$116M available for locally led conservation projects proposed by tribes, states

Black-necked stilts alight in the pools in Sunland Park, where the high groundwater creates year-round pools that offer sustenance and a home to creatures in the desert landscape.

Black-necked stilts alight in the pools in Sunland Park, where the high groundwater creates year-round pools that offer sustenance and a home to creatures in the desert landscape. (Photo by Diana Cervantes for Source NM)

In an effort to fund locally led landscape-scale conservation and restoration projects, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation announced grant funding opportunities available through the 2023 America the Beautiful Challenge.

“Through the America the Beautiful Challenge, we are catalyzing investments from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to pursue locally led, collaborative and inclusive approaches to conservation to advance climate resilience, create jobs, strengthen our economy, and ensure that everyone has access to nature, now and for future generations,” Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland said.

The America the Beautiful Challenge is a partnership between the departments of the Interior, Agriculture and Defense, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and Native Americans in Philanthropy.

The challenge makes funding more accessible by offering eligible states, tribes, territories, local groups, non-governmental organizations and others the chance to apply for multiple grants through a single application that is managed by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

“The America the Beautiful Challenge created a one-stop shop to help communities access funding for conservation and restoration initiatives,” said White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory.

“This collaborative effort has and will continue to advance locally-led projects aligned with the President’s ambitious America the Beautiful initiative, conserving our lands and waters while also expanding access to the outdoors across the country,” Mallory added.

The America the Beautiful Challenge launched in 2022 to consolidate funding from multiple federal agencies and the private sector to enable applicants to conceive and develop large-scale projects.

“The America the Beautiful Challenge serves as a valuable opportunity for the Department of Defense to work collaboratively across the federal government to conserve natural habitats outside installations and ranges, strengthen climate resilience, and protect critical mission priorities,” said Brendan Owens, the assistant secretary of Defense, Energy, Installations and Environment.

For the 2023 grant cycle, the program expects to award up to $116 million. The grants are funded through the infrastructure law, other federal conservation programs and private sources.

“The America the Beautiful Challenge offers an opportunity to expand and strengthen our work with partners to support locally led conservation efforts,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. “USDA is proud to support the second year of the challenge to broaden the reach of our programming to benefit communities across the country.”

In its first year, the Department of Interior said the program received an unprecedented response in applications. They received applicants for every state, the District of Columbia, three U.S. territories and 133 tribal nations.

In 2022, the program awarded 55 grants totaling $91 million, which leveraged an additional $50 million in grantee match for a total conservation investment of $141 million.

Staying true to the Biden administration’s commitment to honoring tribal sovereignty and advancing equity for Indigenous peoples, the Department of Interior said applicants will be encouraged to prioritize projects incorporating Indigenous-led efforts.

Funding will be set aside specifically to support tribal nations’ and territories’ efforts, according to the Department of Interior, and matching funds for tribal projects are covered by Native Americans in Philanthropy.

The challenge will be accepting grant pre-proposals until April 20, and awards are expected to be announced by November 2023.

There are five distinct grant categories: implementation, planning, sentinel landscape, national forest and private forests, rangeland and farmland.

The proposals will be reviewed by a public-private committee of partners and technical experts, and funding decisions are based on the extent to which they meet the criteria listed in the RFP.

Projects the program will focus on funding include five themes:

  • Conserving and restoring rivers, coasts, wetlands and watersheds.
  • Conserving and restoring forests, grasslands and important ecosystems that serve as carbon sinks.
  • Connecting and reconnecting wildlife corridors, large landscapes, watersheds, and seascapes.
  • Improving ecosystem and community resilience to flooding, drought, and other climate-related threats.
  • Expanding access to the outdoors, particularly in underserved communities.

For the full application visit National Fish and Wildlife Foundation website.

This story was originally published in the Arizona Mirror. It is republished here with permission.

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Shondiin Silversmith, AZ Mirror
Shondiin Silversmith, AZ Mirror

Shondiin Silversmith is an award-winning Native journalist based on the Navajo Nation. Silversmith has covered Indigenous communities for more than 10 years, and covers Arizona's 22 federally recognized sovereign tribal nations, as well as national and international Indigenous issues. Her digital, print and audio stories have been published by USA TODAY, The Arizona Republic, Navajo Times, The GroundTruth Project and PRX's "The World." Silversmith earned her master's degree in journalism and mass communication in Boston before moving back to Arizona to continue reporting stories on Indigenous communities. She is a member of the Native American Journalist Association and has made it a priority in her career to advocate, pitch and develop stories surrounding Indigenous communities in the newsrooms she works in.