Overview of the issue:
For most of America’s history, gaining access to quality hunting or fishing habitat was as easy as knocking on a neighbor’s door. But over two-thirds of America’s land is now privately owned, and public access is declining. Whether you’re a western outdoorsman looking for right-of-way access to federal public lands, or a hunter or angler in the east where most of your opportunities are now found on private lands, sportsmen everywhere are met with fences, no-trespassing signs, and landowners who charge high access fees.
To help open new private lands access that would allow our sporting traditions to continue, TRCP’s founder Jim Range helped conceive the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program, or VPA-HIP, now part of the federal Farm Bill. The program was officially launched in 2008, and was renewed in the 2014 Farm Bill. Today, the TRCP and our partners are working to ensure this critical program is reauthorized again in 2018 to help slow the loss of sportsmen’s access to private lands.
VPA-HIP is the only federal program aimed at enhancing access and opportunity on privately owned farm, ranch, and forest lands. The program grants money to states and tribes, which in turn offer financial resources and other support to landowners who enroll in the program. VPA-HIP helps states offer lease payments, technical services for habitat enhancement, and legal protection against landowner liability, and also makes it possible for state fish and game departments to promote the location of voluntary access points to sportsmen through published and online maps.
The current Farm Bill includes $40 million for the program, and to date VPA-HIP has helped improve sportsmen’s access across 30 states and one tribal nation. On top of new access opportunities, VPA-HIP gives a huge economic boost to hunting and fishing guides, gear retailers, and other local businesses—one report calculated that the $9.1 million invested in just one year of the program created more than $73 million in direct and indirect spending. VPA-HIP is a huge contributor to the outdoor recreational economy.