The Voluntary Public Access program was included in the 2008 Farm Bill for the first time. Federal monies were released to implement the program beginning in 2010. In just these first two years, VPA-HIP has succeeded in opening millions of acres of fish and wildlife habitat to hunters and anglers.

The economic impact of programs such as VPA-HIP that facilitate sportsmen’s access is substantial. A decline in license sales – both hunting and fishing – has severe implications for state fish and wildlife agency budgets and the continued funding of fish and wildlife habitat conservation projects that depend on sportsmen’s dollars. 

In addition, sportsmen open their wallets at a range of businesses – many located in rural communities and locally owned – including motels, restaurants, sporting good stores, gas stations and guide and outfitting operations. Hunting and angling in this country, each and every year, generate more than $95 billion in economic activity.

In this era of budgetary austerity, a good-faith effort clearly must be made to reduce our nation’s debt and deficit. Sportsmen and women do not presume that they are exempt from shouldering their fair share of this burden. Yet funding for vital conservation programs should be maintained at reasonable levels, and not eliminated entirely. 

Hunting and fishing have long been equal-opportunity American traditions enjoyed by anyone with a love of the outdoors. Yet Congress’s decision to eliminate the Voluntary Public Access program will effectively bar sportsmen from accessing many of our increasingly rare and precious open lands and waters. This hunting season, millions of hunters may find themselves on the wrong side of a barbed-wire fence. In the future, Congress should restore funding to VPA-HIP and ensure the program is reauthorized as part of the next Farm Bill. 

Steve Kline is the Director, Center for Agricultural Lands at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.