USDA Announces New Recreational, Fishing and Hunting Opportunities in Rural Areas
Enrollment of 2.8 Million Acres for Conservation Reserve Program Announced; 8 Additional States and one Tribe Approved for Voluntary Public Access Program
WASHINGTON, June 13, 2011 — Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced developments in two popular USDA programs that will support conservation of working lands for the benefit of wildlife, water quality, and recreation. The Secretary announced that USDA will accept 2.8 million acres offered by landowners under the 41st Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) general sign-up. The selections preserve and enhance environmentally sensitive lands while providing payments to property owners. Additionally, USDA has approved eight additional states and one tribal government to participate in the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP), which encourages private landowners to provide public access to their lands for wildlife-dependant recreational opportunities, including fishing and hunting.
"USDA is committed to enhancing the great conservation legacy of our nation's hunters and anglers to benefit current and future generations," said Vilsack. "VPA-HIP and the CRP not only help achieve conservation goals, but also increase opportunities for hunting, fishing and other wildlife-dependant recreational activities by providing additional access to privately held lands. CRP assists private landowners and producers as they voluntarily protect their most environmentally sensitive lands."
For this 41st general CRP sign-up, more than 38,000 offers were received on about 3.8 million acres nationwide. Enrollment of the 2.8 million acres will bring the total enrollment in the program to 29.9 million acres, leaving sufficient room under the 32-million-acre cap to continue enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, continuous sign-up and other CRP initiatives. The Secretary has asked FSA to continue to consider ways to use continuous enrollments to ensure CRP contains those lands that are most erodible, most valuable to wildlife or that otherwise ensure the program targets the most vulnerable acres.
Under CRP, farmers and ranchers plant grasses and trees in crop fields and along streams or rivers. The plantings reduce soil and prevent nutrients washing into waterways, reduce soil erosion that may otherwise contribute to poor air and water quality, and provide valuable habitat for wildlife. The CRP has restored more than two million acres of wetlands and associated buffers and reduced soil erosion by more than 400 million tons per year.
USDA selected offers for enrollment based on an Environmental Benefits Index (EBI) comprised of five environmental factors plus cost. The five environmental factors were: (1) wildlife enhancement, (2) water quality, (3) soil erosion, (4) enduring benefits and (5) air quality. The minimal acceptable EBI level for this sign-up was 221.
The average rental rate per acre for this sign-up is about $48. USDA implemented a number of measures including using additional EBI point incentives for producers to submit cost-effective offers and producer outreach activities to encourage competitive offers on the most environmentally sensitive lands. These measures will maintain the high environmental benefits while decreasing the historic cost of the program.
With today's VPA-HIP announcement, California, Georgia, Hawaii, Montana, New Hampshire, Texas, Virginia and Wyoming join Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin as states participating in the program. Also participating are the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation. The total amount of VPA-HIP funds to be obligated in 2011 is $17.8 million with $4.6 million of that total being allocated as part of today's announcement.
The VPA-HIP program expands existing efforts or develops new initiatives to encourage owners and operators of privately held farm, ranch and forest land to voluntarily provide public access for the enjoyment of wildlife-dependent recreation, including hunting or fishing, in exchange for financial incentives or other assistance under programs implemented by state or tribal governments. VPA-HIP is a competitive grants program that is only available to state and tribal governments. Funding may be used to expand existing public access programs, create new public access programs or provide incentives to improve wildlife habitat on enrolled lands.
Up to $50 million is authorized by the 2008 Farm Bill through VPA-HIP through fiscal year 2012. State and tribal grant recipients use the federal funding to provide additional landowner incentives or assistance in order to increase the number of acres available for public access.
To learn more about CRP, visit your FSA county office or online at http://www.fsa.usda.gov/crp [http://www.fsa.usda.gov/crp] .
For more information on VPA-HIP, visit http://www.fsa.usda.gov/vpa [http://www.fsa.usda.gov/vpa] .