Hunting & Heritage  |  12/06/2023

The Unsung Hero Behind State Access Programs


Recognizing the importance of the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP) and its impact on state-level access programs

By Andrew Schmidt

If you asked hunters across the country about their states’ program for offering public access to private lands, you would likely get a wide range of answers. They might be familiar with Kansas’ Walk-In Hunting Access (WIHA), North Dakota’s Private Land Open To Sportsmen (PLOTS), Missouri’s Outdoor Recreational Access Program (MRAP), or another similarly named program. Behind many of these hugely successful and effective programs is yet another acronym, one you may not see on roadside signs: the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP). 

Authorized and funded through the federal Farm Bill and administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, VPA-HIP may not be as widely known as other hunter-friendly programs like CRP (the Conservation Reserve Program), but VPA-HIP has a tremendous impact on increasing private lands open to hunting and fishing nationwide. It does this by offering competitive grants to state and tribal agencies, which in turn support and incentivize landowners to voluntarily open their farms and ranches for public hunting, fishing, and trapping, while upholding private property rights. In many states, VPA-HIP builds on the success of CRP and other Farm Bill programs by targeting lands already enrolled in habitat programs and incentivizing landowners to allow walk-in hunting.

Since the first round of funding for VPA-HIP was announced in 2010, 36 states and tribes have been awarded over $117 million in grants, opening up more than 1 million acres to public access. In 2022, Americans spent $394 billion participating in hunting, fishing, and wildlife-dependent recreation, and VPA-HIP funding helps supports small businesses and rural communities across America, including in regions dominated by private lands. A recent study commissioned by the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies showed that in 2021 alone, VPA-HIP generated over $8 for every $1 of federal funding invested. 

The most recent five-year Farm Bill was signed into law in 2018, and Congress is currently working with stakeholders of all stripes – including PF & QF – on a new Farm Bill. One of PF & QF’s top priorities for this coming year is to secure increased VPA-HIP funding as part of that legislation, and we need the voices of hunters, anglers, and conservationists from across the country to make that possible.
Looking for further proof of VPA-HIP’s impact on permanently protected and accessible lands? Check out our 5 States, 5 Programs Video Series featuring state-level programs receiving VPA-HIP funding.

Episode 1: Minnesota’s Walk-In Access (WIA) - $5.67 million in total VPA-HIP funding 

Episode 2: North Dakota’s Private Land Open To Sportsmen (PLOTS) - $712,500 in VPA-HIP funding

Episode 3: Nebraska’s Open Fields and Waters (OFW) - $6.75 million in VPA-HIP funding

Episode 4: Kansas’ Walk-In Hunting Access (WIHA) - $7.8 million in VPA-HIP funding

Episode 5: Iowa Habitat and Access Program (IHAP) - $5.5 million in VPA-HIP funding

Advocating for Conservation
It takes good habitat to produce abundant wildlife and opportunities to hunt—but it also takes robust public funding and sound conservation policy to shape that habitat. Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever’s dedicated Government Affairs team works in Washington D.C. and state capitols across America to create and secure funding for programs that benefit the uplands, from the rugged backcountry to the neighboring farm’s “back 40.” To learn more about our policy priorities and ways you can help advocate for conservation, visit this page.

Andrew Schmidt is Director of Government Affairs with Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever.