By Press Release
Photos by Rick Barton
The Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) recently received a grant to work with private landowners toward the goal of opening more private lands to public access for wildlife-dependent recreation such as hunting, trapping, fishing, boating, and watching wildlife through the POWRR (PALS) program. The Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP) is administered through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and provides federal funding that will be used to lease private lands for wildlife-dependent recreation. In 2020, the NRCS program awarded 27 grants across the United States. The grant awarded to the Department of Wildlife Resources will provide almost $3 million over the next three years.
DWR plans to partner with farmers, resource companies and other landowners to enroll their lands in the POWRR (PALS) program. The program also helps to fund wildlife habitat improvement and infrastructure practices needed to manage public access. DWR will be implementing the program in southwest Virginia, particularly in the Coalfields Region.
“We are thrilled at the prospects of partnering with private landowners in Southwest Virginia to provide additional public access to the outdoors,” said Ryan Brown, Executive Director of DWR. “Additionally, the habitat improvements that will be enabled by this grant will result in truly meaningful benefits for wildlife in the most biologically diverse area of the state.”
The program is only available for privately owned lands; individuals and corporations may apply. DWR is looking to lease both large and small parcels of land. Larger parcels will provide general access for a variety of wildlife-dependent recreation. Smaller parcels that offer key access to prime opportunities are also of interest. For example, a small parcel could provide excellent boating access, a productive dove hunting field, or be a perfect addition to the Virginia Bird and Wildlife Trail (VBWT).
Cash incentives will be paid to landowners who sign an annual agreement for enrollment in the program. For most types of access, compensation will be determined on a per-acre basis. For smaller parcels that provide key boating access, fishing, or wildlife viewing opportunities, each location will be evaluated based on the value of potential recreational opportunities.
All infrastructure deemed necessary to manage public access will be funded by the grant. Installing signs, gates, fencing, and small parking lots will provide safe public access while minimizing disruption of farming or other land use activities. Conservation Police Officers will patrol leased lands to ensure public safety and to address incidents of trespass and other unlawful activities.
Habitat management funded by the grant will be based on DWR evaluation and recommendations. Typical wildlife habitat improvements will include removal of invasive and non-native shrubs or other ground cover followed by planting of perennial native grasses and other plants that benefit wildlife. Annual crops (food plots) will not be provided under this grant.
Wildlife enthusiasts should visit the DWR website (virginiawildlife.gov/powrr) and social media accounts often to learn about new opportunities provided by this program. Interested landowners should contact Tom Hampton, Regional Lands and Access Manager, at (276) 783-4860 or firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss eligibility.