USDA is encouraging owners and operators of privately held farm, ranch and forest land to voluntarily provide public access to land for the enjoyment of wildlife-dependent recreation, including hunting or fishing, under programs implemented by state or tribal governments.
Thursday Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack released the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program, a competitive grants program that is only available for state and tribal governments. Applications for grant funding may be made through the federal government's grants portal at www.grants.gov.
Farm Service Agency Administrator Jonathan Coppess says that applications for the program, known as "Open Fields," will be accepted through Aug. 23.
"Open Fields is the first ever federal incentive program designed to encourage best management practices and sportsman access," said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. "It doesn't create a new federal bureaucracy, but instead relies upon existing and we hope new state programs to protect landowners from liability and reward them for doing the right thing with their land."
Up to $50 million is available through Fiscal Year 2012. Vilsack says this program in addition to benefiting sportsmen and landowners will also stimulate the rural economy.
"The folks who are going to be having these hunting experiences are going to be coming from cities and suburbs," Vilsack said. "They are going to be stopping at the local supply store to buy shotgun shells, or to buy gas, or to spend a night in a hotel, or buy a couple of meals or some groceries. All of this stimulates the rural economy and helps support job growth. This is the kind of program that is so essential to bringing vitality back into rural communities."
For more information on VPA-HIP and other FSA programs, visit http://www.fsa.usda.gov.