Debra Elias, Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture
The information presented in this fact sheet is not intended to take the place of professional legal advice. In developing any written lease agreement, it is highly recommended that all parties seek professional legal advice.
Many Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands are marginal cropland. They may be located on a slope, suffer drainage problems, or have shallow or erosion-prone soils. Crop productivity may be lower and soil erosion higher than on other cropland. Therefore, these lands may be unsuitable for agriculture when they come out of CRP. The question then becomes, what profitable uses might the land have? Recreational uses and installing wind turbines to generate electricity are two options. Both can be carried out through a lease. This fact sheet addresses leasing post-CRP land for recreational uses. (For information on leasing land for wind development, see Harvesting the Wind in this series.)
Many CRP lands in Minnesota are particularly well-suited to provide recreational opportunities. CRP grasslands and wetlands provide habitat for game and nongame wildlife. Some CRP parcels lie next to wildlife refuges, state and national forests, scientific and natural areas, or other public preserves.
A recreational lease is an agreement between a landowner and an individual or group that allows certain uses of the land during a set time. Typical recreational uses include hunting, fishing, camping, horseback riding, snowmobiling, and cross-country skiing. Hunting leases are the most common recreational leases.
There are several benefits of recreational leases. Recreational leases can add diversity and flexibility to a farming operation and increase cash income. Hunting leases can help owners who have trespass problems gain more control over their land. Wildlife habitat and other natural resources can be enhanced when owners improve their property for hunting or other nature-based recreation.
Probably the simplest kind of recreational lease is a one-day trespass fee, often initiated by hunters seeking permission to use the land. Landowners who advertise the availability of their land are more likely to find individuals or groups of hunters to whom they can lease hunting rights for longer periods of time (such as the entire hunting season). More complex recreational leases may include guide services, lodging, and meals. Landowners can provide these services themselves or they can partner with existing guides, outfitters, bed-and-breakfasts, and other local businesses. Partnerships also provide a good way to advertise the land’s availability for recreation.
Recreational leases are agreements between people, which means misunderstandings and disagreements can occur. The best way to avoid potential problems is to have a written contract that is signed by both parties.
An effective lease should clearly spell out the duties and rights of the landowner and the tenant. It should anticipate possible problems and describe how each would be resolved. (For more information about lease arrangements and basic provisions, see Basic Considerations for Leasing Post-CRP Land in this series.)
Type of Recreational Experience The owner should think about the types of recreational experience the land and the local area could offer. The owner also should consider his or her degree of interest in creating and managing a recreational enterprise. What resources such as wildlife, water, lodging, or trails exist that make the land attractive for recreation, and how could these be enhanced (for example, by stocking additional pheasants)? How much personal time does the owner want to spend to create a recreational experience? Does the owner enjoy working with people? Collecting one-day trespass fees, for example, involves less time and interaction than managing a hunting preserve.
Licenses and Regulations The landowner should find out whether any licenses or regulations apply to the planned venture. (Examples of licenses include game farm licenses, shooting preserve licenses, and food and lodging licenses.) Under leased hunting rights, it’s the hunter’s responsibility (not the landowner’s) to comply with state wildlife licensing requirements. Wildlife regulations for threatened and endangered species and migratory birds also may apply. Landowners should contact their local Minnesota Department of Natural Resources office or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to find out more about applicable licenses and regulations (see Other Resources #1).
Liability Owners increase liability risks when they allow people on their land, especially for hunting. Landowners should assess potential risks such as unfilled wells, decaying trees, downed fences, etc., and decide whether and how to correct them. Liability risks should be covered. This can be done in at least three ways:
Barbara Weisman, Conservation Program Specialistbarbara.firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-800-967-2474Ag Marketing & Development Division