USDA on Monday announced that $20 million is being made available to improve wildlife habitat and enhance public access for recreational opportunities on privately held and operated farm, ranch and forest lands.
Funding is available to state and tribal governments through the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program, authorized in the 2014 Farm Bill. This is the second round of funding.
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"Enhancing wildlife habitat and providing new opportunities for the public to hunt and fish will create economic activity, and also encourage more Americans to enjoy the outdoors," USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said in an agency statement.
According to a 2013 study commissioned by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the outdoor recreation economy supports 6.1 million direct jobs, $80 billion in federal, state, and local tax revenue, and $646 billion in spending each year.
Under the grant program, governments can apply for funds to encourage owners and operators of privately held farm, ranch or forest land to voluntarily open that land for public hunting, fishing and other wildlife-dependent recreation and to improve fish and wildlife habitat on that land.
State and tribal governments may use VPA-HIP funds to create new public access programs, expand existing public access programs and to improve wildlife habitat on enrolled public access program lands.
Eligible governments are eligible to apply for VPA-HIP funds for proposed projects that can span up to three years. Award amounts range from $75,000 to $1 million per year.
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Funding priority will be given to applications that: Increase private land acreage available for public use; Offer a public access program that gains widespread acceptance among landowners; Make special efforts to reach historically underserved or socially disadvantaged landowners; Ensure appropriate wildlife habitat is located on enrolled land; Strengthen existing wildlife habitat improvement efforts; Follow NRCS conservation practice standards for VPA-HIP habitat improvement activities; and; Inform the public about the locations of existing and new lands where public access is available.
USDA's 60-day application period will run from Feb. 23 through April 24, 2015.