Conservation Partners Program 2017 Request for Proposals

Full Proposal Due Date:  Thursday, August 17, 2017 by 11:59 PM Eastern Time


The Conservation Partners Program (CPP) is a collaborative effort between the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) (, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) ( and other regional/initiative-specific partner.

The purpose of the partnership is to provide grants on a competitive basis to increase technical assistance capacity to advance the implementation of three complementary priorities: NRCS’s Landscape Conservation Initiatives, NFWF’s Conservation Priorities, and the NRCS-U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service partnership – Working Lands for Wildlife. In order to maximize benefits to these three priorities, the CPP also seeks to target investments in certain identified Program Priority Areas (PPAs).

The CPP program funding will support:
  • Accelerated implementation of NRCS/NFWF initiatives and Farm Bill conservation programs within the Program Priority Areas and Working Lands for Wildlife Focal Areas listed belowIncorporation of best available science in applying conservation systems and strategically focusing resources where the greatest conservation opportunities exist
  • Increased landowner/manager awareness and participation in NRCS/NFWF initiatives and Farm Bill programs
  • Identifying and promoting positive economic outcomes as a result of conservation system implementation

Forms of Capacity Expertise Sought (include but are not limited to):

  • Expertise in comprehensive natural resource conservation planning
  • Discipline-specific expertise: wildlife, aquatics, wetlands, forestry, general ecology, rangeland ecology
  • Resource-specific scientific expertise to support development of science-based tools, for example:  wildlife habitat evaluation and management guidelines; best management practices to be used in association with NRCS conservation practice implementation (e.g. best management practices for the use of prescribed fire for the management of early successional wildlife habitat)
  • Scientific expertise and experience to help facilitate integration of current scientific knowledge and technologies into NRCS/NFWF conservation initiatives
  • Technical expertise in developing methodologies to monitor, assess, evaluate and report on measurable resource conservation outcomes
  • Farm Bill program and marketing expertise to improve landowners’ and customers’ understanding of Farm Bill programs and NRCS practices, standards and strategic initiatives as a means to increase landowner and partner participation


The Conservation Partners Program is a nationwide program with specific priority areas where funding will be directed. 

Competitive proposals will be focused on one of the nine priorities listed below:

  • Pacific Salmon
  • Grassland Bird Habitat
  • Great Lakes
  • Mississippi River Basin
  • Gulf Coast Plain States Working Lands Conservation

The remaining Priority Areas will be funded through separate RFPs, listed and linked below:


Pacific Salmon
Eligible projects should improve the efficiency of on-farm irrigation practices and provide quantifiable benefits to instream flows through a state approved transfer or some other form of enforceable agreement.  Projects should be located in priority anadromous salmonid streams in California, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho and should benefit stream reaches where insufficient instream flows are identified as a key limiting factor for fish survival by a state or federal agency.

  • Improve instream flows and water quality in freshwater systems through implementation of conservation practices
  • Restore stream flows while maintaining or balancing crop yields through conservation planning on agricultural lands
  • Promote and facilitate conservation best practices including irrigation efficiencies and other conservation agricultural practices that benefit freshwater systems and promotes water conservation through conservation planning on agricultural lands
  • Integrate Farm Bill funding into whole farm planning efforts aimed at producing better water quality

Activities that will be implemented to meet the objectives include (but are not limited to) improved water management, wildlife habitat restoration, easement programs and management practices such as cover crops, range seeding, buffering, grass grazing systems, management of agricultural drainage water and irrigation efficiencies, prescribed grazing and forage harvest management.

Fish and Wildlife Species of Interest:

  • Salmonid species
  • Mussels, fish and other aquatic biota
  • Threatened and endangered grassland, wetland and aquatic species

Grassland Bird Habitat
The Great Plains and Prairie Pothole Region support more than 300 species of breeding, migrating, and overwintering bird species and are hotspots for about two dozen bird species of high national importance.


  • Engage ranchers, farmers, and the agricultural sector in developing and implementing best practices, innovation and stewardship practices that benefit grassland bird habitat
  • Promote grass-based grazing systems with positive impacts on grassland bird habitat
  • Evaluate and monitor species response to practices implemented
  • Identify and monitor overlapping benefit to monarch butterflies
  • Develop and implement innovative habitat conservation techniques, such as:
    • ​​​​reducing economic entry barriers to attract a new generation of ranchers
    • creating grass banks to improve access to large grazing areas
    • incentivizing grass-based agriculture through price premiums
    • using precision agriculture to help producers avoid converting unproductive field areas

Activities that will be implemented to meet the objectives include (but are not limited to) grassland habitat restoration, agricultural management practices including conservation cover, cover crop, range seeding, buffering, prescribed grazing systems, management of agricultural drainage water, and forage harvest management.

