Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said today that the Department of Agriculture will partner with nine State agencies and with the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakima Nation to increase recreational and economic opportunities on private lands. Funding is provided through USDA's Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP), authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill.
"The funds we are announcing today will empower state and tribal governments to partner with landowners in their areas to enhance outdoor recreation opportunities, protect at-risk wildlife, and spur new opportunities for rural businesses," said Vilsack. "Partnerships are the key to locally-led, innovative use of private lands, and this is the latest example of the Obama Administration and USDA's successful efforts to connect public and private partners for long-term conservation results."
Under today's announcement, $20 million in grants will be provided to improve wildlife habitat and public access to private lands while spurring new economic opportunities for rural businesses. Many grantees are leveraging other funding to expand existing public access programs, enabling USDA dollars to make a larger impact.
The program is administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). State and tribal governments can apply for VPA-HIP grant funding to expand or improve habitat in existing public access programs or provide incentives to improve habitat on land already enrolled in their public access programs.
The increase in recreational activities is an important economic driver in rural communities. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, the outdoor recreation economy supports 6.1 million direct jobs, $80 billion in federal, state and local tax revenues and $646 billion in spending each year.
This year's selected projects include:
- Arizona Game and Fish Department; $2.2 million: The Department plans to expand its public access program by working with more landowners through the provision of incentive payments, hiring additional staff and boosting outreach efforts.
- Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakima Nation; $131,000: The tribal government will complete construction of a wildlife viewing center, opening access to 8,500 acres of private land and 12,500 acres of tribal lands for hiking, bird watching and photography.
- Georgia Department of Natural Resources; $ 994,000: The Department will expand its Wildlife Management Area program.
- Illinois Department of Natural Resources; $1.7 million: The Department will "grow" its public access program with a goal of making land available for recreation while also helping at-risk species like the golden wing warbler and bog turtle.
- Iowa Department of Natural Resources; $3 million: Funding will provide conservation assistance to landowners, enhancing 22,000 acres of wildlife habitat and opening an area to the public for hunting.
- Michigan Department of Natural Resources; $1.2 million: The Department will add dozens of farms to its hunting access program, boosting acreage by about 8,000 acres.
- Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks; $490,000: The Department will work with 150 private landowners to open access up to 48,000 acres for hunting, fishing and other recreational activities.
- Pennsylvania Game Commission; $6 million: The Commission will expand its public access program with a goal of making land available for recreation while also helping at-risk species.
- South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks; $1.5 million: The Agency will increase public access to private lands in the southeastern portion of the state for hunting and recreational activities, as well as improve wildlife habitat.
- Texas Parks and Wildlife Department; $2.4 million: The Department will increase land available and participation in hunting as well as boosting wildlife populations by working with private landowners.
The grants being announced today were highly sought after, with 25 state agencies and two Indian Tribes requesting a total of $62 million. NRCS will announce a second round of funding this fall.
Today's announcement was made possible by the 2014 Farm Bill. The 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: www.usda.gov/farmbill.