MFL and FCLTax law lands open to public recreation
Governor Walker has recently signed 2015 Wisconsin Act 358 into law. This new law makes numerous changes to the Managed Forest Law (MFL) and some changes to the Forest Crop Law (FCL). Until this page can be updated, some of the information is incorrect. Please contact your local DNR Forester for more information on the changes to MFL and FCL and how it may affect you.
Wisconsin's forest tax laws encourage sustainable forest management on private lands by providing a property tax incentive to landowners. Some of these privately held forest lands also allow for public access for recreation. To legally access these lands for the authorized recreational uses, you need to know which program the land is enrolled in.
Managed Forest Law (MFL)
Lands enrolled under the Managed Forest Law program as "open" to public access allow for hunting, fishing, hiking, sight-seeing and cross-country skiing.
Forest Crop Law (FCL)
Lands enrolled under the Forest Crop Law program allow for public hunting and fishing.
Both tax laws require that all hunting and fishing follow the DNR hunting and fishing seasons and regulations.
How do I know which tax law lands are open to public recreation?
- To view the open tax law lands, you can use the private forest lands open for public recreation web mapping application, which is now mobile-friendly. The information displayed in the web mapping application is for the 2017 calendar year.
- You can also use the open land lists – the MFL and FCL open land lists currently reflect lands open for the 2017 calendar year (these lists show legal descriptions only). You may need to reference county plat books to identify ownership boundaries, roads, rivers, lakes and other physical land features. Plat books can be purchased from your county clerk, directly from the publisher or are available at public libraries.
2017 MFL and FCL open land lists
MFL open land list:
FCL open land list:
The information displayed in the MFL and FCL open lands listings reflect lands open for the 2017 calendar year. Efforts are made to ensure these data are current and up to date as of January 2017, but it is possible corrections may be needed to these data. If corrections are needed, then please view information on the Forest Tax Report webpage on how to report corrections.
To order a hard copy of the open lands listings, please use the Open Land Listing Order Form (form 2450-190) . Please allow 3-4 weeks for mail delivery.
More precise locations of the lands enrolled in parts of a legal description are shown in maps recorded at the register of deeds office or at local DNR offices.
DNR foresters can answer questions about the MFL and FCL programs and provide you with more precise maps. You can use the Forestry Assistance Locator to find the DNR forester(s) who has responsibility for each county.
If you are a landowner who owns MFL-Closed lands, non-MFL lands or non-FCL lands and you suspect the public is trespassing on your property, contact the local sheriff’s department or other local law enforcement agency. Conservation wardens do not have the authority to investigate trespassing complaints.
- What activities are allowed on MFL-Open and FCL lands?
The public may use MFL-Open lands for hunting, fishing, hiking, sight-seeing and cross-country skiing. Only hunting and fishing are allowed on FCL lands. All DNR hunting and fishing regulations and seasons apply. All other uses are prohibited unless the landowner gives permission.
- Can I drive on MFL-Open and FCL lands?
No, access to MFL-Open and FCL lands is allowed for foot travel only. Vehicular traffic, including trucks, ATVs, snowmobiles, motorcycles or other motorized vehicles are not allowed unless the landowner gives permission.
- I used to be able to drive on industrial land roads. Now the roads are gated. Can the industrial landowners legally gate the roads while enrolled in the MFL and FCL programs?
Yes, industrial landowners may gate their roads and prevent vehicular traffic. Neither the MFL nor FCL laws required any landowner to allow vehicular traffic by the public on these private roads or trails.
- Are industrial landowners allowed to charge a fee to get a key to drive through the gates?
Yes, industrial landowners who gate their roads may charge users a fee to obtain a key for vehicular access. As long as the industrial landowner allows the public foot access to MFL-Open and FCL lands they are in compliance with the MFL program. Getting permission from the landowner to have vehicular access to the property is something that the landowner can control.
- Can I mountain bike on MFL-Open or FCL lands?
No, biking on MFL-Open or FCL lands is prohibited without landowner permission.
- Where can I get a map of the MFL-Open or FCL lands?
Maps of MFL/FCL lands open to public recreation are recorded at the register of deeds office and can also be obtained from your local DNR Forester or the DNR office in Madison.
- How do I contact a local DNR forester?
You can use the Forestry Assistance Locator to find the DNR Forester(s) who has responsibility for each county. Once you've contacted the local DNR forester, he or she will be able to provide you with photo copies of MFL or FCL maps. You can also find the DNR Forester contact information of MFL-Open or FCL lands within the Private Forest Lands Open to Public Recreation web mapping application by clicking on the purple or red squares within the mapping application.
- How do I find where the local DNR offices are?
At the top of this page, click Contact, then Office locations under the category of Agency wide.
- What if I am denied access to or asked to leave open MFL/FCL lands?
Anyone denied access to or asked to leave open MFL/FCL lands should report that information to the local DNR Forester or call the DNR Call Center Toll Free at 1-888-WDNRINFo (1-888-936-7463).
- Do I need permission to access open MFL and FCL lands?
You don't need permission from the landowner; however, contacting the landowner is encouraged, especially if the landowner lives near the site or when access is not readily apparent.
- If the MFL-Open or FCL lands are not on a public road, can I access the property?
Landowners with MFL-Open and FCL lands are required to allow access across their MFL-Closed or non-tax law lands if other reasonable access is not readily available. In these situations, landowners may post signs indicating the preferred access route for the public to access the open lands. The public should contact landowners to ask where the access is if it is not readily apparent.
- Can I cross lands that are listed in the plat book as "USA" or "USA trust" to access MFL-Open or FCL lands?
Please be aware that federally designated and listed tribal trust lands (which are typically listed as "USA" or "USA trust" in plat books) within or outside of established tribal reservations are not open to public access and that failure to obtain tribal permission to cross those lands could subject you to a trespass citation.
