AUSTIN – The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has been awarded $813,068 for the first year of a potential three year grant totaling $2.4 million from the United States Department of Agriculture to improve public access to wildlife recreation on private land. The grant is funded through the USDA’s Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program, or VPA-HIP.
“This grant is fabulous news for hunters, anglers, paddlers, birders and others across Texas,” said Linda Campbell, TPWD Private Lands and Public Hunting Director.
“Along with river access projects, this important funding will allow us to continue to grow the Texas public hunting program, a high priority for hunters and TPWD, even in these challenging budget times,” she said.
With expected budgetary cuts, the state’s small game/dove lease program was expected to face a 15 percent cut, but with the VPA-HIP grant the program may actually see an increase in funding.
Under the two-year-old VPA-HIP program, TPWD will expand the available acreage of the state’s current small game hunting lease program. New property leases are expected around major metropolitan areas and interstate travel corridors. The grant will also allow TPWD to increase the availability of public big game hunts and establish additional river access points for fishing, paddling and wildlife viewing.
To achieve these goals, TPWD will hire four biologists to work directly with landowners and field staff to identify additional lands to lease for public hunting and recreational access. Once properties are identified and leased, the biologists will continue to work with landowners to manage and improve habitats on the leased property.
In addition to improving public hunting access, TPWD plans to use the VPA-HIP grant to lease access points on rivers across the state. With these additional access points, for example, paddling trails down the Llano and Colorado Rivers could be broken into shorter, more reasonable stretches to enhance access for paddling, canoeing, kayaking, birding and other recreational waterway activities.
“Recreational use of Texas rivers and streams continues to increase and so does the demand for increased and improved public access,” said Tim Birdsong, Chief of Freshwater Habitat Conservation at TPWD.
“Through this grant, TPWD will work with local partner organizations and private landowners to expand the number of public fishing lease access areas, such as those that provide angler access to the Guadalupe River trout fishery below Canyon Lake. The grant will also allow us to work with partners to expand and improve current access sites maintained through the Texas Paddling Trails program.”
Texas joins other states and native tribes in receiving VPA-HIP grant funding this year. VPA-HIP awarded $17.8 million nationwide in 2011, with $4.6 million of the total allocation going to the states and tribe new to the program. Through the 2008 federal Farm Bill, the VPA-HIP has up to $50 million to award in grants through 2012.
In addition to the VPA-HIP grants, the USDA recently accepted 2.8 million acres offered by landowners across the U.S. through the 41st Conservation Reserve Program general sign-up. The landowners participating in the CRP will be compensated for allowing preservation and enhancement efforts to the environmentally sensitive lands under their care.
“USDA is committed to enhancing the great conservation legacy of our nation’s hunters and anglers to benefit current and future generations,” said USDA Secretary Tom 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,” Vilsack said.
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