On December 18, Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus (CSC) Members Senator Steve Daines (MT) and Senator Michael Bennet (CO) introduced the Voluntary Public Access Improvement Act of 2017 (S. 2243). This legislation would reauthorize and increase funding for the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP).
VPA-HIP is a grant program reauthorized by the 2014 Farm Bill that helps state and tribal governments increase public access to private lands for wildlife-dependent activities like hunting and fishing, while also improving wildlife habitat on these lands. Since 2014, fish and wildlife agencies in 29 states have received over $40 million to expand public access and improve more than 2.5 million acres of wildlife habitat. States have used VPA-HIP grants to acquire land for public use, expand programs increasing outdoor opportunities for urban youth, help at-risk species while growing public access programs, improve access points to public lands, increase wildlife populations and land available for hunting, and open or expand existing public access to private lands programs.
“Nothing beats spending time outdoors hunting, fishing, backpacking – it’s the Montana way of life,” said Senator Daines. “This bill will strengthen Montana’s outdoor recreation economy and open up more space for families and sportsmen to enjoy local wildlife.”
The Volunteer Public Access Improvement Act would fund VPA-HIP at $150 million over five years, a figure that reflects the strong demand for these funds and the many benefits that the VPA-HIP program provides for conservation and communities dependent on hunting and angling. Shortly after the bill’s introduction, 32 sportsmen-conservation groups, including the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, signed a letter in support of the legislation.
“This program has rewarded Colorado’s farmers and ranchers for providing new opportunities for the next generation of sportsmen and women and improving wildlife habitat across our state,” Senator Bennet said. “As we work on the next Farm Bill, we’ll continue to prioritize funding for this successful program.”
Studies conducted at both the state and federal level have found that the number of hunters and trappers have been on a generally declining trend over the past several decades. To increase recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) of hunters and trappers, which initiative do you think would have the greatest impact?