that discontinue, do so because of inappropriate visitor behavior.” 

Christensen tells ABC4 Walk-in Access awareness needs to improve. “Walk-in Access property is still private land and has specific things that are allowed.” 

He says the DWR has found that some visitors are under the impression that because the DWR leases the access to these properties, they are the same as public land.  This is not the case and those using the land need to respect the privilege. 

DWR is always looking to add new properties to this program.  Interested landowners can contact any DWR office for more information.   

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