Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced $20 million is being made available to improve wildlife habitat and enhance public access for recreational opportunities on privately held and operated farm, ranch and forest lands. Funding is available to state and tribal governments through the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP), authorized in the 2014 Farm Bill.
“USDA is harnessing the power of partnerships with state and tribal governments to ensure that our rural communities are able to sustain important recreational and economic opportunities,” said Vilsack. “Enhancing wildlife habitat and providing new opportunities for the public to hunt and fish will create economic activity, and also encourage more Americans to enjoy the outdoors,” said Vilsack.
According to a 2013 study commissioned by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the outdoor recreation economy supports 6.1 million direct jobs, $80 billion in federal, state, and local tax revenue, and $646 billion in spending each year. Under VPA-HIP, state and tribal governments may apply for grants to encourage owners and operators of privately held farm, ranch or forest land to voluntarily open that land for public hunting, fishing and other wildlife-dependent recreation and to improve fish and wildlife habitat on that land. State and tribal governments may use VPA-HIP funds to create new public access programs, expand existing public access programs and to improve wildlife habitat on enrolled public access program lands.
Eligible governments are eligible to apply for VPA-HIP funds for proposed projects that can span up to three years. Award amounts range from $75,000 to $1 million per year. USDA’s 60-day application period will run from Feb. 23 through April 24, 2015. Eligible governments must complete the applications through Grants.gov. Funding is not directly awarded by USDA to individuals or groups. Since the reauthorization of VPA-HIP in the 2014 Farm Bill, the program has been administered through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). USDA provides the funds directly to state and tribal governments and they, in turn, disburse the funds to private landowners.
Funding priority will be given to applications that meet the following criteria:
- 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; and;
- Inform the public about the locations of existing and new lands where public access is available.
Today’s announcement marks the second funding round. The first round of funding under the NRCS-administered VPA-HIP occurred in fiscal year 2014. USDA provided $20 million for access to 2.5 million acres in nine states and one tribal nation and to help state and tribal governments advance recreational opportunities through wildlife habitat and public access improvements on private lands. More information on the fiscal year 2014 grantees can be viewed at VPA-HIP 2014 Funding Grantees.
The 2014 Farm Bill builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past five years, while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for taxpayers. Since enactment, USDA has made significant progress to implement each provision of this critical legislation, including providing disaster relief to farmers and ranchers; strengthening risk management tools; expanding access to rural credit; funding critical research; establishing innovative public-private conservation partnerships; developing new markets for rural-made products; and investing in infrastructure, housing and community facilities to help improve quality of life in rural America. For more information, visit http://www.usda.gov/farmbill.