Habitat & Conservation  |  11/10/2021

Voluntary Public Access, Wetland Easements and Partnership Wins


One of the areas of private lands available for public access through the VIP-HIP and Wetland Reserve Easement programs.

By Gretchen Skudlarczyk, Coordinating Wildlife Biologist in Wisconsin

The Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP) is one answer to the increasing demand for land access for the many people who hunt, fish, trap and view wildlife in Wisconsin. This program has proven quite successful. In conjunction with the Turkey Hunting Access Program, it provided over 38,000 acres of private land access to the public in 2020.

While VPA-HIP is accomplished through a key partnership between the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), with six of these VPA-HIP properties enrolled in the USDA’s Wetland Reserve Easement programs, Pheasants Forever biologists have a role to play as well.

In their partnership with NRCS, DNR and local PF chapters, one of the key job duties of PF biologists in Wisconsin is to increase these easements by enrolling new applications and helping manage existing easements by conducting site visits, writing contracts and agreements for habitat improvements, and developing management plans.

A good example of this partnership comes from northwest Wisconsin. Scott Stipetich, previously a PF biologist, was hands-on for the easement acquisition of one of these jointly enrolled Wetland Reserve Program (WRP) and VPA-HIP properties. He also was involved in habitat improvements including the restoration of the wetland.

It came full circle when, due to the easement’s enrollment in VPA-HIP, Scott was able to successfully hunt woodcock with his lab through the upland tag alders on the easement. In part due to Scott’s help with habitat improvements on the easement, he had 10 flushes within the first hour of walking!

Another example comes from the southeast side of the state. I helped contract a burn on a WRP easement/VPA property. The burn helped improve nearly 65 acres of grassland. Habitat improvement like this not only benefits the birds and wildlife that use these easements, but it has the added benefit of improving the quality of sites for outdoor enthusiasts who visit these voluntary public access properties every year. A partnership win for everyone!

This story originally appeared in the 2021 Fall Issue of the Pheasants Forever Journal. If you enjoyed it and would like to be the first to read more great upland content like this, become a Pheasants Forever member today!