Putting Funding for Habitat Work in a National Context for Smarter Results

For decades, the issue of how to fund wildlife habitat and natural resource conservation has been the focus of countless planning efforts by conservation groups across the country. Not only have organizations and agencies sought funding to operate, but also they have developed funding strategies to support programs and implement on-the-ground habitat activities like conservation easements, wetland restoration, or invasive species eradication.

Today, the IWJV and its partners stand at an important crossroads with respect to how to fund bird habitat conservation into the future. Why? What makes the question of funding different than only a decade ago?

First, the sources of both private foundation and government funding for conservation continue to mirror the trends of the U.S. economy. For example, foundation grants were common in the 1990s with the technology and communication sector booms, and then stalled in both 2009 and 2010 by a $1 billion decrease each year due to the Great Recession.

Likewise, government funding for key conservation programs has either been level or witnessed a decrease. In February, Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014, which contains spending levels for all government agencies for the rest of 2014. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) received $32 million less than the 2013 enacted level, impacting key bird habitat programs like the North American Waterfowl Management Plan/Joint Ventures, Partners for Fish and Wildlife, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, and the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act. 

Similarly, the Economic Research Service of the Department of Agriculture predicts a “leveling off” in funding of conservation programs through the 2014 Farm Bill after more than a decade of rapid growth in conservation spending. 

While the question of how much funding is available nationally plays a fundamental role in collaborative bird habitat conservation, a second important question is what is being funded? What do funders care about? What are their priorities? 

According to the Foundation Center, the top four issues that attracted the most foundation funding in 2011 were health ($6.8 billion), education ($5 billion), arts and culture ($3.5 billion), and human services ($3.5 billion). The environment, animals, and wildlife category attracted 6% of foundation funds or $1.5 billion. The top-funding foundations in the environment category are interested in issues such as climate, oceans, rivers, ecosystem health and place-based initiatives that support the specific philanthropic goals.

In terms of public funding, the conservation priorities of the federal government reflect the administration or specific agency’s priorities. In 2014, the Department of Interior and USFWS identified the following initiatives for investment: America’s Great Outdoors, New Energy Frontier, Youth in the Great Outdoors, Cooperative Recovery, Cooperative Watershed Management, and Science. Another federal family member, the Department of Agriculture, has placed strategic emphasis on ensuring the nation’s private working lands are conserved, restored, and made more resilient to climate change while enhancing water resources using the 2014 Farm Bill as the chief funding tool.

These national trends in private foundation and government funding—both the amount and priorities for funding—mean that conservation groups will have to continue to be strategic, focused, and foster solid relationships with funders.

One of the IWJV’s goals is to provide funding, foster leverage opportunities, and enhance partner access to federal, state and private funding programs essential to bird habitat conservation.  In this climate, the Joint Venture will strive to fit our habitat work within these national trends and be smart about generating funding support for partnership-driven, science-based bird habitat conservation. Using the concept of conservation triage and strategic allocation of resources, we will build better bridges with science and delivery partners to accomplish shared goals and objectives.

And because the sum of the partnership is greater than the individual parts, we will achieve landscape-scale conservation through the power of leverage to address the most challenging natural resource issues of our region.

For partners interested in funding, consider the following ideas for your work:

  • Translate goals, objectives, and tasks associated with the project into short- and long-term outcomes that are aligned with the funder’s priorities.
  • Use quantitative and qualitative data to show results—there’s power in accompanying hard data with stories of meaningful change.
  • Develop a 2-way partnership with your funder and communicate regularly with them.
  • Tackle challenging issues by leveraging funds and resources with partners—private and public entities.


Read more articles from the Fall 2014 e-Newsletter:

Partners Step Up to Conserve Wetlands in the Channeled Scablands of Eastern Washington By Terry Mansfield, IWJV Washington State Conservation Partnership Coordinator

Rio Grande Agricultural Land Trust: Conserving Land for People and Birds By Cecilia Rosacker McCord, Rio Grande Agricultural Land Trust

Putting Funding for Habitat Work in a National Context for Smarter Results By Ali Duvall, IWJV Staff

Our Ranch, Our Kids and Our Conservation Mission By Sharon O’Toole, Ladder Livestock Company

Mountain Plover: An Inconspicuous Shorebird That Breeds, Nests and Winters Across Some of the Toughest Places in the Intermountain West By Victoria Dreitz, Avian Science Center Director

New Partner Biologists Boosts Conservation Delivery Capabilities in Southern Oregon By Jim Stutzman, IWJV Staff