Sunday, February 5th, 2023
Sunday, February 5th, 2023

Breaking News for

Sportsmen Since 1967

Heritage Council approves DNR plan for Partners Grant Program

St. Paul – If all goes according to plan, local sportsmen’s
clubs and other groups will access their share of dedicated funding
by the end of the year.

The Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council last week at its
meeting in Alexandria approved the DNR’s plan for operating the
Conservation Partners Grant Program, which will distribute nearly
$4 million in matching grant funds to local, state, and federal
clubs and organizations.

The agency has been at work on setting up the program since
legislators gave responsibility for running it to the DNR. The
Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council recommended another entity –
the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation – run the program.

DNR officials agreed with that decision and on a number of
occasions said the NFWF was better suited to running the grants
program, but lawmakers didn’t agree.

The agency hopes to request grant proposals by late August, and
select the first round of projects by the middle part of December,
according to Dave Schad, director of the DNR Fish and Wildlife
Division.

The agency’s Management and Budget Services office will run the
program, in part because that division runs several other of the
department’s grant programs.

“It also provides a little bit of separation in the agency
between our division – which will provide support and be working
very closely with the groups that are applying for dollars – and
the administration of the program,” Schad said.

The DNR was given 6.5 percent – or $260,000 – of the $4 million
to administer the program.

“We anticipate that all of those dollars will be needed to
develop the program, issue the request for proposals, process the
grants, track accomplishments, and those sorts of things,” Schad
said.

The money will not cover the field support from Fish and
Wildlife Division employees that likely will be necessary.

“I think our staff are going to be working very closely to help
pull the proposals together and then once the grants are issued,
help get those dollars on the ground and help get those projects
implemented,” Schad said. “We are going to ask our staff to track
their time and we will be able to report back to the council on how
much effort it took on our part to support getting this program
implemented.”

The Game and Fish Fund is the primary source of funding for Fish
and Wildlife Division field staff.

“There is quite a large subsidy here, potentially, by hunters
and anglers in making sure the Outdoor Heritage funds are spent
appropriately,” Schad said.

It’s unclear how much of a cost to the DNR running the program
will be, he said.

“We’re all going to learn from this first year exactly what it
takes to run this program, how much interest there is out there
from the various clubs and organizations, and how much support they
need in order to participate in the program,” Schad said. “This
first year will allow us to shape the next 24 years and make sure
this is really doing what it is intended to do.”

The process

According to the DNR’s work plan, the agency’s grant program
staff will work with grant applicants and the applications
themselves, then rank them based on criteria like the amount of
habitat restored, enhanced, or protected, and the amount of local
support.

Then, a Technical Guidance Committee, which “will consist of no
more than nine people and may include representatives from DNR,
BWSR, the University of Minnesota, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service, and other appropriate members,” will recommend projects
and funding levels.

The DNR commissioner will make the final decisions.

While it’s not a requirement in the work plan, council members
asked the DNR to consider making half of the grants for more than
$125,000, half for less than that amount.

Scott Rall, an L-SOHC member who chaired a subcommittee that
dealt with the grants program, said he hopes the application
process is simple enough that all groups, regardless of their size,
can apply for funding.

“If it gets too bogged down, it will wave off some of those
smaller organizations that may not have the infrastructure to
pursue grants,” he said.

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