NRA is pleased to report that the federal Open Fields Initiative is now in effect and grant money is available through the United States Department of Agriculture for state and tribal governments interested in enrolling in the program, or expanding their existing Open Fields program. NRA has been working on this effort to increase opportunities for hunters and compensate private landowners on the national level for more than a decade.
"This has been a long time coming," said NRA-ILA Executive Director Chris W. Cox. "Our efforts will finally pay off for the millions of hunters and sportsmen across America looking for places to hunt and for new ways to experience our country's rich hunting and wildlife heritage."
The Open Fields Initiative is based on programs that already exist in 26 states. The new, federal program will provide resources to fund state efforts to develop voluntary incentive programs that expand public access to private lands for hunting, fishing and other recreational purposes. The initiative amends the Food Security Act of 1985 to encourage owners and operators of privately-held farm, ranch, and forest lands to voluntarily make their lands accessible to the public, and is expected to open up more than 10 million new acres of private land to the public each year. Landowners are compensated through rental payments and other types of incentives such as technical and conservation services.
There are more than 13 million hunters in America, creating an indispensable economic power. The Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies reports that hunters generate more than $67 billion in economic output and more than one million jobs in the United States. Hunting and fishing licenses, permits, stamps and excise taxes on hunting and fishing goods have generated billions of dollars for wildlife conservation, research and management over the years. By any measure, sportsmen are the single largest contributors to conservation and this initiative will only expand the benefits that hunters bring to wildlife and viable habitat.
The NRA would like to thank U.S. Sens. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), Pat Roberts (R-Kans.) and John Thune (R-S.D.), as well as Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), and Reps. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), Jerry Moran (R-Kans.) and Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.) for their support for including the NRA-backed Open Fields Initiative language in the House and Senate passed 2008 Farm Bill. The original bills, S.B. 1502 and H.R. 2473, make up the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program to increase public access to private hunting grounds.
"On behalf of our more than four million NRA members, I'd like to thank the members of Congress who made the nationwide expansion of Open Fields possible," Cox concluded. "Thanks to them, we hope that Open Fields will be the pathway to more hunters and more hunting opportunities and will safeguard our treasured hunting heritage for future generations."