Proposed Legislation Aims to Expand Walk-In Access Program Acres

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Check out this exciting news about the new legislation that could significantly increase access to public hunting and fishing opportunities on private land. The Voluntary Public Access Improvement Act of 2023, introduced by Senators Steve Daines, Michael Bennet, and Roger Marshall, aims to strengthen the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program, a vital Farm Bill initiative. This program is the only federal effort that helps create public hunting and fishing opportunities on private lands, and the new legislation proposes tripling its impact.

According to Whit Fosburgh, the president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, limited access is the biggest challenge for hunters and anglers. The Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program, administered by the USDA, is the most effective federal tool for expanding recreational access on private lands. The introduction of the Voluntary Public Access Improvement Act is commendable, and it presents a great opportunity to collaborate with Congress in order to increase hunting and fishing opportunities for all Americans.

The legislation proposes an investment of $150 million over the next five years in the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program. This funding will be distributed to states and Tribes for implementation at the local level. The decision to increase investment aligns with the recommendations made by TRCP’s Agriculture and Wildlife Working Group in their report, “Hunter and Angler Priorities for the 2023 Farm Bill.”

The Voluntary Public Access Improvement Act has garnered support from more than 30 organizations dedicated to hunting, fishing, and conservation, including American Woodcock Society, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Ducks Unlimited, Michigan Sharp-Tailed Grouse Association, National Wildlife Federation, Pheasants Forever, Quail Forever, Ruffed Grouse Society and more. Torin Miller, senior director of policy for the National Deer Association, emphasizes the significance of the VPA-HIP program for hunters, as it has opened almost one million private acres for public hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation. The act acknowledges the growing interest in the program and the importance of maintaining quality hunting access across the country. The $150-million authorization will ensure that the VPA-HIP can expand and continue enrollment, benefiting hunters, landowners, and local communities.

John Devney, chief policy officer at Delta Waterfowl, expresses appreciation for the Voluntary Access Improvement Act, stating that the VPA-HIP has made a significant impact on access for waterfowl hunters. The program has provided crucial access for hunters nationwide, such as through the WRICE program in Arkansas, the PLOTS program in North Dakota, and the WIA and COOP programs in South Dakota.

Glenn Hughes, president of the American Sportfishing Association, highlights the accomplishments of the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program since 2008. This program has opened up millions of acres of private lands and waters for anglers, and the support from Senators Daines, Bennet, and Marshall will expand sportfishing opportunities for generations to come.

The VPA-HIP, formerly known as “open fields,” holds a special place within the TRCP community as it was championed by co-founder Jim Range before his unfortunate passing. The program was established and funded through the 2008, 2014, and 2018 Farm Bills, with the most recent allocation being $50 million over five years. Its positive impacts have been felt throughout the country.

In addition to increasing outdoor recreation access, the VPA-HIP funding is used to provide technical and financial assistance to landowners for wildlife habitat improvement projects. It often works hand in hand with other Farm Bill programs that have habitat benefits, like the Conservation Reserve Program and Wetland Reserve Easements. Furthermore, the program allows states to address liability concerns, which removes a significant hurdle for many landowners who wish to open their lands to the public.

Recent studies have shown that the VPA-HIP offers an outstanding return on investment, with more than eight dollars generated in outdoor recreation spending for every dollar invested.

This has a positive impact on rural communities and strengthens the case for supporting and expanding the program.

The introduction of the Voluntary Public Access Improvement Act is a promising development for outdoor enthusiasts. If passed, it will significantly enhance access to hunting and fishing opportunities on private lands, benefiting hunters, anglers, landowners, and local communities across the country.

See the video: Where Private Land Creates Public Hunting Opportunities.

See the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP) film: Paper Trails. OnX works tirelessly alongside the TRCP to help identify access opportunities.

You can take action now to support the strengthening of this crucial public access program in the upcoming Farm Bill.