The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) is receiving one of 15 grants announced Monday by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in which USDA is partnering with state agencies to improve wildlife habitat and enhance public access for recreational opportunities on private farmland, ranchland and forest land.
Through the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentives Program (VPA-HIP), MDC will receive $1.1 million from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Bill White, MDC Private Land Services Division Chief, said the grant will help MDC create a new public access program called the Missouri Outdoor Recreation Access Program (MRAP).
MRAP will expand outdoor recreation activities such as small and large game hunting and wildlife viewing for all Missouri residents, and also non-residents.
MRAP will focus on ensuring quality habitat is available on all enrolled parcels of land. Funds will be provided to landowners who provide public access for hunting or wildlife viewing.
Applications will be prioritized based on parcel size, percentage of parcel consisting of wildlife habitat, contract length, outdoor activity selections and proximity to metropolitan areas.
MDC’s goal with MRAP is to enroll 10,000 acres statewide during the program’s first three years.
“The Department has a nationally recognized partnership with NRCS that continues to bring additional Farm Bill dollars to Missouri landowners to improve our fish, forest and wildlife resources,” White said. “With the VPA grant, this money will benefit Missouri citizens who hunt and fish, too.”
The conservation partnerships in Missouri are second to none,” added NRCS State Conservationist J.R. Flores. “NRCS even shares office space with a number of MDC biologists, who work side-by-side with our natural resources professionals. Connecting outdoor recreation to private lands conservation is good for wildlife, people, and rural economies.”
In evaluating proposals for funding, NRCS looked for projects that would: Increase private land acreage available for public use; offer a public access program that gains widespread acceptance among landowners; make special efforts to reach historically underserved or socially disadvantaged landowners; ensure appropriate wildlife habitat is located on enrolled land; strengthen existing wildlife habitat improvement efforts; follow NRCS conservation practice standards; and inform the public about the locations of existing and new lands where public access is available.
In addition to Missouri, NRCS awarded grants for projects in Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Nationally, NRCS is providing $20 million to projects in the 15 states.