On August 17, 2015, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) awarded $20 million in grants to 15 states to improve and increase wildlife habitat and public access for recreational opportunities on privately-owned and operated farm, ranch and forest lands. The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (KDWPT) received a $2.7 million grant, the largest amount awarded to the 15 states. The grant is funded under the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentives Program (VPA-HIP), which is administered by the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS).
According to Jake George, KDWPT Private Land Programs Coordinator, the funds will be used over a three-year period to lease private land for hunting and fishing access and to help landowners improve habitat on those properties. Program promotion and outreach will occur this fall, with initial enrollment beginning late-spring to early-summer of 2016.
“We were very pleased to once again be awarded VPA-HIP grant funding,” George said. “Currently, KDWPT’s Walk-in Hunting Access and FISH programs have more than 1 million acres of enrolled properties and agreements with nearly 2,300 Kansas landowners, providing numerous public hunting and fishing opportunities across the state. This additional funding will allow for further expansion and improvement of the already successful access and habitat management programs offered to Kansas landowners through KDWPT.”
With respect to hunting, the focus for the funds will be on enrolling new or recently enrolled Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) properties. Participating landowners must be willing to allow public hunting access on the property for the duration of the CRP contract and enroll in wildlife-friendly conservation practices. Landowners are encouraged to enroll or re-enroll their properties in CRP between the continuous signup and the general CRP signup, which begins Dec. 1, 2015. KDWPT expects to add an estimated 40,000 to 60,000 new acres of quality access properties over the next three years.
KDWPT will also use the funds to improve fishing and paddle sports access, enrolling prime stream reaches, as well as quality privately-owned impoundments. Public access to these streams would provide a multitude of angling opportunities and open up recreational paddle sports access, which is limited in the state because most of the 10,000 miles of streams and rivers in Kansas are privately owned.
“This project with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism shows how good partnerships and land management will lead to sustainable recreational and economic opportunities for years to come. Connecting outdoor recreation to private lands conservation is good for wildlife, people, and rural economies,” said Eric B. Banks, state conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
For more information on VPA-HIP and other FSA programs, visit www.fsa.usda.gov/vpa.