Fish and Wildlife Species of Interest:

  • Grassland birds; focal species include burrowing owl, Baird’s sparrow, Sprague’s pipit, and chestnut collared longspur
  • Threatened and endangered prairie, grassland, wetland and aquatic species
  • Waterfowl

Great Lakes Basin
Awards in the Great Lakes region will be made to reduce phosphorus runoff and associated harmful algae blooms.  Investments to reduce algal blooms and improve water quality will focus in watersheds with high levels of phosphorus and sediment loading, with particular emphasis on western Lake Erie, Saginaw Bay, and Green Bay. Grant funding will be used to hire field conservation professionals who will, in collaboration with NRCS field offices develop farm nutrient management plans; enroll in Farm Bill programs; and implement conservation practices that may include, but not be limited to, construction of on-farm riparian buffers and wetlands, drainage and tillage practices, and application of soil health concepts.  Positions will be supported by grant funding for up to two years. 


  • Conduct outreach and implementation of conservation systems on agricultural land in priority watersheds, such as the Western and Eastern Lake Erie, Green Bay, and Saginaw Bay
  • Engage farmer-led groups in conservation planning
  • Improve water quality primarily through reductions in sediment and phosphorous losses
  • Improve fish and wildlife habitat

Mississippi River Basin
Priority projects will be located in NRCS’s priority watersheds and subwatersheds as identified for the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (MRBI) and priority areas for the Driftless Area Initiative.  A reference map for MRBI priority areas can be found here, and the Driftless Area map can be found here.  Chief among the program priorities for the basin are improvements to water quality and a focus on riparian habitat.


  • Engage farmers, farm-related and farmer-led organizations, and the agricultural sector in best practices, innovation and stewardship practices that benefit water quality, fish, and wildlife
  • Examine economic benefits to farmers as it relates to implementation of conservation systems
  • Promote innovative agricultural practices that have positive economic and environmental outcomes
  • Measure and promote positive economic implications of on-farm conservation practices
  • Promote grass-based grazing systems with positive impacts on soil health, water quality, and cold water stream systems, using brook trout as an indicator species
  • Achieve long-term reductions in edge-of-field nutrient losses from agricultural lands in the key watersheds in the Mississippi River Basin
  • Improve nutrient management and bring new tools to farmers to more efficiently manage inputs
  • Promote wetlands, active floodplains, and other practices that can trap and treat excess nutrient runoff
  • Integrate Farm Bill funding into whole farm planning efforts aimed at producing better water quality
  • Drainage management and monitoring its effect on wildlife

Fish and Wildlife Species of Interest:

  • Mussels, fish, brook trout, and other aquatic biota
  • Waterfowl, marsh birds, and shorebirds
  • Grassland birds
  • Threatened and endangered prairie, grassland, wetland and aquatic species

Funding in this category will support technical assistance to farmers, foresters and other private landowners and managers to help optimize wildlife conservation on private lands in the Mississippi River Basin. 

Gulf Coast Plain States Working Lands Conservation
Awards will be made within the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas to expand and enhance conservation of wetlands and agricultural lands through the NRCS Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) - Wetlands Reserve Easements (WRE) and Agricultural Lands Easements (ALE). Grant funding will be used to hire field natural resource professionals who will, in collaboration with NRCS field offices, provide strategic outreach and delivery of technical assistance to private landowners, as well as provide additional incentives and resources to manage existing WRP and ACEP-WRE, as well as new ACEP-WRE, enrollments.

Positions will be supported by grant funding for up to three years.  Special emphasis will be placed on targeting outreach to, and enhancing participation of, beginning farmers, socially disadvantaged farmers or ranchers, limited resource farmers or ranchers, Tribes and veteran farmers and ranchers. Proposals should describe the geographic range covered, and how proposed work fits within and will coordinate with other private lands work in the area, including appropriate state and local NRCS offices.


  • Assist landowners with the NRCS conservation enrollment process (ACEP-WRE or ALE).
  • Conduct ACEP-WRE/WRP or ALE technical assistance activities which may include, but not be limited to:
    • Acquiring easement surveys
    • Procuring due diligence documentation
    • Provide habitat restoration planning, design, construction layout, and inspection
    • Easement monitoring activities
    • Site specific management plans
    • Contracting for wetland restoration services
    • Landowner outreach activities
  • Provide additional incentives and resources to landowners enrolled in WRE/WRP contracts to implement conservation practices above and beyond those funded through NRCS landowner agreements to improve wildlife habitat and water quality.

