News Desk, Sporting Properties

Open Fields Legislation Offers Payments to Landowners

Remember that little place in the woods where you used to get off spectacular hip shots while hunting birds on the wing? Well, there’s a strip mall there now. That’s an increasingly common issue for hunters, whose once-prized spots are being encroached on by urban and suburban sprawl. But some in Congress think they have a way to offset those land losses. Legislation sponsored by Sen. Kent Conrad, D-North Dakota, and Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, would provide $20 million annually to bolster state programs that pay landowners to open their properties to hunters.
By Joseph Guinto

The Open Fields legislation has been winding its way through the Capitol since 2003, but it has yet to see a floor vote. That may be about to change. Backers hope to attach Open Fields to the annual farm bill, and that bill is expected to emerge from committees in the House and Senate this month, headed for floor votes.
If Open Fields goes to the floor as well, lawmakers will have to evaluate whether its cost is worth its promise. The cost: $100 million total from 2008 to 2012. The promise: As many as 4 million new acres will open each year to both hunting and fishing enthusiasts. Under Open Fields, the USDA would award grants to state programs that pay landowners to open their properties and make improvements on them that attract more wildlife.
The bill has strong backing from sportsmen’s groups and some conservationists. And backers in Congress are making an economic argument that may connect with their colleagues.
“Anyone who has driven through a rural community in the fall has seen the ‘Welcome Hunters’ signs in front of Main Street restaurants and local motels,” says Rep. Jerry Moran, D-Kansas, and one of Open Fields’ co-sponsors in the House. “This legislation will help ‘ boost rural economies and provide additional income to our farmers and ranchers.”

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