USDA to Invest $50 Million in Recreational Public Access on Private Lands

On September 27, the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) announced an open grant application period for its Voluntary Public Access – Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP).

VPA-HIP is a US Farm Bill program designed to increase recreational public access on private lands for wildlife-related activities. Additionally, VPA-HIP funding may be used to incentivize wildlife habitat improvement on those private lands. As outlined in the 2018 Farm Bill, the NRCS has made available $50 million in funding for the current VPA-HIP application period.

Unlike other Farm Bill programs, VPA-HIP funding is only available for state and tribal governments to create public access programs on private lands for wildlife-related recreation, including hunting and fishing access. NRCS requires that these public access programs focus on farms, ranches, or forested properties with appropriate wildlife habitat that benefits a variety of species. In addition to access payments, state access programs may also provide funding to supplement wildlife habitat improvement practices. However, these improvement practices must follow NRCS conservation practice standards and no more than 25% of VPA-HIP funding may be used for wildlife habitat incentives. 

The current VPA-HIP grant application period will remain open through November 27, 2019, with grant awards ranging in size from $100,000 to $3 million. Projects may have a duration of up to three years with a projected start date of April 1, 2020. Additionally, the 2018 Farm Bill required the NRCS to expend $3 million in VPA-HIP funding to increase public access on US-held wetland easements, including lands still enrolled in the former Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) or the current Wetlands Reserve Easement (WRE) program within the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP). All VPA-HIP awardees are required to perform outreach to WRP and WRE landowners, unless there are no such lands available within their geographic area.

For more information, interested applicants and stakeholders can visit the NRCS website or may participate in the informational webinar on October 10th at 3:00 pm EDT.

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