- How do I contact a landowner under the MFL or FCL programs?
Addresses of the owners of MFL-Open or FCL lands are available within the Private Forest Lands Open to Public Recreation web mapping application.
- Can landowners deny access to MFL-Open or FCL lands?
No, landowners cannot deny access to MFL-Open or FCL lands, including limiting the number of hunters on the land or restricting access to a certain hunting period or season. Landowners can post signs indicating the preferred access route for the public to access the open lands.
- If the landowner has no legal access to the MFL-Open or FCL land, how do I access those properties?
You would need to contact the adjacent property owner and ask permission to cross his or her land to get to the MFL-Open or FCL lands.
- If the owner of MFL-Open or FCL lands has access to their land through an easement, can I also use that easement to access the land?
The owner of MFL-Open or FCL lands who has access to their land through an easement cannot deny the public from using their easement if public access to their MFL-Open or FCL land is not reasonably available through other means.
- The access easement only allows access to harvest timber and doesn't specify general purpose access to the land. Can I still use the landowner's easement to hunt or recreate on the MFL-Open or FCL land?
Easements that provide access for a limited purpose (such as timber harvest access only easements) cannot be used for another purpose. Hunters and recreational users need to obtain permission from the adjacent landowner to access MFL-Open or FCL lands in which general purpose access is not granted in order to use these easements.
- The access easement explicitly states that public access is not granted. How can hunters and other recreational users access MFL-Open and FCL lands if the public does not have the right of passage?
Hunters and other recreational users need to contact the adjacent landowner to obtain permission to cross those lands under the easement. Once permission is obtained, individuals have the right to use the easement.
- Are the open MFL/FCL lands signed?
Landowners of open MFL/FCL lands are not required to sign their lands as open. Any posting of signs is the landowner's choice. If landowners do post their open MFL/FCL lands, signs must clearly identify both the uses that are and are not allowed.
- The DNR listing shows lands as MFL-Open or FCL, but when I got to the property, there were "No Trespassing" signs posted. Is the property open to public access or not?
Lands identified on the DNR website as open to public recreation must be open to public recreation for the entire year. If you are sure that you are on the right property and see that the landowner has posted "No Trespassing" signs, please report this occurrence to the local DNR Forester or DNR Warden.
- I see a sign that says "Private Property" on what I believe is MFL-Open or FCL. Does this sign mean that I can't hunt?
No, lands that are listed as MFL-Open or FCL must be open to the public for the authorized uses. Since "Private Property" signs generally mean "No Hunting" to the public, these signs are not legal to post on MFL-Open or FCL lands. You should report this occurrence to the local DNR forester or DNR warden.
- Can a landowner prevent hunting during the 9-day gun deer season?
No, landowners must allow all types of hunting and seasons on MFL-Open and FCL lands, including hunting during the 9-day gun deer season.
- Can I scout deer or sight my gun on MFL-Open or FCL lands?
People can hike on MFL-Open lands, so it would be difficult to prove that a person is scouting instead of hiking. Scouting is not allowed on FCL lands, since the only activities allowed on FCL lands are hunting and fishing. Sighting of guns on MFL-Open or FCL lands is prohibited. Hunters are encouraged to sight guns in at local shooting ranges.
- Can I bait bear when hunting on MFL-Open or FCL lands?
Baiting is a legal part of bear hunting, therefore is legal on MFL-Open and FCL lands. Hunters could be cited for litter if inorganic materials, such as paper, plastic, Styrofoam or other materials are left at the bait pile.
- Is trapping allowed on MFL-Open and FCL lands?
No, trapping is not considered to be hunting and therefore not allowed on MFL-Open or FCL lands unless the landowner gives permission.
- Can I use a tree stand on MFL-Open and FCL lands?
Yes, tree stands can be used for hunting; however you or the tree stand cannot cause damage to trees or the land. Cutting of shooting lanes, branches or shrubs, or screwing in tree steps is considered to be causing damage to trees or land.
- Can I leave my tree stand on Open-MFL or FCL lands overnight?
No, you are not allowed to leave tree stands overnight unless you have landowner permission.
- If I shoot a deer and it dies in the landowner's crop field, do I have the right to walk in the landowner's field to retrieve my deer?
No, not unless you have the landowner's permission. Landowners who have MFL-Open and FCL lands are required to provide access to those lands only. Crop fields are ineligible for enrollment in the MFL program, so therefore the expressed permission for access does not apply to these crop fields. It is important for all hunters to speak with landowners to gain permission to retrieve deer in crop fields or other areas in which permission to access is not obtained.
- Can I lease MFL lands for hunting or recreation?
No, leasing of MFL land is prohibited. Any type of agreement in which "consideration" is made to the landowner in the form of cash, goods or services would be a violation of the MFL program.
- Why are landowners who are enrolled in MFL not allowed to lease their lands to hunters?
Landowners may choose whether to enroll their lands into MFL and to allow public access. Landowners who close lands to public access are limited to 160 acres. Additional lands that are enrolled must remain Open to public access. The leasing prohibition removes the incentive for landowners to subdivide properties in an effort to close more lands to the public, then turn around and lease those lands, when landowners could have left the lands in the MFL-Open tax status.
- I would like to give the landowner a gift for allowing me to hunt on their property. Am I in violation of the MFL program's leasing prohibition?
No, landowners who receive gifts from hunters that are given freely and not as a condition to hunt the property are not in violation of the leasing prohibition.
- When would a gift received from a hunter be in violation of the MFL program's leasing prohibition?
An MFL landowner who requires that a gift be provided the landowner in exchange for the hunter gaining access to the land is in violation of the MFL program's leasing prohibition.