It’s time for landowners with CRP to enroll in the state-sponsored Open Fields for Game Bird Hunters, a voluntary incentive program designed to benefit landowners while also providing habitat for upland game birds and giving bird hunters more places to hunt. The program is for all landowners who have land enrolled in the federal Conservation Reserve Program.
Open Fields is offered through Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks' Upland Game Bird Enhancement Program and is available to private landowners with existing CRP with at least two years remaining on the contract. Landowners applying for enrollment in the 2021 general CRP sign-up are encouraged to apply for Open Fields. Up to 320 CRP acres per landowner may be enrolled. In cases where landowners have CRP on different properties separated by more than a quarter mile, they may be able enroll up to 320 acres of CRP on each property. Participants receive a one-time payment based on $5 per CRP-acre each year the CRP is enrolled in the federal program.
In addition to rental payments, landowners may also qualify for financial incentives to conduct specific mid-contract management activities, such as light disking, with prior approval through the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Landowners who elect to participate in Open Fields and conduct those specified mid-contract management activities on up to 320 CRP acres may receive an additional one-year bonus of $20 per acre, up to 320 acres.
All enrollments must be on private land that is legally accessible. Landowners must agree to allow free walk-in game bird hunting without further permission. Open Fields leases allow for haying or grazing once in five years when pre-approved by the USDA Farm Services Agency.
Enrolled lands will be clearly signed to allow for walk-in game bird hunting. Because this program is intended to expand areas open to the public for game bird hunting, lands that are already enrolled in FWP's Block Management Program or the Upland Game Bird Enhancement Program do not qualify. Landowners already enrolled in those programs are encouraged to contact FWP for other CRP-related habitat improvement and incentive options, including Habitat Management Leases and CRP Seed Cost-shares.
Applications for enrollment in Open Fields for Game Bird Hunters may be submitted through April 16, 2021. For more information and an application, visit FWP online at fwp.mt.gov; and then click "Open Fields Application."