Following an announcement made by USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack regarding 15 nationwide grants to state agencies, two of Connecticut’s leading conservation partners issued a joint statement. Acting State Conservationist for the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Brunilda Velez, and Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) Commissioner Rob Klee revealed that DEEP has been selected to receive funding to improve and increase wildlife habitat and public access for recreational opportunities.
“Our partnership with DEEP will help them work with interested landowners to enhance hunting, fishing, and other wildlife-dependent recreation to enhance wildlife habitat, protect wildlife species, and encourage new opportunities for local businesses,” Velez said. “These projects are excellent examples of USDA’s successful efforts to connect public and private partners for long-term conservation gains that benefit sportsmen, wildlife, private land owners, and the public.”
“More than $600,000 has been entrusted to the State of Connecticut to maintain and expand our existing Permit-Required Hunting Program that was initiated in the 1980s,” said Klee. “The grant will provide much needed public access opportunities for sportsmen living in Hartford, New Haven, and Fairfield Counties, the most populated counties of our state, and will provide financial incentives for landowners to be part of the public access system. Over the next few years, we hope to build lasting partnerships with farmers and conservation-minded landowners who support wildlife based recreation.”
Through this grant, the DEEP Wildlife Division will seek to renew lease agreements with 39 private landowners to maintain access to nearly 5,000 acres, as well as add 4,000 new acres by 2018. The aim is to increase use of these lands by 20 percent or more. Other states awarded grants for include Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming totaling $20 million.
These projects are being funded under the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentives Program (VPA-HIP) through USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. Since Congress reauthorized the program in the 2014 Farm Bill, USDA has invested $40 million in the program, which has helped 21 states and one tribal nation complete projects to increase wildlife-dependent outdoor recreation opportunities.