North American Wetlands Conservation Act

The North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) grants program fulfills a Congressional mandate declaring that maintenance of healthy populations of birds in North America depends on “the protection, restoration, and management of wetland ecosystems and associated habitats in Canada, as well as the United States and Mexico.”

NAWCA was passed, in part, to support activities under North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP), an international agreement that provides a strategy for the long-term protection of wetlands and associated uplands habitats needed by waterfowl and other migratory birds in North America. In December 2002, Congress reauthorized NAWCA and expanded its scope to include the conservation of all habitats and birds associated with wetlands ecosystems. In 2006, Congress reauthorized the Act to extend its appropriation authorization of up to $75 million per year to 2012.  The Congressional appropriation to fund the Act’s Grants Program in FY 2010 was $47,647,000, and in FY 2011 $37,500,000.

Additional program funding comes from fines, penalties, and forfeitures collected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918; from Federal fuel excise taxes on small gasoline engines, as directed by amendments to the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act of 1950, to benefit coastal ecosystem projects; and from interest accrued on the fund established under the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937. In FY2010 these other sources provided almost $42 million in additional grant funds.   From September 1990 through March 2011, some 4,500 partners in 2,067 projects have received more than $1.1 billion in grants. They have contributed another $2.32 billion in matching funds to affect 26.5 million acres of habitat and $1.21 billion in non-matching funds to affect 234,820 acres of habitat. 

NAWCA grants provide matching grants through Standard Grants Program and Small Grants programs to organizations and individuals who have developed partnerships to carry out wetlands conservation projects for the benefit of wetlands associated migratory birds and other wildlife. These competitive grants must be matched by partner contributions at no less than a 1-to-1 ratio. Funds from U.S. federal sources may contribute toward a project, but are not eligible as match.  Grant requests may not exceed $75,000. Funding priority is given to grantees or partners new to the Act’s Grants Program. 

  • The Standard Grants Program supports projects in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico that involve long-term protection, restoration, or enhancement of wetlands and associated uplands habitats. In Mexico, partners may also conduct projects involving technical training, environmental education and outreach, organizational infrastructure development, and sustainable-use studies.
  • The Small Grants Program operates only in the U.S.; it supports the same type of projects and adheres to the same selection criteria and administrative guidelines as the U.S. Standard Grants Program. However, project activities are usually smaller in scope and involve fewer project dollars.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Division of Bird Habitat Conservation is responsible for facilitating the Act’s Grants Program.   Once a slate of eligible proposals has been determined, the proposals are further reviewed and ranked by the North American Wetlands Conservation Council, a nine-member council established by the Act. The Council then recommends projects to the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission, a seven-member commission authorized by the Act to give final funding approval to projects.

Between 1991 and 2011, 102 Standard and Small Grants have been funded in the Intermountain West contributing more than $60 million to wetland conservation projects on 465,000 acres benefiting migratory birds. This funding has leveraged more than $165 million, representing a 3:1 match.  



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