Do you have any thoughts on this post?
Because we could all use some good news right now
This month, the Natural Resource Conservation Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that it would invest nearly $49 million in projects to enhance public access for outdoor recreation, including hunting and fishing, on private land across 26 states. These awards are made possible by the Farm Bill’s Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program, or VPA-HIP, which is the only federal conservation program that helps private landowners open their property to public access.
The NRCS asked state and tribal governments to apply for VPA-HIP dollars in September 2019, after Congress stepped up its investment in the program by $10 million in the most recent Farm Bill. Projects were eligible to receive up to $3 million in federal dollars to be leveraged with locally matched funding over the next three years.
Sportsmen and women fought to maintain or improve conservation funding in the 2018 Farm Bill, and the TRCP called on lawmakers to support VPA-HIP investments in walk-in access programs and other initiatives that would give rural hunters and anglers more access.
Ultimately, this could be a down payment on hunter recruitment where lack of access is a major barrier for beginners. In some places, the funding will be focused on lands near metropolitan areas or improving online resources to market these opportunities.
But don’t forget the “hip” part of this program: Dollars can also be used to improve wildlife habitat, which could boost game populations across the entire landscape. This will be done in wetland, upland, grassland, forest, and stream habitats with the most recent round of funding.
These advances for access and habitat highlight the need to continue investing in VPA-HIP in the next five-year Farm Bill, which is already something we’re prioritizing with our conservation partners.
Here are the 26 states gaining more ground, how much will be spent, and what types of habitat will benefit.
$1.18 million to expand the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s Landowner Relations Program, which provides financial incentives to private landowners who provide the public with opportunities to hunt and fish on their land.
$2.1 million to enhance hunting access and waterfowl habitat on rice fields neighboring nearby National Wildlife Refuges and state Wildlife Management Areas.
$1.2 million to expand the state’s Walk-In Access program for small- and big-game hunters.
$1.9 million will fund the lease of farm and forest land to expand opportunities for dove hunting in the state’s Wildlife Management Area Public Access Program.
$900,000 will fund the enrollment of additional hunting and fishing acres into the state’s Access Yes! Program, as well as jumpstart the creation of a Teton Valley Wildlife Viewing Project.
$2 million will expand the Illinois Recreational Access Program with a focus on metropolitan areas and the enrollment of wetland easements.
$750,000 will fund the strategic enrollment of acreage into the state’s Access Program Providing Land Enhancements (APPLE) initiative.
$1.5 million will help expand the Iowa Habitat and Access Program (IHAP).
$2.1 million will fund the expansion of incentive payments and lease options made available to landowners to open public access and improve wildlife habitat.
$850,000 will fund agency efforts to create a new access program with a focus on dove fields and wetland easements.
$1.6 million to expand the state’s Hunting Access Program (HAP), specifically to provide sharptail grouse and deer hunting opportunities.
$2.5 million to boost incentives for landowners to enroll in Minnesota’s Walk-In Access program.
$2.23 million will go to the Missouri Outdoor Recreation Access Program (MRAP) for private landowners willing to allow access and improve wildlife habitat on their farm, ranch, and forest lands.
$1.89 million to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks to provide more walk-in hunting access on previously inaccessible acres with high-quality game bird habitats.
$3 million to expand walk-in access and improve habitat on acreage within Nebraska’s Open Fields and Waters (OFW) program.
$1 million will go to the Santa Clara Pueblo Tribe to support access restoration and improved fishing opportunities on the Rio Grande.
$1.83 million will support the newly created Ohio Public Access for Wildlife (OPAW) program, opening acres to hunting, trapping, and wildlife viewing across the state.
$3 million will support expansion of the Oklahoma Land Access Program (OLAP) near metropolitan areas and establish an online database of private acres open for access.
$2.86 million will support expansion of existing public access programs and facilitate the reenrollment of access on expiring VPA-HIP acreage.
$668,361 will support fishing access via Pennsylvania’s Public Fishing Access and Conservation Easement Program.
$469,476 in funds will facilitate the growth of the state’s Public Waterfowl Lottery Hunts Program to support more duck blinds on private land.
$2.18 million will support expanded hunting opportunities as well as new access to state fisheries from across private lands.
$1.83 million will support the expansion of existing public hunting programs, increasing both available acreage and days. The funds will also increase maintenance capacity across state-leased fishing access sites.
$2.998 million will facilitate growth of Virginia’s Public Access Lands for Sportsmen program and provide additional financial support to enrolled landowners seeking to improve wildlife habitat.
$2.74 million will build upon existing state recreational access programs and support habitat restoration on enrolled lands.
$1.91 million will support wetland and grassland restoration in southern counties and support financial incentives for landowners to enroll acreage in the state’s Turkey Hunting Access Program.
$1.54 million will support enrollment and habitat restoration on acreage in the state’s Access Yes Program, plus other lands and habitat programs.
Is your state on the list? Leave us a comment if you use walk-in access programs where you live.
Former wildlife agency leaders, scientists, and other natural resource experts want to see continued support and success on this conservation issue
In a letter to Colorado Governor Jared Polis, 12 wildlife and natural resources professionals thanked the governor for issuing a 2019 executive order to conserve Colorado’s big game winter range and migration corridors and urged the state to continue its efforts on this critical issue.
These professionals—each with between 30 to nearly 50 years of experience in wildlife and natural resources management, research, and conservation—came together to request that decision-makers in Colorado build upon the Governor’s executive order, emphasizing the need for long-term funding and a holistic view of migration corridor and habitat conservation.
