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How Public is Public Land?


Hunters and anglers across the state of South Carolina are facing a serious dilemma and most are not even aware of the issue they face each time they use public land for hunting and fishing. Under law, public land, is just that, public. Meaning that anyone can access the land when and how they want any time of year and for almost any reason, except for hunters and anglers who are the only group that must pay for the privilege. While we do have some hunter harassment laws, there are no requirements for the non-hunting public to follow any laws or regulations while being on public land.

For decades outdoor journalist have been crying afoul that hunters and anglers are the only ones that actually pay for access to public land and the use of public land. In order for hunters and anglers to participate in their activities on these public lands we have to purchase a license to do so. In most cases it is these funds that actually purchases or leases these very lands we are using.

To this point, hikers, bird watchers, mushroom gathers, photographers and the like do not pay any access fees for these same lands. In addition to this, in many of these lands, there are gates to limit access. Except during big game and turkey seasons. Case in point, in the mountain hunting region the Jocassee Gorges WMA and all lands adjacent that are public have gated access that is only open from September until January 1. Hunters who pay for hunting license and public land fees are prohibited from accessing these lands after January 1 even though hunting seasons for small game extends until March 1. These gates prohibit small game hunters from access to the lands they paid fees to use during the best parts of their season. Gates should be open during the entire hunting season, not only during the big game and turkey seasons.

Hunters and anglers have always asked for a fair shake in public land access. It is time, the Department of Natural Resources, and the legislators provided equal access to its public lands. What this means, is that public land that is open for hunting and fishing should also be open for trapping, and should carry fees to anyone wishing to access the land for any reason.

An annual modest trespass fee for hikers, photographers, bird watchers etc. would do two things. First it would level the playing field for all of the public to share in the expense of purchasing, leasing and maintaining public lands. Secondly, it would generate desperately needed funds to continue to acquire and improve lands across the state opening more lands for more of the people to enjoy.