Conservation Easement at Winje's Farm Conservation Easement

February 20, 2010

Will there be assistance for our proposed public access

Filed under: Uncategorized — rnwinje @ 7:04 am

through our search to find a way of creating a public access along our south boundary, next to the creek, Graham sent this information.

OPEN FIELDS: NOT NECESSARILY ON THE EDGE

Our regular readers may remember our past coverage of “Open Fields,” a new element in the most recent Farm Bill intended to increase public access on private lands. To see this item from last November, check:
www.refugenet.org/birding/novSBC08.html#TOC06

Formally known as the Voluntary Public Access and Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (VPA), Open Fields is going to be funded to the tune of $50 million over four years to enhance or create public access for wildlife-dependent recreation through grants to states (and tribal governments).

Somewhat confusingly, the Bush Administration announced a program last October to open lands to the public under the Conservation Reserve Program (and using current CRP dollars) for “hunting, fishing, bird-watching, and other recreational activities.” This CRP public access incentive would provide an additional $3 per acre to CRP participants that open their CRP lands to the public (limited to the 21 states already with public access programs) over five years and with a ceiling of seven million acres.

The Obama Administration’s 2010 budget has moved to discontinue this second CRP program, while supporting the Open Fields-VPA effort. This has created some confusion among supporters of public access, because the two programs often get confused, and because on the surface it appears that the administration is pulling away from funding for public access efforts.

Seemingly, there should be more interest in expanding and supporting the Open Fields effort; however, there are three potential problems: 1) the Farm Services Agency (FSA) has yet to publish a program rule and define the selection criteria for grant proposals, 2) frequently too little is known about these public access programs, especially outside the 21 states with current programs, and 3) the existing dedication to Open Fields is coming mainly from concerned hunting and fishing interests, and not the vocal hiking, wildlife photography, and birding constituency, suggesting that it is a narrower issue than it is.

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