USDA to Release Open Fields Funding

Washington — The U.S. Department of Agriculture anounced
Thursday that it would to release funding for the “Open Fields”
Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program, a new effort
to encourage owners and operators of privately held farm, ranch and
forest lands to provide public access to their lands for
wildlife-dependent activities such as hunting and fishing.

Open Fields was authorized by Congress for the first time in the
2008 Farm Bill following tenacious support by members of a Theodore
Roosevelt Conservation Partnership-sponsored coalition. The
sportsmen-conservation group says it has been frustrated by delays
in the USDA finalizing the regulations but is optimistic that the
program now can be implemented expeditiously so sportsmen and
landowners can benefit beginning this year.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack made the announcement this
afternoon at a national press conference, at which other speakers
included representatives from the TRCP, the Association of Fish and
Wildlife Agencies and Pheasants Forever.

“Open Fields is the first federal landowner incentive program of
its kind to enhance access for hunting and fishing – and has been a
flagship issue for the TRCP since our group’s inception,” said TRCP
President and CEO Whit Fosburgh, who spoke at the event. “Today’s
announcement by the federal government is an unqualified victory
for fish and wildlife conservation and our hunting and fishing
traditions.

Open Fields provides states $50 million in federal monies to
create or enhance voluntary hunter-access programs on private lands
and encourages landowners who enroll their properties to employ
best-management practices for fish and wildlife. Landowners can
receive a financial incentive in exchange for opening lands to the
public for hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreation.

“This administration is committed to preserving and enhancing
the great conservation legacy of our nation’s hunters and anglers
to benefit current and future generations,” said Vilsack. “This
program will not only help achieve conservation goals, but also
increase opportunities for hunting, fishing and other outdoor
recreation by providing greater access to privately held lands for
wildlife-dependent recreation.” 

“American sportsmen are deeply invested in the Open Fields
program,” said St. Paul-based Pheasants Forever National President
and CEO Howard Vincent, a speaker at today’s press conference, “and
we appreciate the federal government’s willingness to expand public
access to hunting and other recreational activities by assuring its
implementation. Sportsmen now speak together in urging our nation’s
decision makers to continue this record of support by retaining and
funding Farm Bill conservation programs in 2012.”

The conservation title of the Farm Bill is the nation’s
single-largest source of federal funding for private-lands
conservation programs, and previous iterations of the bill have
allocated billions of dollars toward landowner activities that
sustain habitat and bolster fish and wildlife populations important
to sportsmen.

Categories: Rob Drieslein

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