Open Fields and Waters
Nebraska is more than 97 percent privately owned, and obtaining access to private lands is one of the major challenges facing today’s hunters, trappers, and anglers.
In 2009, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission initiated the Open Fields and Waters (OFW) program to increase public access opportunities on private lands. OFW is a voluntary program that offers financial incentives to landowners willing to allow public walk-in access for hunting, trapping, and/or fishing. Landowners who enroll in OFW are afforded protection from liability through the Nebraska Recreation Liability Act. Learn how you can join the 850-plus landowners in Nebraska who provide public access opportunities through the OFW program.
How to enroll
- Contact a Game and Parks Biologist or call the nearest Game and Parks Office any time of the year.
- Your property will be evaluated in the spring, and approved tracts are contracted by early June.
- Once your contract is approved, Game and Parks staff will post OFW boundary signs around your property.
- Your annual payment will be issued in spring (March or April) following closure of the primary hunting seasons.
- Annual payment rates for OFW range from 50 cents to $15 per land acre, depending on property location, enrollment option, and habitat type/quality enrolled.
- For fishing access, landowners can enroll ponds or lakes ($250 for 1st surface acre plus $40/ac for each additional acre), as well as cold-water ($375-750/mile) or warmwater streams ($250-500/mile). Payment rates for streams depend on whether one or both sides are enrolled.
- Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) fields and other undisturbed grasslands are ideal for OFW, but other habitat types that provide high-quality hunting/angling opportunities also are considered: wetlands, woodlands, unfarmed draws or pockets, tall wheat and milo stubble, ponds, cool and warm-water streams, etc.
- Contracts are 1-5 years in length and cooperators can withdraw from the program at any time. Withdrawal prior to the end of hunting seasons will result in a pro-rated annual payment.
- Currently, OFW enrollments are being targeted within six priority areas identified in the NGPC’s Berggren Plan 2.0 (a five-year initiative aimed at improving the pheasant hunting experience in Nebraska), and on WRE/WRP lands across the state. Properties outside of these priority areas will also be considered for enrollment dependent upon funding.
- Access is allowed only for hunting, trapping, and/or fishing; all other activities are prohibited.
- Earn annual, per acre payments for allowing public access for hunting, trapping, and/or fishing.
- Technical assistance and additional financial incentives are available to establish or enhance wildlife habitat on your property.
- In general, most OFW sites are open to public access year-round but other enrollment options are available: excluding rifle deer season, spring turkey hunting only, ice or open water fishing only.
- Enrolled properties are accessed by WALK-IN only; no vehicles are allowed, except on specified trails.
- Landowners who enroll in OFW are afforded protection from liability through the Nebraska Recreation Liability Act.
- Boundary signs are posted by NGPC staff and enrolled properties are displayed in the Public Access Atlas.
- Properties enrolled in OFW are patrolled regularly by Game and Parks conservation officers.
- Landowners who enroll in OFW are afforded protection from liability through the Nebraska Recreation Liability Act (Nebraska Statutes 37-729 to 37-736) which states that landowners or tenants do not assume responsibility or incur liability for injury to any persons who enter land opened to public hunting and fishing under agreement with the state.
Frequently asked questions
No, they may access OFW lands without landowner permission. This is the basis for the program. Many hunters, trappers and anglers, especially those who live far away, do not have time to scout or track down landowners for permission. Likewise, many landowners, especially those who live out of state, do not have the time or ability to manage those accessing their property.
Contact your nearest Game and Parks office and a biologist will evaluate your property, determine your annual payment, and answer any other questions you may have about the program.
No, users may access the property by WALK-IN only. Driving vehicles on lands enrolled in OFW is prohibited except on trails specified by the landowner.
No. Hunting, trapping and fishing are the only activities authorized on lands enrolled in OFW. Target shooting, camping, swimming, dog training, horseback riding and other unauthorized activities are prohibited. Campfires and the use of alcohol also are prohibited on OFW sites.
If the cover on an enrolled site is removed or degraded, the annual payment is typically reduced or withheld on those impacted acres.
Annual payments are issued in the spring (March/April) following the closure of the primary hunting seasons.
No, landowners can choose to enroll all or portions of their property.
Landowners can withdraw from OFW at any time and will receive a pro-rated annual payment. Once notified of the contract cancellation, Game and Parks staff will take down OFW signage and remove the property from the online version of the Public Access Atlas.
As of spring 2021, Nebraska has more than 850 landowners participating in the Open Fields and Waters program, and 372,000 statewide acres enrolled. It’s a record high that includes 549 acres of ponds and lakes and more than 45 stream miles. Learn more about Nebraska’s program in this video co-created by Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever of Nebraska as a part of their “Conservation Success Story” series.