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Home > Protecting Our Lands & Waters > Conservation > Post-CRP Management Options & Issues > Recreational Leases

Recreational Leases

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.


  • Leasing land for recreational use can give owners a financial incentive to enhance the land’s natural resource benefits. It can add diversity, flexibility, and additional cash income to a farming operation.
  • Hunting leases are the most common recreational leases. Lease agreements can range from simple one-day trespass fees to arrangements for guided trips and lodging.
  • Liability, licenses, and regulations are important considerations in planning for a recreational lease.

Non-Agricultural Uses of Post-CRP Land

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.

Recreational Leases

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.)

Important Considerations in Planning for a Recreational Lease

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).

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:

  • check whether the existing property insurance policy already covers the liability risk, or if a premium increase would cover it;
  • if leasing to a group or club, require the group to carry liability insurance; or,
  • include a release-of-liability clause in the written lease.

Other Resources

  1. For information and technical advice on licenses, regulations, or habitat or game management, contact local offices of the following agencies (see the government pages of your phone book) or call the general numbers listed below:
    • Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, License Bureau 651-296-4506; General Information 651-296-6157
    • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 612-725-3548
    • USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service 651-290-3675
    • Soil and Water Conservation Districts 651-296-3767
    • Also, local chambers of commerce might be of assistance in developing or marketing a natural resource-based tourism enterprise.
    • Managing Your Farm for Lease Hunting and a Guide to Developing Hunting Leases (1988). Item #147 from Delaware Cooperative Extension Service, RD #6, Box 48, Georgetown, DE 19947. 302-856-7303.
    • Lease Hunting Opportunities for Oklahoma Landowners (1991). Item #F-5032 from Oklahoma State University Extension Service, Rm. 262 Ag Hall, Stillwater, OK 74078. 405-744-6432.
    MDA Contact

    Barbara Weisman, Conservation Program Specialist
    651-201-6631 or 1-800-967-2474
    Ag Marketing & Development Division