Seventeen state public access hunting programs—commonly referred to as “Open Fields” programs—will receive grants totaling $11.76 million through the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP), Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Oct. 4. The state programs were selected from 28 applications vying for the competitive VPA-HIP grants.
“VPA-HIP will help achieve conservation goals and increase opportunities for hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreation by providing greater access to privately held lands,” Vilsack said. “We are excited to assist these 17 states in developing new and enhancing existing public access and habitat incentive programs.”
These grants will be used to compensate landowners who open their properties to public hunting on a walk-in basis. Currently, 26 states run Open Fields programs, and most of these programs have limited budgets. VPA-HIP grant recipients will be able to use the funding to provide higher rental payments to landowners, provide technical and conservation services to landowners, and increase the acreage enrolled for public access.
“Some of the funding will also be used to open access across private lands to land-locked public land,” said Susan Recce, NRA-ILA Director of Conservation, Wildlife and Natural Resources. “The use of federal Open Fields money for access works hand-in-glove with the NRA-backed Making Public Lands Public initiative, which is designed to work with private landowners to open access or improve access to existing federal lands.
“Another benefit of Open Fields is that it brings recreational dollars to rural communities, which helps stimulate local economies and creates jobs.”
The 17 states and their grant amounts are:
Arizona - $600,000
Colorado - $445,318
Idaho - $400,000
Illinois - $525,250
Iowa - $500,000
Kansas - $1,500,000
Kentucky - $651,515
Michigan - $457,449
Minnesota - $582,367
Nebraska - $1,091,164
North Dakota - $300,000
Oregon - $786,795
Pennsylvania - $1,500,000
South Dakota - $558,325
Utah - $84,837
Washington - $836,999
Wisconsin - $936,040
Program funds were made available to states through a competitive process. Eligible states could request funding for existing public access programs, to create new public access programs, or to provide incentives to improve wildlife habitat on enrolled lands.
Open Fields funding through VPA-HIP was created through an NRA-backed proposal in the 2008 Farm Bill. About $50 million in federal grants will be made available over four years to states and tribal governments to pay farmers and ranchers for recreational access. This funding is expected to open more than 10 million new acres of private land to public hunting each year.
Funding priority was given to proposals that will use the grant money to address these objectives:
• Maximize participation by landowners;
• Ensure that land enrolled in the program has appropriate wildlife habitat;
• Provide incentives to strengthen wildlife habitat improvement efforts on Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) land, if available;
• Supplement funding and services from other federal, state, tribal government or private resources that is provided in the form of cash or in-kind services; and
• Inform the public about the location of public access land.
The USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA), which administers the program, will open the grant application period for fiscal year 2011 funding after publication of a final rule. It is anticipated that the grant application period for states and tribal governments will occur in the late fall of 2010.
For more information on VPA-HIP and other FSA programs, visit http://www.fsa.usda.gov/vpa.