Habitat & Conservation  |  04/05/2023

Voluntary Public Access Improvement Act Introduced in U.S. Senate


Bill would provide significant funding streams for stateside hunting access programs

The Voluntary Public Access Improvement Act of 2023 was introduced by Senator Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), and Senator Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) earlier this week. 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 helping create public access for outdoor endeavors on private lands. 

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 supported by more than 30 hunting, fishing, and conservation organizations.

“Since 2008, the Voluntary Public Access & Habitat Incentive Program has provided one of the most vital funding sources for state fish and wildlife agencies to increase public access to private lands for hunting, fishing, and other wildlife-dependent recreation,” said Marilyn Vetter, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s President and CEO. “New investments in VPA-HIP would be witnessed many times over across America for rural economies and wildlife conservation. Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever want to thank Senators Daines, Bennet, and Marshall for their bipartisan support of this very successful program.”

More than 70 percent of the lower 48 states are privately owned, a figure contributing to barriers amongst recruitment, retention, and reactivation of America’s sportsmen and sportswomen. VPA-HIP was created to help address this issue by opening a significant number of access opportunities on privately-owned property, 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.