Friday, July 9, 2010

Feds Finally Release Funds for Open Fields Hunting Access Program

Note from Eric - I have hunted walk in areas that this legislation will help expand and enhance. Kansas has led the way, but there is great public access to quality habitat in MT, CO and South Dakota that I have hunted. States in the east should look into working with private landowners to open up more land to hunting.

From the New West Travel and Outdoors

Feds Finally Release Funds for Open Fields Hunting Access Program

Key hunting access program now has only two years to prove itself.

By Bill Schneider, 7-06-10
The new Open Fields Program funds public access to private lands. 
Photos by Dusan Smetana.
The new Open Fields Program funds public access to private lands. Photos by Dusan Smetana.
Updated July 7, 1 am: Baucus Continues to Support Open Fields.
Nobody ever accused the federal government of moving rapidly, even with congressionally mandated programs. And the long-ago approved new hunting access program called Open Fields is excellent testimony to that axiom.
After an extensive lobbying campaign by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Pheasants Forever, Ducks Unlimited and many other conservation groups, Congress included $50 million in the 2008 Farm Bill for Open Fields, a new, innovative program to help fund dwindling public access to private lands, perhaps the greatest threat to the sport of hunting in this country.
That happened way back in December 2008, 31 months ago. Now, finally, the Department of the Interior has finished writing regulations needed to administer Open Fields and will start releasing the funds to qualified state-based access programs, such as Montana’s Block Management program.
Today, NewWest.Net learned that on July 8, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will hold a teleconference to announce the release of the funding.
This long delay has concerned conservationists because they want Open Fields to have an admirable track record of success before the 2012 Farm Bill rolls around. And not a lot of time to spare, it seems, as Congress is already holding hearings on the 2012 bill. With so little time to prove the value of the program, conservationists will clearly be challenged to convince Congress to renew or increase funding for Open Fields in the 2012 Farm Bill.
UPDATE: Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) contacted NewWest.Net shortly after this article was posted. “The open fields program will be great for our state,” Baucus said. “In Montana we hunt and we fish--it’s in our blood. I worked hard to ensure this provision was included in the Farm Bill but we need to get the money on the ground. I will keep pushing the USDA to get this done. This is about ensuring our outdoor heritage is protected, so we can continue passing our traditions on to our children and grandchildren.”
Baucus is chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee and a senior member on the Senate Agriculture Committee, so he was in a position to make sure the Open Fields Program--and the $50 million--made it into the 2008 Farm Bill. Since the passage of the Farm Bill, Baucus has been pushing the Interior Department to move as fast as possible to make the funds available to voluntary state hunting access programs.
Related NewWest.Net articles: Open Fields Hunting Access Program Needs Push and Baucus Comes Through for Hunters on Open Fields.

From the TRCP web site:
Open Fields is a competitive grants program available to state and tribal governments. Funding applications may be made through the federal government's grants portal. Read frequently asked questions about Open Fields. 

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