Outdoors

Grant boosts public hunting access to 70,000 acres

A nearly $1.4 million federal grant will enable the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to provide public access on up to 10,000 acres of private turkey and deer hunting land in Northeast Washington and Klickitat County.
A nearly $1.4 million federal grant will enable the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to provide public access on up to 10,000 acres of private turkey and deer hunting land in Northeast Washington and Klickitat County. Staff writer

Nearly $1.4 million in a federal grant will allow the state to expand hunter access on more than 70,000 acres.

The grant came from the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The program is providing $20 million to 15 state wildlife agencies to improve and increase wildlife habitat and public access for recreation on privately-owned and operated farm, ranch and forest lands.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife will use the grant to expand access on up to 60,000 acres of upland bird hunting in the southeast Washington, up to 10,000 acres of deer and turkey hunting access Northeast Washington and Klickitat County, and deer hunting access on sites near the Puget Sound urban center on small ownerships, according to a Department of Agriculture news release.

The state agency also will focus on providing waterfowl hunting access sites near Puget Sound urban centers and encourage land owners to provide important food resources to birds wintering in the region, according to the release.

Elsewhere in the region, Oregon will receive $1.56 million and Montana will receive $706,000 from the program. The Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation received more than $131,000 to finish its wildlife viewing center, opening access to 8,500 acres of private land and 12,500 acres of tribal lands for hiking, bird watching and photography.

“Our partnerships with state governments will help them work with interested landowners to enhance hunting and fishing and other wildlife-dependent recreation, to enhance wildlife habitat, and to protect wildlife species and encourage new opportunities for local businesses,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in the release.

“Lack of access is one of the greatest barriers to hunter and angler participation, recruitment, and retention, so we’re thrilled to see the Voluntary Public Access program continue and expand to four new states this year,” Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, said in a prepared statement. “These projects will open new access to sportsmen and improve habitat for deer, turkeys, and waterfowl, and we are thankful to the USDA for its commitment to this important program.”

“Hunting participation is on the decline due, in part, to loss of places to hunt,” National Wild Turkey Federation Chief Conservation Officer Becky Humphries said in a prepared statement. “These actions are in line with our Save the Habitat, Save the Hunt initiative. We support their efforts to increase hunting opportunities for the general public and improve wildlife habitat.

According to a 2013 study done for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the nation’s outdoor recreation economy supports 6.1 million direct jobs; creates $80 billion in federal, state, and local tax revenue, and $646 billion in spending each year.

Among the criteria used In evaluating submitted proposals, the Natural Resources Conservation Service looks for projects that Increase private land acreage available for public use, offer a public access program that gains widespread acceptance among landowners, ensure appropriate wildlife habitat is located on enrolled land and inform the public about the locations of existing and new lands where public access is available.

The conservation service has administered the grant program since Congress reauthorized it as part of the 2014 Farm Bill.

Jeffrey P. Mayor: 253-597-8640

jeff.mayor@thenewstribune.com

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