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The Weekly News Source for Wyoming's Ranchers, Farmers and AgriBusiness Community

This land is your land

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Many press releases come through the Roundup computers every week, and the easy part is reading them. We do read most of them, especially those concerning ag issues, but the hard part is sorting through them and printing those we think are valuable to our readers. We realize they’re all important to someone, or they wouldn’t be sent, and we take them all seriously. 
Every now and then a press release comes through that really gets my attention, even though it comes from Washington, D.C. Nothing coming out of Washington surprises us these days, and most of us seem to be numb to the actions of our government. We all think, “What’s next?” and, sure enough, something else happens. Only one-third of Americans think Washington is on the right track, so we know at least two-thirds have some common sense. I’m really worried about that one-third who thinks everything is all right.
A number of Wyoming landowners have utilized USDA Farm Bill programs over the years, and there have been some good programs, ranging from developing water to protecting sage grouse habitat. However, a press release came in the other day with the heading, “USDA wants to ‘improve access’ to private lands.”
This new program, called the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP), encourages owners of farms, ranches and private forest lands to not only improve their wildlife habitat but also to provide access to their private lands using the program’s dollars and incentives. As I understand it, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department could also apply for the funds to assist with its ongoing access programs. So far, up to $50 million is available through 2012.
What makes this program stand out is the access part. This is the first time access has come up in USDA programs, and elsewhere it has always been a hot topic. It is voluntary for landowners to provide access in exchange for the dollars, and the public would have the free ride, but that hasn’t always worked in the past. My experiences have taught me that the public doesn’t hold respect for the lands if the access doesn’t come from dollars from their pockets; there just seems to be more abuse.
Access on private lands is a right, and should be offered as a value for a value, not as a free ride. I don’t feel the federal government should provide and pay for free access on private lands for citizens to hunt, fish and otherwise recreate. Maybe there should be something in the VPA-HIP program that requires the public to provide some services.
In Wyoming we’ve seen groups like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Wyoming Flycasters and many others provide labor to improve habitat, and they are to be commended for doing so. They’ve set a great example for the public.
Increasingly, access is becoming a source of income to private landowners. I suppose the source of the dollars is not all that important, as long as the public access is voluntary and is the decision of the private landowner. It will take some getting used to, coming from the federal government, but even that is our own decision.

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