FRANKFORT – Some hunters want to get away from it all when they go afield. Others want access roads and planted fields for their public lands experience.
Making that selection now will be easier, thanks to a new system of categorizing wildlife management areas (WMAs) recently launched by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.
WMAs are now classified into three levels of management intensity: high, moderate and low.
Areas described with a “high” level of WMA management intensity typically have offices and staff on-site, and active management will be more evident; visitors may see dove fields, legume or annual grain food plots there. By contrast, WMAs designated by a “low” level of management intensity offer a wilder experience to those seeking it. “Moderate” indicates some intermediate range of hands-on management activities by department staff.
The concept of categorizing WMAs to help hunters understand the amount or intensity of management on each area evolved over several years with input from the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commission, Kentucky Fish and Wildlife staff, hunting organizations and through surveys. A majority of WMA users supported the idea in one survey. In a subsequent survey, a majority of hunters randomly selected from a database of license customers and past WMA quota hunt applicants preferred “high, medium and low” as a way to classify the intensity of management on WMAs.
The new system does not rate how good an area is for hunting or wildlife watching, however. A low management intensity area, for example, may offer great hunting from the user’s perspective because fewer people are there and the habitat is more natural. Such factors contribute to a quality experience for many hunters who want to get off the grid during their excursions.
Wildlife species present and their densities did not play a role in categorizing the WMAs. Categories also do not take into account the size of the areas – lower management intensity public hunting areas in southeastern Kentucky, for example, are generally far larger than WMAs in central Kentucky that are identified by higher management levels.
Categories instead rely on existing resources, staff availability and how to get the most efficiency out of equipment on hand.
Acting Wildlife Division Director Ben Robinson noted the department has motivated staff who want to enhance every acre possible.
“That is not always efficient because it takes time to move staff and equipment around,” he said. “This new system will help staff to prioritize their work and really focus their efforts to optimize improvements to habitats and recreational opportunities.”
All state-owned WMAs will continue to ensure permanent conservation of land as well as public access. However, areas with a high management level will also have a long-term management plan. Examples of high-intensity management included in these plans are the use of prescribed fire, strip disking, annual and perennial food plots, and the planting and management of dove fields for particular wildlife and recreational benefits. Limited staffing and budget require prioritization of areas for conducting intensive work.
WMAs with a moderate management level have some habitat enhancements such as timber stand improvements. Robinson said visitors won’t see much active management on these properties. Staff and equipment are typically not stationed on-site for such WMAs. Area managers will employ long-lived management activities on these properties as opportunities arise.
WMAs categorized in the low management level are not actively managed. Robinson explained these properties are often in remote areas with terrain a bit harder to traverse. They have no staff or equipment on site. Many such areas are not suitable for tillage or other land treatments because of slopes or sensitive environmental features, thus best conserved through more of a “hands off” approach.
“Some hunters have told me they are going to target this type of area to get off the grid and away from people – and this new system will help them find the experience they’re seeking,” Robinson said. “These areas still have good access and game populations, just not the active management you see on other areas.”
Three management areas are categorized as Shooting Sports and Dog Trial Areas: Curtis Gates Lloyd WMA in Grant County, Miller Welch-Central Kentucky WMA in Madison County and West Kentucky WMA in McCracken County.
“These activities take precedent on these WMAs and may have different season frameworks,” Robinson said. “It is prudent to always check the current hunting guide for regulations and opportunities that apply to any public area before you head out for a visit,” he added.
Consult the 2022-23 Kentucky Fall Hunting & Trapping Guide for a complete list of all the WMAs and how they are categorized, or search public lands by county or other criteria on Kentucky Fish and Wildlife’s website at fw.ky.gov.