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Outdoor enthusiasts, wildlife to benefit from new grant program

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Virginia currently offers hunters, anglers, birders and outdoor enthusiasts many options for enjoying wildlife and the outdoors.

Yet, the Commonwealth’s offering, encompassing 225,000 square miles of public lands, represents only a fraction of the total open spaces in Virginia.

What if we could reduce the number of “no trespassing” signs and expand access for a wide range of wildlife-dependent recreation?

A new partnership between USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries may soon open doors that have been previously closed to recreation and ecotourism.

Focused in the Coalfields region of Southwest Virginia, this new USDA-NRCS grant project will enable the DGIF to not only expand the acres in its existing Public Access Lands for Sportsmen program but also encompass a wider variety of wildlife-dependent recreational opportunities.

With funding from the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program, DGIF will soon provide incentive payments to landowners for public access to parcels that offer new opportunities for hunting, fishing, trapping or wildlife-dependent recreational. Recent efforts to restore elk populations could also provide new viewing areas and access for outdoor enthusiasts.

“These habitat management efforts will yield numerous conservation benefits while supporting recreation and economic development on reclaimed mined lands in Southwest Virginia,” said Virginia State Conservationist Jack Bricker. “Our collaboration on these lands will benefit more than 12 priority species for preservation to include northern bobwhite quail and grassland songbirds.”

The DGIF is one of 27 recipients in 27 states receiving awards through this competitive grant program that offers funding to state and tribal governments to expand or improve public access to private lands for wildlife-dependent recreation. Recipients may use as much as 25 percent of their funding to create, restore or enhance wildlife habitat on these properties. Grants can last up to three years with a maximum single award of $3 million.

Full project descriptions are available on the national VPA-HIP web page.

Interested landowners in Southwest Virginia should contact DGIF Regional Lands & Access Manager Tom Hampton at (276) 783-4860 to discuss their eligibility.