Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer has said USDA will fully implement President Bush’s directive to offer incentives to farmers and ranchers for opening up their land in the Conservation Reserve Program to the public for hunting, fishing, bird watching and other recreational activities.

Schafer made the announcement at the White House Conference on North American Wildlife Policy in Reno, Nev., on Oct. 3.

“The president is committed to enhancing support of habitat conservation by offering public access to CRP land,” Schafer said. “The Conservation Reserve Program is the largest public-private partnership for conservation and wildlife habitat in the nation and we expect robust participation in this initiative. It will provide better access and allow more efficient management of game populations while allowing CRP participants to continue to provide vital environmental benefits such as improving air and water quality, enhancing wildlife habitat and reducing erosion.”

The goal of this incentive, Schafer said, is to double public access by providing up to seven million acres of CRP land for public access in the next five years in participating states. The CRP public access incentive permits partnerships with existing state public access programs to identify and mark tracts of land as publicly accessible and publish maps for hunters and recreation enthusiasts. The incentive is consistent with current state public access incentives and will enhance the ability of state game departments to use hunting seasons as a wildlife management tool.

The CRP public access incentive will be limited to CRP participants in the 21 states that already have public access programs. These 21 states are: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington and Wyoming.

The public access incentive will pay $3 per acre, per year, for the life of the CRP contract, provided the contract acres remain enrolled in the state public access program. CRP contracts are between 10 and 15 years. This incentive will be available to CRP participants with new or existing CRP contracts. This public access incentive is available to CRP participants that voluntarily agree to open CRP land to public hunting, recreation, wildlife viewing and other recreational activities.

CRP is a voluntary program that helps agricultural producers enhance environmentally sensitive land. Producers enroll in CRP and plant long-term, resource-conserving covers to improve water quality, control soil erosion and enhance habitats for waterfowl and wildlife. In return, USDA provides producers with rental payments.

After environmental compliance requirements are complete, USDA will announce a sign up date when farmers and ranchers can begin to enroll at their local county FSA office.

Information on CRP: (http://www.fsa.usda.gov/conservation).