House looks to lock up federal NAWCA funding

Washington — With budget uncertainty seeping into nearly every crevice of federal government, the security blanket of assured funding is a luxury – no matter its level.

That’s why groups like Ducks Unlimited are quick to support federal legislation like that recently offered in the U.S. Senate – and co-sponsored by Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar – that would reauthorize the North American Wetlands Conservation Act through 2017.

NAWCA grants are provided to state agencies and groups that provide matching funds for wildlife habitat projects. Congress may fund NAWCA up to $75 million each year, though in recent years funding generally has been less than half that amount.

In Minnesota, NAWCA funding serves as the foundation upon which many projects are built, wetland enhancement and restoration projects that also rely on funding from conservation groups, state agencies and programs, and, most recently, the Outdoor Heritage (amendment) funding, according to Jon Schneider, manager of conservation programs in Minnesota.

Schneider said DU’s focus in Minnesota is on NAWCA’s “small” grants – those $75,000 or less, used for smaller-scale projects. Partners have been awarded $75,000 in NAWCA funding for improving Bolstad Slough and Teal Lake, both in southwestern Minnesota near Windom, he said. Those two projects will include work on the state’s latest additions to its list of designated wildlife lakes, Schneider said.

Not long ago, the wetlands of the Hurricane WMA in Cottonwood County (southwestern Minnesota) were improved with NAWCA funding. Hurricane Lake, Schneider said, “responded beautifully to our drawdown.”

Because of the prominence of agriculture in southern Minnesota, most NAWCA partnerships look to public land improvements, he said.

Partners providing funding for the Teal Lake and Bolstad Slough improvements include DU ($64,400), the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council (Outdoor Heritage funding, $45,700), and the state DNR ($231,500). Other contributors are the Cottonwood County Game and Fish League, Flint Hills Resources, the North Heron Lake Game Producers Association, and the Heron Lake Watershed District.

The required non-federal match for NAWCA projects is 1:1; however, due to the competitive nature of the grants, most partnerships shoot for at least 2:1. In this case, “The non-federal leverage pledged is significant at a ratio of 4.8:1,” according to the groups’ small grant proposal.

NAWCA funding, Schneider says, provides base funding for the North American Waterfowl Management Plan. But other programs, too, are part of the equation, from the federal Conservation Reserve and Wetlands Reserve programs, to the state Reinvest in Minnesota program, to the aforementioned Outdoor Heritage Fund.

“It takes all of those programs moving in the same direction,” Schneider said.

The recently introduced Senate bill – S. 2282 – is a companion to House legislation introduced about a year ago. The Senate bill was introduced by Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and has five co-sponsors, including Klobuchar.

“This is a great day for conservationists throughout the United States,” said DU’s Paul Schmidt, chief conservation officer for the group, upon learning of the bill last week. “This joint effort by the chair (Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.) and ranking member (Inhofe) of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, coupled with a diverse suite of bipartisan co-sponsors, is a testament to how NAWCA is a model for uniting diverse and effective partnerships in support of shared conservation objectives.”

According to DU, “NAWCA conserves North America’s waterfowl, fish, and wildlife resources while producing a variety of environmental and economic benefits.”

More than $1 billion in federal grants has been allocated for NAWCA projects since 1989. That money has been leveraged by an additional $3 billion from matching and non-matching funds.

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