Sportsmen applaud proposed enhancements to a popular Farm Bill program that opens public hunting and fishing access on private lands and attracts outdoor recreation spending to many rural communities.
Senators Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) introduced new legislation to reauthorize and expand the popular Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program—the U.S. Department of Agriculture program that incentivizes landowners to open their property for public hunting and fishing access. The Voluntary Public Access Improvement Act of 2017 received praise from 32 sportsmen’s groups that want to see this valuable federal program continued in the 2018 Farm Bill.
“Nothing beats spending time outdoors hunting, fishing, backpacking—it’s the Montana way of life,” says Sen. Daines. “The Voluntary Public Access Improvement Act will strengthen Montana’s outdoor recreation economy and open up more space for families and sportsmen to enjoy local wildlife in Montana and across the country.”
“This program has rewarded Colorado’s farmers and ranchers for providing new opportunities for the next generation of sportsmen and women and improving wildlife habitat across our state,” says Sen. Bennet. “As we work on the next Farm Bill, we’ll continue to prioritize funding for this successful program.”
VPA-HIP is the only federal program aimed at enhancing access and opportunity on privately owned farms, ranches, and forest lands. The program grants money to states and tribes to support landowners who enroll in the program. Since its reauthorization in the 2014 Farm Bill, wildlife agencies across 29 states and tribal lands have received $40 million to expand public access and enhance wildlife habitat on more than 2.5 million acres.
“Loss of access is one of the top concerns for American sportsmen and women, especially considering the recent decline in hunter numbers,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “The Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program has been a signature issue of ours since the TRCP was founded, and we have worked to see it introduced, implemented, and expanded over the past two Farm Bills. Given its popularity among landowners and sportsmen, we are thrilled that this bipartisan legislation now seeks to provide more funding to enhance the program and keep up with demand.”
“When you combine the Farm Bill programs that help enhance habitat, soil health, and water quality with a stronger, more effective vehicle for opening sportsmen’s access in states that are predominantly private land, it creates a ripple effect in our rural economies,” says Howard Vincent, president and CEO of Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever. “Landowners and sportsmen see a benefit, but more access to healthier fish and wildlife habitat also drives outdoor recreation spending across small communities, from gas stations and diners to motels and sporting goods stores.”
This bipartisan bill supports one of the “Sportsmen’s Priorities for Conservation and Access in the 2018 Farm Bill” agreed upon by the TRCP’s Agriculture and Wildlife Working Group—a coalition of 24 diverse sportsmen’s groups working to enhance conservation in the next Farm Bill.