Supporters of America’s rich hunting tradition received good news this week as the USDA assured continued funding for the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program, also known as “Open Fields.” Through this program, landowners can receive a financial incentive in exchange for opening lands to the public for outdoor recreation.
“These additional federal funds for the Open Fields program give landowners yet another incentive to share with hunters the habitat they’re conserving and encourage landowners to use best-management practices for maintaining that habitat,” said Scott Yaich, DU director of conservation operations.“Hunters provide the most significant amount of funding needed for conservation, so any program that encourages this rich tradition will ultimately result in healthier habitats. It’s a win-win for everyone.”
Approved in the 2008 farm bill, Open Fields was already slated to provide $50 million for states to create or expand voluntary hunter-access programs on private lands. DU worked with partners in the wildlife community to support the measure in Congress and obtain funding for it.
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said public access programs in 2011 will receive additional grants totaling $8 million toward the $50 million total, which is available for three years through the program. Estimates are Open Fields could open more than 4 million new acres of private land to public hunting and fishing annually.
Twenty-six states currently have public access programs for hunting, fishing and other related activities. DU encourages sportsmen to ask their state and tribal governments to apply for 2011 funding through the federal government’s grants portal to the Farm Service Agency for consideration.
Ducks Unlimited is the world’s largest nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving North America’s continually disappearing waterfowl habitats. Established in 1937, Ducks Unlimited has conserved more than 12 million acres, thanks to contributions from more than a million supporters across the continent. Guided by science and dedicated to program efficiency, DU works toward the vision of wetlands sufficient to fill the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow and forever.