USDA invests $20M to boost recreational public access
WASHINGTON -- Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture will invest $20 million to partner with 15 state agencies to improve and increase wildlife habitat and public access for recreational opportunities on privately-owned and operated farm, ranch and forest lands. The projects are being funded under the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP).
"Our partnerships with state governments will help them work with interested landowners to enhance hunting and fishing and other wildlife-dependent recreation, to enhance wildlife habitat, and to protect wildlife species and encourage new opportunities for local businesses," Vilsack said. "These projects are excellent examples of USDA's successful efforts to connect public and private partners for long-term conservation gains that benefit sportsmen, wildlife, private land owners, and the public."
The selected state governments will encourage owners and operators of privately held farm, ranch or forest land in their respective states to voluntarily open their land for hunting, fishing and other wildlife-dependent recreation and to improve fish and wildlife habitat on that land.
USDA's Natural Resources Conservation (NRCS) awarded grants for projects in Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
This fiscal year's selected projects included a $951,400 to Michigan Department of Natural Resources to expand existing hunting access program into northern Lower Peninsula to provide increased hunting opportunities and wildlife conservation.
According to a 2013 study commissioned by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the outdoor recreation economy in the United States supports 6.1 million direct jobs, $80 billion in federal, state, and local tax revenue, and $646 billion in spending each year. In evaluating proposals for funding, NRCS looked for projects that would:
• Increase private land acreage available for public use;
• Offer a public access program that gains widespread acceptance among landowners;
• Make special efforts to reach historically underserved or socially disadvantaged landowners;
• Ensure appropriate wildlife habitat is located on enrolled land;
• Strengthen existing wildlife habitat improvement efforts;
• Follow NRCS conservation practice standards for VPA-HIP habitat improvement activities; and;
• Inform the public about the locations of existing and new lands where public access is available.
When Congress reauthorized VPA-HIP in the 2014 Farm Bill, Secretary Vilsack assigned administration of the program to NRCS. In fiscal years 2014 and 2015, USDA has invested the Farm Bill-authorized $40 million for VPA-HIP, which has helped 21 states and one tribal nation complete projects to increase wildlife-dependent outdoor recreation opportunities.
Under VPA-HIP, state and tribal governments apply for grants to encourage owners and operators of privately held farm, ranch or forest land to voluntarily open that land for public wildlife-dependent recreation activities such as fishing, hunting and birding. State and tribal governments may use VPA-HIP funds to create new public access programs, to expand existing public access programs, and to improve wildlife habitat on enrolled public access program lands. Projects can span up to three years.
For more information, visit the NRCS VPA-HIP website.