$50 MILLION RELEASED FOR PUBLIC ACCESS ON PRIVATE LANDS

9c8e6243-b183-45ed-aff1-d784e7cb6c0b One of Quail Forever’s top Farm Bill priorities was to reauthorize and increase funding for the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Improve Program (VPA-HIP) to open up additional acres for public access. Hunters recognize these lands as “Walk-In Areas” that are a critical resource to sportsmen, women and children across many parts of quail range. 

Now, state wildlife agencies will have an opportunity to request funding to create or expand current programs. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will make up to $50 million available to help create or expand state government and tribal programs that encourage landowners and land managers to allow public access to their land for hunting, fishing and other wildlife-dependent recreation. 

“These projects are excellent examples of how we engage in public-private partnerships, uniting both public and private entities to deliver long-term conservation benefits that the public, outdoor enthusiasts, wildlife, landowners and land managers may experience,” said Natural Resources Conservation Service RCS Chief Matt Lohr. “With more than 70 percent of the lower 48 states being privately owned, this program enables landowners and land managers to benefit from offering public access to their land.”

State governments and tribes are eligible to apply for funding. Projects can last up to 3 years. The maximum amount for a single award is $3 million. Highlights of the new VPA-HIP funding opportunity include the program’s focus on habitat:

*Up to 25 percent of the funding for each award can be used to provide incentives to improve habitat on enrolled public access program lands. This is good news!

*Landowner participants must follow NRCS practice standards for any habitat improvement activities. This requirement can be waived if an awardee provides sufficient justification.

*State governments and tribes can request up to 10 percent of program funds for technical assistance.

Additionally, the Farm Bill included a new provision that requires NRCS – to the maximum extent practicable – to invest $3 million of VPA-HIP funding to increase public access on lands covered by a U.S.-held wetland easement. This includes lands enrolled in the former Wetland Reserve Program or the Wetland Reserve Easement Component of the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program. 

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is accepting proposals through November 27 from state governments and tribes for the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program.

All in all, excellent news for the quail hunter who relies on publicly-accessible lands!