More about wildlife management areas

What is a wildlife management area?
Wildlife management areas (WMAs) are part of Minnesota's outdoor recreation system and are established to protect those lands and waters that have a high potential for wildlife production, public hunting, trapping, fishing, and other compatible recreational uses. They are the backbone to DNR's wildlife management efforts in Minnesota and are key to:

  • protecting wildlife habitat for future generations,
  • providing citizens with opportunities for hunting, fishing and wildlife watching, and
  • promoting important wildlife-based tourism in the state.

Sign for Kvernmo Wildlife Management Area, Minnesota's first.

How did WMAs get started?
Minnesota's WMA system started in 1951, when the State established its "Save the Wetlands" program to buy wetlands and other habitats from willing sellers to address the alarming loss of wildlife habitat in the state. Initiated by a handful of visionary wildlife managers, the WMA program evolved into the present-day system of WMAs.

How many WMAs are there and where are they located?
As a result of more than 50 years of support by hunters, trappers, wildlife enthusiasts, and legislators, today there are over 1.29 million acres of high quality habitat in 1,440 WMAs located throughout the state, making it one of the best and largest WMA systems in the country.

Hunter with a dog on a prairie wildlife management area.

Who uses WMAs?
Ranging from prairies and wetlands to forests and brushlands, WMAs provide opportunities for hunting, fishing, trapping, and wildlife watching activities. Hundreds of thousands of hunters use these public wildlife lands. Pheasants, waterfowl, deer, and ruffed grouse are the major game species hunted, but WMAs also provide wild turkey, sharp-tailed grouse, rabbit, and squirrel hunting. Wildlife resources are very important to Minnesota; 15 percent of Minnesotans hunt and 52 percent of Minnesota residents watch wildlife, the highest participation rate in the country. Hunting and wildlife watching are a $1 billion dollar industry in Minnesota.

Setting a prescribed on a wildlife management area.

How are WMAs managed?
WMAs are the backbone of DNR's wildlife management efforts in Minnesota. Much of the wildlife managers' work is directed toward protecting and enhancing wildlife habitat on WMA lands. For instance, prairie and grasslands are planted to provide prime nesting cover critical to waterfowl and pheasant production. Wetlands are restored and enhanced to benefit waterfowl and other wetland wildlife species. Pheasants also find excellent winter cover in cattails and other marsh vegetation. Prescribed burning is done to maintain grasslands, prairies, and brush lands is important to sharp-tailed grouse and prairie chickens. Forest openings and regeneration projects benefit ruffed grouse, wild turkeys, deer, and moose. Wildlife food plots are managed to feed both resident and migratory wildlife. Woody shelter belts are planted to provide winter cover and nesting sites for upland birds and a variety of nongame species as well.

Who pays to acquire WMAs?
Minnesota's Legislature and sportsmen have funded WMA land acquisition in a multitude of different ways. The mainstay of funding has been the surcharge on the small game hunting license. Hunting license fees, bonding funds, Reinvest in Minnesota funds, including Critical Habitat License Plate dollars, and Environmental and Natural Resources Trust Fund (ETF) funds have also been used to buy WMAs. Conservation groups also donate land and money to support the acquisition of WMA lands.

Wetland wildlife management area.

What is the future outlook for WMAs?
Despite the program's success, the state is still losing valuable wildlife habitat at an alarming rate. Continued management efforts on existing WMA lands and acquisition of new parcels will be critical to maintaining quality wildlife habitat in Minnesota. According to a 2002 Citizen's Advisory Committee Report on the direction the WMA system should take, acquisition efforts should be accelerated with a long-term 50-year goal of acquiring 702,200 acres of new WMA lands.


Richard J. Dorer.

Profiles in wildlife management - Richard J. Dorer
Richard J. Dorer joined the Minnesota Conservation Department Division of Game and Fish (now the Department of Natural Resources Division of Fish and Wildlife) in 1938. One of his first efforts was to promote the restoration of the Whitewater Valley in southeastern Minnesota, resulting in the establishment of the Whitewater WMA and Richard J. Dorer Memorial State Forest. An even greater accomplishment was his idea to address the accelerating loss of wetlands to drainage in Minnesota by purchasing wetlands and making them into publicly-owned state wildlife management areas. In 1951, he launched the "Save the Wetlands" program that was the start of Minnesota's acclaimed WMA system of today.