Outdoor notes: Open Fields and Waters Program seeking new enrollments
The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission is looking to provide additional hunting and fishing opportunities on private lands through its Open Fields and Waters Program.
Landowners willing to allow public, walk-in access for hunting or fishing can receive annual, per-acre payments through the program. Participating landowners are afforded liability protection through the Nebraska Recreational Liability Act. Additional financial incentives often are available for habitat improvements, such as Conservation Reserve Program enrollment or management upgrades.
Game and Parks primarily is seeking to add the following types of enrollments, but all properties offering high-quality hunting or fishing opportunities will be considered:
Conservation Reserve Program – CRP fields provide excellent hunting opportunities for upland game birds and acres in any part of the state will be considered. Landowners can receive up to $10 per acre for CRP, depending upon location and habitat quality.
Wetland Reserve Program easements – Landowners who have Wetland Reserve Program easements can earn up to $15 per acre for accessible portions of WRP easements with suitable habitats.
Grasslands – High-quality grassland habitat that provides mixed-bag hunting opportunities for upland game birds and big game species are being sought statewide. Properties in the Sandhills supporting prairie grouse, mule deer and/or antelope are a priority, along with sites in south-central and southeastern Nebraska that offer quail and/or white-tailed deer hunting opportunities.
Woodlands – Heavily timbered areas along riparian corridors and those with canyon-like topography are being pursued in many areas. Rates for high-quality woodlands range from $5 to $15 per acre, depending on habitat quality and location.
Fishing access – Ponds, lakes, warm-water streams or rivers and cool-water streams with trout are potential targets. Payment rates are per surface acre on lakes and ponds and per stream mile on streams or rivers.
Since 2016, more than 147,000 acres have been added to Open Fields and Waters and current statewide enrollment is at an all-time high. More than 850 private landowners participated in the program in 2021-22. Those landowners provided walk-in hunting and fishing opportunities across 381,000-plus land acres, more than 500 acres of ponds and lakes and more than 42 stream miles.
Funding for the Open Fields and Waters Program primarily is provided by a grant obtained through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Voluntary Public Access – Habitat Incentive Program and Pittman-Robertson funds (Wildlife and Sportfish Restoration Act). In addition, Game and Parks uses funds from Habitat Stamp and hunting license sales, and contributions from partners to fund the program and increase opportunities for hunting, trapping and fishing on Nebraska’s private lands.
Public urged to leave wildlife babies alone
It is natural for some people who see a young wild animal apparently abandoned by its mother to want to rescue it. The correct course of action is to leave it alone.
Here are some rules of thumb from the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission regarding wildlife babies:
- A lone fawn, or other young bird or mammal, may appear to be abandoned or injured, but the mother frequently is off feeding or drinking. Do not move it. The longer the fawn is separated from its mother, the slimmer the chance that it will be reunited with her. In some cases, other deer will adopt an orphaned fawn.
- It is normal for a doe to leave its fawn to keep it from being detected by predators. Predators can see the doe as it feeds, so she leaves the fawn hidden and leaves the area to draw attention away from the fawn's location.
- Do not try to raise wildlife babies as pets. As animals mature, they become more independent and follow natural instincts to leave and establish their own territories. Rescued animals are poorly prepared for life in the wild.
- Most wildlife babies are protected by state or federal law and it is illegal to possess them.
Free Fishing and Park Entry Day is May 21
Free Fishing and Park Entry Day in Nebraska is May 21. Enjoy a Saturday of fishing or state park activities without the need to purchase a fishing or park entry permit for the day.
Free Fishing and Park Entry Day, held annually in Nebraska on the Saturday preceding Memorial Day weekend, means anyone can explore outdoor opportunities at any Nebraska state park, state recreation area or state historical park. Anglers must observe all fishing regulations. Camping, lodging and all other user fees still apply at state park areas. Entrance fees for museums at state historical parks and the entrance fee at the Schramm Education Center remain in effect.
Several family-friendly activities are scheduled in state park areas across the state to celebrate Free Fishing and Park Entry Day. Some of them include:
Fort Robinson State Park
A Kids’ Fishing Derby is set for 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. for ages 12 and under at Grabel Ponds. Registration opens at 8:30 a.m., and prizes awarded during and after the derby.
A barbecue will be from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the west lawn; cost is $9. Free horse-drawn wagon and Jeep tours will coincide with the barbecue.
Platte River State Park
Loaner fishing rods and reels, bait and instruction will be available free to participants at Jenny Newman Pond from 9 a.m. to noon. This program is geared toward people of all ages who are new to fishing or have not fished in years.
Schramm Education Center
From 10 a.m. to noon, join the free Writing Hike for Beginners event with Master Naturalist Jeff Lacey. Participants will explore the sights and sounds of Schramm Park with a nature journal. This hike is designed to teach naturalists of all ages to write and sketch about nature. Meet in front of the education center. No registration is required.
Ponca State Park
Ponca will host the Bill Morris Fishing Derby for anglers of all ages. Prizes will be awarded for the biggest fish caught in age groups. There also will be naturalist programs, macro-invertebrate dipping, fishing lure building class and backyard bass casting.
Ash Hollow State Historical Park
Children under age 18 are invited to fish Ash Hollow’s pond and keep everything they catch. A free hot dog lunch will be served from 1 to 3 p.m.
Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area
The park will host Wildlands Day, which will include a bird hike, wildflower walk, children’s crafts and live animal presentation.
Game and Parks to certify youth fishing instructors May 22 in Lincoln
The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission will certify youth fishing instructors at a May 22 workshop in Lincoln.
Instructors are part of the Youth Fishing Program, a statewide team of volunteers and Game and Parks staff who host educational fishing events.
The training will take place from 2-5 p.m. Central time at the Nebraska Game and Parks Outdoor Education Center, 4703 N. 44th St.
Workshop participants will receive training and tools to conduct youth fishing clinics. These volunteers will have access to Game and Parks’ loaner fishing equipment and educational materials for events. They also will receive program incentives. Instructors are encouraged to volunteer for such Game and Parks programs as Community Fishing Events and the Outdoor Expos.
Contact Larry Pape at [email protected] to register, which is preferred but not required.
Train to survey for rare butterflies
Help document rare butterflies across Nebraska by getting trained to monitor for regal fritillaries and monarchs at one of three upcoming events.
Trainings for the community science effort are:
- May 21: 1-5 p.m. at Schramm Park State Recreation Area, 21502 W. Highway 31, Gretna
- May 26: 1-5 p.m. via Zoom
- June 4: 1-5 p.m. at Homestead National Historical Park, 8523 NE-4, Beatrice
Register to attend one of the trainings through their event listings at Calendar.OutdoorNebraska.gov. Only one training session is required to survey.
The first hour of the training sessions will be dedicated to gaining general information on monarchs, regal fritillaries, common plants and other community science opportunities; anyone is welcome. Those wanting to survey for the butterflies will learn about survey methods during the remaining time.
The effort to monitor populations of monarchs and regal fritillaries across their range began in Nebraska in 2015. The goal is to better understand them in order to provide more effective conservation. The expansive survey is not possible without the help of volunteers. Learn more about the effort at OutdoorNebraska.gov/ButterflySurvey.
For more information on the training sessions, contact Cody Dreier, survey organizer, at [email protected] or 402-471-1755.