Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today 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 Incentives 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) administers VPA-HIP.
2015 VPA-HIP Grantees
Colorado – The Colorado Department of Natural Resources via Colorado Parks and Wildlife will use the VPA-HIP grant of $1,519,100 to acquire access to privately owned land that will be open to public access. The grant will also be used to promote wildlife habitat improvements on privately owned land for public access.
Minnesota – The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources will use the VPA-HIP grant of $1,669,400 to expand a state Walk-In hunting program. The new funding will provide new and continued opportunities for hunting in the western and southern areas of the state.
Nebraska – The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission will use the VPA-HIP grant of $1,350,000 to improve and expand its efforts to open private land to hunting, fishing, and other compatible public recreation activities. These funds will enable new access to up to 260,000 land acres, 400 new surface acres, and 55 new miles of streams/rivers for hunting and/or fishing.
Oklahoma – The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation will use the VPA-HIP grant of $2,264,800 to develop and implement a public access program on private lands for hunters and anglers.
More detailed information about the fiscal year 2015 awardees is available at VPA-HIP Fiscal Year 2015 Grantees.
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
- Inform the public about the locations of existing and new lands where public access is available.
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.