Conservation action is urgently needed to address significant declines in wetland and grassland habitat. This habitat loss not only impacts wildlife enjoyed by people across the continent, but also landowners concerned about the loss of a way of life and areas far away that depend on clean water and pollinated crops.
Fortunately, partners continue to commit public and private funding to conduct wetland and grassland habitat in the U.S. Prairie Pothole Region. PPJV partners use science to efficiently guide the allocation of funding and leverage millions of dollars of matching funds. Funding from the sale of Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamps (i.e., Duck Stamps), the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, Land and Water Conservation Fund, and numerous state funding sources enable PPJV partners to make impressive conservation progress. Moreover, programs associated with the Farm Bill allow NRCS and FSA to target dollars to important areas for wildlife across the prairies.
The “Farm Bill” is a compilation of many different Acts passed by Congress to enhance agricultural productivity and conservation on private lands. It has its beginnings in the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933. This initial legislation was passed in response to the Dust Bowl, an environmental catastrophe caused by the combination of prolonged drought and agriculture that did not use dryland farming techniques. The legislation established policy to support the production of sustainable food and fiber and help restore confidence in agricultural markets.
Roughly every five years, the Farm Bill is re-enacted with evolving conservation policy. The Conservation chapter covers programs that help farmers implement natural resource conservation efforts on working lands as well as land retirement and easement programs. During the last seven Farm Bills, conservation programs have become increasingly significant in the U.S. Prairie Pothole Region. For example, the 1985 Farm Bill, known as the Food Security Act of 1985, established the Conservation Reserve Program in addition to the conservation compliance requirements for the highly erodible lands (“sodbuster”) and wetland (“swampbuster”) provisions. These programs have been adapted in each subsequent Farm Bill with clear benefits for water, soil, and wildlife.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is responsible for implementation of the Farm Bill through two agencies: Farm Service Agency and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The current Farm Bill, called the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, was enacted into law in December 2018 and expires in 2023. For more information on conservation programs for landowners through the existing Farm Bill, see the Farmer’s Guide to 2018 Farm Bill Programs.
Federal Duck Stamp
The Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp – commonly called the Federal Duck Stamp – raises about $37 million annually. Around 1.5 million duck stamps are sold every year, and proceeds from the sale of the stamp are used to buy or lease wetlands and associated upland habitats for inclusion in the National Wildlife Refuge System. Since 1934, stamp sales have raised over $1 billion, which supported the protection of over 6 million acres of bird habitat.
Today, about 70% of this funding goes to secure wetland and grassland habitat in the Prairie Pothole Region through the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund. This is helping to secure the core of the continent’s “Duck Factory,” the major nesting grounds for ducks. These same ducks travel across the country and visit Stamp-secured habitat in stopover migration and wintering areas.
Waterfowl hunters, bird watchers, other outdoor recreationists, art and stamp collectors, and many other people who wish to invest in wetland and grassland conservation can buy these stamps for just $25. Duck Stamps are available for purchase from the U.S. Postal Service or U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Additionally, many National Wildlife Refuges and sporting goods stores sell the stamps.
Land and Water Conservation Fund
Created by Congress in 1965, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) was designed to safeguard natural areas, water resources, and cultural heritage as well as provide recreation opportunities to all Americans. National parks, national wildlife refuges, national forests, rivers and lakes, community parks, trails, and ball fields in every one of the 50 states were set aside for Americans to enjoy thanks to federal funds from the LWCF.
It was a simple idea: use revenues from the depletion of one natural resource – offshore oil and gas – to support the conservation of another precious resource – land and water. Every year, $900 million in royalties paid by energy companies drilling for oil and gas on the Outer Continental Shelf were to be put into a fund specifically for LWCF activities. However, the royalties intended for this fund were often shifted to funding activities elsewhere in government.
This changed when Congress passed the Great American Outdoors Act in 2020, which permanently and fully funded the LWCF at $900 million annually. The money set aside for LWCF projects is available to create and protect national parks, national forests, and national wildlife refuges, to fund conservation easements, and to provide matching grants for state and local parks and recreation projects.
LWCF funds can only be spent within an area encompassed by an approved acquisition boundary. The Dakota Grassland Conservation Area, Dakota Tallgrass Prairie Management Area, Rocky Mountain Front Conservation Area, and Tallgrass Prairie National Wildlife Refuge are the only LWCF acquisition areas within PPJV region. Once funding specific to the LWCF area is provided, willing and interested landowners can sell their land in fee title or place a permanent conservation easement on their property. The program is completely voluntary and a win-win for landowners and wildlife!
North American Wetlands Conservation Act
The North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) was passed, in part, to support the North American Waterfowl Management Plan. Built on the foundation of “partnerships,” NAWCA offers competitive grants to carry out wetland conservation in Canada, the United States, and Mexico. The primary idea behind this matching grant program is to engage, excite, and include landowners, non-profit organizations, industry, state governments, and a host of other partners in local wetland and grassland conservation projects.
Consequently, NAWCA Standard and Small Grants are available to organizations and individuals who have developed partnerships to carry out wetlands conservation projects for the benefit of migratory birds and other wildlife. The NAWCA grant program is invaluable to the PPJV; without willing partners and available NAWCA funding, land conservation efforts would be severely diminished across the PPJV region.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Division of Bird Habitat Conservation is responsible for administering this federal grant program, which receives a significant portion of its allocation from annual Congressional appropriations. Additional funding comes from fines collected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, federal fuel excise taxes on small gasoline engines, and interest accrued on the fund established under the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937.
Over the past 30 years, NAWCA has provided $1.7 billion in federal grants for 3,000 projects, impacting over 30 million acres of habitat across the continent. NAWCA requires that a non-federal source must equally match every federal dollar contributed to the program. Throughout the life of the program, conservation groups have shown their willingness to play a vital role in conservation funding, contributing over $3.6 billion in matching funds for wetland conservation projects. In the Prairie Pothole Region, PPJV partners work diligently to gather necessary matching funds, which on average is over twice as much as they receive in federal funds. The monies are used to conduct wetland and grassland conservation, restoration, and habitat enhancement across the PPJV region.
For more information about NAWCA and how to apply for a grant, visit the USFWS NAWCA web page.