Illinois Department of Natural Resources
August 2019
August 1, 2019
A successful IRAP youth hunter.

Teaming Up for Habitat: IRAP Provides Places to Recreate and Improve Habitats

By Tammy Miller

Photos courtesy of Tammy Miller

With more than 97 percent of the land in Illinois privately owned it can be difficult for hunters and outdoor enthusiasts to find a place to recreate. To help with this issue and create additional public access acres, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) developed the Illinois Recreational Access Program (IRAP) from a grant it received from the federal Farm Bill’s Voluntary Public Access Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP). Since its inception in 2011, IRAP has enrolled more than 21,000 acres of private land in 48 counties for public access and improved the overall health and quality of Illinois’ forests and wildlife habitat on 13,000 acres.

A young girl holds up a fishing line with a small blue-gill fish hooked on line. She is smiling.

Under the IRAP program, a landowner leases his property for specific outdoor recreational activities, which include: archery deer hunting, spring turkey hunting, squirrel and rabbit hunting, waterfowl and upland game hunting, pond fishing, and canoe launching. For a participant to use the privately owned leased property they must first register with IRAP and apply or make a reservation for each activity.

As an added benefit for both the landowner and the habitat, the IRAP program creates habitat management plans for each landowner and assists with the implementation of those plans whenever possible. As the IRAP program rapidly grew, an aggressive approach was needed to assist landowners with implementing habitat plans with specific projects on their property. This need spurred the development of unique partnerships and establishment of two IRAP habitat strike teams.

IDNR and Pheasants Forever (PF) have had a long-term partnership working on private property toward common goals. It was a perfect fit to work with PF on creating a habitat strike team. The crew consists of Tom Branson, Habitat Strike Team Coordinator, and several Habitat Strike Team Technicians. Tony Kloppenborg, IRAP Coordinator, works closely with this strike team to accomplish boots-on-the-ground management. The team covers several counties in western Illinois concentrating on IRAP leased properties and quail/pheasant focus areas. Each summer a college intern is welcomed to join the strike team, earning college credit and acquiring a wealth of knowledge working hands-on in real-world situations.

A biologist conducts a prescribed burn. He is wearing an orange hard hat, yellow fire-retardant gear, and a water sprayer backpack. He is walking in a prairie putting fire out with his sprayer along the backfire edge. There is a line of fire in the background.

In partnership with the Natural Great Rivers Research and Education Center (NGRREC), IRAP created another habitat strike team consisting of Cody Berry, Habitat Project Senior Coordinator, and a Habitat Project Junior Assistant, all working under the guidance of Ross Albert, IRAP Coordinator. Each spring, NGRREC hires a short-term habitat junior assistant position to assist with prescribed burns, monitoring and other habitat projects. Through NGRREC’s annual internship program, two interns through Lewis and Clark Community College’s Restoration Ecology Program assist the strike team with day-to-day habitat management activities. Projects include invasive species removal, fire line creation, timber stand improvement, prescribed fire, prairie planting, backpack spraying and brush management.

A helicopter sits atop a semi-trailer on a rural road with agricultural fields surrounding the road. A woodland is in the far background.

Both the PF and NCRREC partnerships create unique opportunities for the IRAP habitat strike teams to assist private landowners by improving their property for healthier forests and wildlife habitats and while also educating landowners on how to take care of their property for better habitats. The IRAP teams also contribute to a study of the impact of aerial spraying on bush honeysuckle, collecting data before and after spraying on 225 test plots on IRAP landowner properties. This fairly new technique is used as an initial strike to manage bush honeysuckle infestations and is showing good results.

IRAP is a WIN-WIN-WIN for landowners, habitat and outdoor recreationalists.

Landowners or outdoor recreationalists interested in learning more about the Illinois Recreational Access Program will find information on the website or may contact IRAP at (217) 782- 0137 or

Tammy Miller is the Special Projects Manager with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Office of Resource Conservation.