An announcement today by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that a Farm Bill conservation program enhancing sportsmen’s access to privately owned lands will open for enrollment drew praise from the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and its partners.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack this morning announced that applications now are being accepted for the Agricultural Conservation Easements Program, or ACEP, and the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program, or VPA-HIP, providing as much as $386 million to help landowners restore wetlands, conserve working agricultural lands, bolster the economy and support hunting, fishing and other recreational activities.
Implementation of VPA-HIP, popularly known as “Open Fields,” elicited an especially positive response from the sportsmen. The program offers incentives to owners and managers of private lands to open areas to public recreation, including hunting and angling. Up to $20 million is available this year for VPA-HIP.
VPA-HIP is a hallmark TRCP program, with TRCP co-founder Jim Range one of its principal architects.
“By including VPA-HIP in the new Farm Bill, Congress sent a clear message that establishing public access for recreation is a priority,” said TRCP Director of Government Relations Steve Kline. “Now, by making VPA-HIP one of the first conservation programs from the bill to be implemented, Secretary Vilsack is demonstrating his commitment to enhancing access for hunters and anglers, showing as well that USDA leadership understands the economic importance of outdoor recreation.”
“This foresighted decision will help states and tribal governments improve existing access programs – or launch them, if they don’t currently exist,” said Ron Regan, executive director of the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies. “With lack of access to places to hunt and fish being the No. 1 reason cited by sportsmen for forgoing time afield – and given the importance of activities such as hunting and angling to our national economy – programs like VPA-HIP have the potential to have a powerful positive impact both on our nation’s outdoors heritage and its fiscal health.”
Hunting and fishing directly contribute more than $86 billion to the U.S. economy each year and support approximately 1.5 million non-exportable jobs. Sportsmen also are integral to the broader outdoor-recreation and conservation economy, which is responsible for $646 billion in direct consumer spending annually.
“In short, when VPA-HIP is implemented properly, it delivers!” said Dave Nomsen, vice president of government affairs for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever. “Millions of acres of private lands have been made accessible for outdoor recreation thanks to VPA-HIP. In the past, its biggest constraint has been funding.
“At the end of the day, sportsmen are conservationists,” stated Nomsen. “Access programs like VPA-HIP enable the recruitment of new sportsmen and the retention of existing sportsmen. This is good news for conservation. Access programs keep hunting and angling available to everyone.”
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Inspired by the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt, the TRCP is a coalition of organizations and grassroots partners working together to preserve the traditions of hunting and fishing.