Habitat & Conservation  |  08/14/2023

U.S. House Introduces Voluntary Public Access Improvement Act


Bill would increase mandatory funding to $150 million

Last Friday, the Voluntary Public Access Improvement Act of 2023 was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Reps. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) and Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.) The new bill, touted by conservation groups as a critical investment for the future of hunting and fishing in America, would strengthen the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP) – a popular component within the federal Farm Bill that helps create public access for outdoor endeavors on private lands. 

“Since 2008, the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program has provided one of the most vital funding sources to increase public access to private lands for hunting, fishing and other wildlife-dependent recreation,” said Marilyn Vetter, President and CEO of Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever. “The economic returns from investments in VPA-HIP have been shown many times over across America for rural communities. Access is at the core of Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s mission, and we thank Representatives Dingell and Johnson for their bipartisan support of this very successful program.” 

VPA-HIP offers competitive grants to states and tribal governments to be used as incentives for private landowners to voluntarily open their lands for public use, while upholding private property rights. The “Voluntary Public Access Improvement Act” would reauthorize VPA-HIP and increase funding from $50 million to $150 million over five years, a legislative priority for the 2023 Farm Bill. 

The House bill is identical to an equally bipartisan Senate version that was introduced this spring by Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Roger Marshall (R-Kansas), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.). Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever look forward to working with Congress, as well as the organization’s partners, to ensure robust funding for VPA-HIP is included in the 2023 Farm Bill. 

More than 70 percent of the lower 48 states is privately owned, which creates a barrier for the recruitment, retention and reactivation of America’s sportsmen and women. VPA-HIP helps address this issue by opening a significant number of access opportunities on private land, while simultaneously contributing to habitat conservation efforts. 

The program is widely recognized by hunters at the state level, influencing well-known access initiatives such as Nebraska’s Open Fields and Waters (OFW) Program, Iowa’s Habitat and Access Program (IHAP), and Kansas’ Walk-in Hunting Access program, among others.