Two new DNR programs benefit grassland habitat and hunting access
By Nick Werner, DNR staff
The Indiana State Wildlife Action Plan identifies the loss of grasslands as the single greatest threat to the state’s wildlife.
The loss, due to changes in land use, has hurt populations of grassland gamebirds, songbirds and pollinating insects. Affected species include the Northern bobwhite quail, ring-necked pheasant, state-endangered Henslow’s sparrow and loggerhead shrike, monarch butterflies, native bees and honeybees.
While the DNR manages Fish & Wildlife Areas to provide this type of habitat, 96 percent of land in Indiana is privately owned. Improving grassland habitat on Indiana’s landscape requires an approach that includes private tracts.
Two new private-land conservation initiatives through DNR Fish & Wildlife are aimed at mitigating the problem of habitat loss, while also addressing land access for hunters. They are the Grasslands for Gamebirds & Songbirds Initiative (GGS) and Access Program Providing Land Enhancements (APPLE).
GGS provides financial incentives and technical assistance for landowners to develop grassland habitat with help from a DNR biologist, according to Jason Wade, north region landscape biologist with DNR Fish & Wildlife.
“This could be an old field that you’ve been mowing,” Wade said. “Maybe it’s an old pasture that’s starting to grow up or corners of fields that are unproductive. That’s what we are targeting.”
Restoring grasslands is important because the habitat type is a treasure trove of biodiversity.
The process involves planting up to 40 types of native grasses and wildflowers. And all that plant diversity leads to wildlife diversity, too—and increased opportunities for hunting, wildlife watching and nature study.
Furthermore, the planting of native grasses and wildflowers will improve soil health and water quality.
And while pollinators might not be part of the program’s name, they are also an essential element.
The loss of pollinating insects and the plants they depend on is a growing concern. Pollinators are important not only for wildlife, but also for human health. Estimates suggest that one in three bites of food people consume, worldwide, are directly linked to pollination from insects.
To be eligible for either program, landowners must own ground in one of five focal regions. Biologists developed the regions to direct resources to locations where they would have the best chance for success. They are:
- Focal Region 1 (west-central Indiana): Sullivan and Daviess counties, Greene County west of U.S. 231, Clay County south of U.S. 40
- Focal Region 2 (southwest Indiana): Gibson, Pike, Warrick, and Spencer counties.
- Focal Region 3 (southeast Indiana): Ripley and Scott counties, Jackson and Jennings counties south of U.S. 50.
- Focal Region 4 (northwest Indiana): Benton and White counties, Jasper and Newton counties south of S.R. 10, Warren County north of S.R. 28
- Focal Region 5 (northeast Indiana): All of LaGrange, Steuben, Noble and Dekalb counties.
GGS is funded through 2021 with a three-year budget of $2 million. Most funding for GGS comes from a grant from USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program. DNR Fish & Wildlife contributed funding, too, as did 32 partners and more than 50 financial sponsors.
Partners include Soil & Water Conservation Districts, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Pheasants Forever/Quail Forever, Audubon Society, National Wild Turkey Federation, Ducks Unlimited, Izaak Walton League, DNR Forestry, Indiana Wildlife Federation, private companies and seed vendors.
The DNR will begin accepting applications for GGS this fall.
APPLE also provides some incentives for habitat development, but the main focus is to encourage participants through financial incentives to allow limited public hunting opportunities on their land.
“The idea is that someone will sign up for and receive funding for a habitat project using GGS, then enroll some or all of those acres into APPLE for some additional funding after the habitat has been created,” Wade said.
APPLE began in 2017 with two landowners. The program, which is funded through sales of Indiana gamebird habitat stamps, continues to accept applications.
Biologists have had to battle misconceptions about what it allows, said Erin Basiger, south region landscape biologist.
“When we talk with landowners, they worry their land is going to be open to the public at all times,” Basiger said. “But it’s not. It is limited hunting. We work with landowners on days that they are OK with having people out there. We can provide them a list of names for who is going hunting so they know who to expect.”
Biologists also work with landowners to set daily bag limits for each property. Furthermore, public hunting on APPLE land is limited to pheasants, quail and woodcock, although the landowner is still permitted to hunt all permitted species.
All APPLE hunters must be licensed. They are selected by random draw through the DNR online reserve system.
APPLE helps expand upland hunting opportunities beyond what’s currently available at DNR Fish & Wildlife Areas.
The state relies on a lottery-style system to administer upland bird hunting opportunities on FWAs. For example, 3,444 people applied for 333 reserved DNR wild pheasant hunts in 2015.
“A lot of people from Indiana drive out west,” Basiger said. “They’d love to hunt here, but if they don’t get drawn, their choices are limited.”Landowners interested in GGS or APPLE in Focal Regions 1, 2 and 3 should call Basiger, 765-276-3047, or email him at ebasiger@dnr.IN.gov
Those in regions 4 and 5 should contact Wade, 260-468-2515, jwade@dnr.IN.gov.
For more information, see the DNR website at wildlife.IN.gov/9467.htm
What If You Don’t Own Eligible Land?
You can still help by donating money to GGS. Donations are tax-deductible.
- Online. Make an immediate donation through the Indiana Natural Resources Foundation website. More information is at wildlife.IN.gov/9467.htm.
- Mail. Send a check or money order, made payable to Indiana Natural Resources Foundation. Denote GGS in the memo for proper routing. Address:
Grasslands for Gamebirds and Songbirds
402 W. Washington St, W273
Indianapolis, IN 46204
For more information, contact Josh Griffin, jgriffin@dnr.IN.gov or 317-234-9737.