“As a longtime wildlife professional and Colorado resident, I appreciated Governor Polis enacting his executive order on big game winter range and migration corridors,” said John Ellenberger, a 43-year veteran wildlife biologist and TRCP Ambassador. “This policy has brought much-needed attention to these vital habitats and will benefit state agency coordination and cooperation for conserving wildlife in our state.”
The order, issued in August of last year, provides particular focus on safe wildlife passage and wildlife-vehicle collisions. While the professionals agreed with this emphasis, they noted that “wildlife migration and corridor conservation transcend well beyond wildlife-vehicle collisions and crossing structures.” The letter went on to urge that decision-makers and the public remember that wildlife corridors may not necessarily intersect highways and roads, and that effective wildlife crossings may not always occur along established migration corridors.
Migration corridors and associated habitats used during seasonal movements–often called “stopover habitat”–are part of an animal and herd’s overall home-range. Each piece of this complex habitat puzzle is vital for species to exist in continually changing landscapes.
“Animal movements and use of habitat is complex and no single habitat can be managed in isolation, ignored, or forgotten during land use planning,” said Dr. Ed Arnett, chief scientist for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We need to take a holistic approach when managing habitat and corridors for any species of wildlife.”
Polis’ executive order directs the Department of Natural Resources to work with Colorado Parks and Wildlife to incorporate information on big game migration corridors into their relevant public education materials. “The public often does not distinguish between seasonal habitats used by wildlife, so–to that end–education, outreach and stakeholder engagement identified by the order will be fundamental to maintaining long-term support for this initiative,” said Arnett.
The letter also points out that “human perturbations such as energy development, subdivisions, commercial development, and dispersed human recreation are known to disrupt wildlife migrations and habitat use and may have long-lasting impacts.” The experts believe potential conflicts should be anticipated when wildlife migrations interface with all forms of energy development and other disturbances that disrupt or block animal movements.
“Although data are still being collected in Colorado and across the West, existing evidence clearly demonstrates that development can impact migratory movements and habitat use,” said Dr. Len Carpenter, a veteran big game ecologist with more than 40 years of experience in wildlife research and management. “If Colorado’s big game herds are to be sustained, we must ensure that critical habitats and migratory movement and functionality are maintained.”
The letter concluded by emphasizing that “the state and federal departments and agencies, industry and private landowners all must have long-term, institutionalized support for corridor conservation.” The experts encouraged the state “to pursue all avenues to secure long-term durability of policy and funding for big game winter range and migration corridor conservation that will transcend multiple Administrations at both the state and federal levels.”
“The future of big game populations in Colorado must not be taken for granted,” says Ron Velarde, retired Northwest Regional Manager for the Colorado Parks and Wildlife and resident of Grand Junction with 47 years’ experience in wildlife management. “We have a real opportunity through current state and federal policies to ensure Coloradans can always enjoy health populations of mule deer, elk and other wildlife that are key economic drivers of our outdoor economy.”
Read the letter from 12 wildlife experts here.
Photo: Larry Lamsa via Flickr
TRCP’s “In the Arena” series highlights the individual voices of hunters and anglers who, as Theodore Roosevelt so famously said, strive valiantly in the worthy cause of conservation
Hometown: Kansas City, Missouri (now resides in Oro Valley, Arizona)
Occupation: Retired Navy F/A-18 Pilot
Conservation credentials: Chapter President of Southern Arizona Quail Forever, which last year was awarded a Commendation of Achievement by the Arizona Game and Fish Commission for the organization’s work to improve quail habitat on the Coronado National Forest near the U.S.-Mexico border. SAQF volunteers built about 100 loose-rock dams which slow the runoff of water, retain soil, and provide habitat.
Growing up in Missouri, Zack May developed a lifelong interest in fish and wildlife. After a career as a pilot in the Navy flying F/A-18s, he settled down in southern Arizona and quickly grew a strong connection to the region’s landscapes and outdoor opportunities. A dedicated bird hunter (pictured above volunteering for a quail wing collection survey), he now serves as the chapter president of Southern Arizona Quail Forever, hoping to use his role there to ensure a brighter future for the species, lands, and traditions that he has enjoyed.
Here is his story.
I was introduced to hunting and fishing by my grandfather who had a farm in eastern Kansas. Those early experiences gave me a passion for the outdoors that stuck with me.
My favorite hunting experiences are anytime when I’m out with my dog. I love to watch a dog work. They are the best hunting partner you can have.
There’s no place I’d rather hunt than right out my backdoor here in Southern Arizona. We’re fortunate to have beautiful country and a wide diversity of quail and other wildlife
At this point in my life it is very important to me to give back and do all that I can to ensure future generations have the same opportunity I have had. The organization I’m a part of, Southern Arizona Quail Forever, hosts an annual family day and youth hunt. It’s a great chance to get people outside and teach them different skills.
We are made up of a lot of hunters, but we welcome non-hunters to our organization as well. Anybody who is interested in getting people out onto the landscape and supporting wildlife habitat, we want all those folks to feel welcome and to work with us to do great things.
I want to get as many folks outdoors as possible. If we do not increase the numbers of hunters, the North American Model of wildlife conservation will not be sustainable. We need to get our youth involved, as well as their parents, especially sisters and moms.
America has a special legacy of wildlife and outdoor traditions. We cannot afford to lose these opportunities and let the outdoors become accessible to only a few.
In the last two years, policymakers have committed to significant investments in conservation, infrastructure, and reversing climate change. Hunters and anglers continue to be vocal about the opportunity to create conservation jobs, restore habitat, and boost fish and wildlife populations. Support solutions now.Learn More