Fish and Wildlife Species of Interest:

  • Waterfowl, marsh birds and shorebirds
  • Mussels, fish and other aquatic species
  • Louisiana black bear
  • Threatened, endangered and at-risk species


To better gauge progress on individual grants and to ensure greater consistency of project data provided by multiple grants, the Conservation Partners Program has a list of metrics in Easygrants for grantees to choose from for reporting. We ask that applicants select only the most relevant metrics from this list for their project (all possible program metrics are shown in the table below).  If you do not believe an applicable metric has been provided, please contact Eric Forward (​) to discuss acceptable alternatives.

​Project Activity Recommended Metric Additional Guidance
​CPP - Outreach/ Education/ Technical Assistance - # people with changed behavior ​# people with changed behavior ​Enter the number of individuals demonstrating a minimum threshold of behavior change
​CPP - Outreach/ Education/ Technical Assistance - # people targeted ​​# people targeted ​Enter the number of people targeted by outreach, training, or technical assistance activities
​CPP - Incentives - Acres covered by compensation ​Acres covered by compensation ​Enter the number of acres covered by direct compensation
​CPP - Economic benefits - # jobs sustained ​# jobs sustained ​Enter the number of existing jobs sustained
​CPP - Incentives - # participants receiving $ ​# participants receiving $ ​Enter the number of participants receiving direct compensation
​CPP - Economic benefits - # jobs created ​# jobs created ​Enter the number of new jobs created​
​​CPP - Instream restoration - Miles restored Miles restored ​Enter the number of miles restored
​CPP - Conservation easements - Acres protected under easement ​Acres protected under easement ​Enter the number of acres protected under long-term easement (permanent or >30-yr)
​CPP - improved management practices - Acres under improved management ​Acres under improved management ​Enter the number of acres under improved management
​CPP - Erosion control - Lbs sediment avoided ​Lbs sediment avoided ​Enter the amount of sediment prevented from entering system
​CPP - BMP implementation for nutrient or sediment reduction - Lbs nutrients avoided (annually) ​Lbs N avoided (annually) ​Enter the amount of nitrogen prevented from entering system annually
​CPP - Land, wetland restoration - Acres restored ​Acres restored ​Enter the number of acres restored
​CPP - Monitoring - # streams/sites being monitored ​# streams/sites being monitored ​Enter the number of streams/sites being monitored
​CPP - Tool development for decision-making - # tools used by decision-makers ​# tools used by decision-makers ​Enter the number of tools developed that are used by decision-makers (e.g. prioritization methods, wildlife habitat evaluation guidelines, etc.)
​CPP - Management or Governance Planning - # plans developed ​# plans developed ​Enter the number of plans developed that had input from multiple stakeholders
​CPP - BMP development - # BMP recommendations developed ​# BMP recommendations developed ​Enter the number of Best Management Practice (BMP) recommendations developed​
​CPP - BMP development - # mgmt plans with BMPs ​# mgmt plans with BMPs ​Enter the number of management plans into which Best Management Practices (BMPs) were incorporated
​CPP - Monitoring - Acres being monitored ​Acres being monitored​ ​Enter the number of acres being monitored​


Eligible and Ineligible Entities

  • Eligible applicants include: non-profit 501(c) organizations, farmer and commodity-led organizations, educational institutions, tribal governments, and state or local units of governments (e.g. state agricultural and/or conservation agencies, counties, townships, cities, conservation districts, utility districts, drainage districts, etc.). 
  • Ineligible applicants include: individuals, federal government agencies, and for-profit entities.

Ineligible Uses of Grant Funds

  •  NFWF funds and matching contributions may not be used to support political advocacy, fundraising, lobbying, litigation, terrorist activities or Foreign Corrupt Practices Act violations.
  • NFWF funds may not be used to support ongoing efforts to comply with legal requirements, including permit conditions, mitigation and settlement agreements. However, grant funds may be used to support projects that enhance or improve upon existing baseline compliance efforts.


The 2017 Conservation Partners Program will award approximately $2.7 Million in NRCS funds, leveraged by up to an additional $4 Million in NFWF funding. Typical grant awards will range from $50,000 to $300,000.

Additionally, there will be approximately $4.6 million in funding available specific to the Gulf of Mexico Working Lands Conservation priority area. Grant requests greater than $300,000 may be considered where the scale of environmental benefits warrants such consideration and aligns with the priority objectives. In such cases, applicants are strongly encouraged to contact Suzanne Sessine ( in advance to discuss whether the proposed work warrants an exception to the typical funding cap.

For all requests a match of at least 1:1 non-federal cash or in-kind is required, and will be considered in application review. For more information on match, please see the RFP Tip Sheet​.


All proposals will be screened for relevance, accuracy, completeness and compliance with NFWF and funding source policies. Proposals will then be evaluated based on the extent to which they meet the following criteria.

Program Goals and Priorities – Project contributes to the Program’s overall habitat and species conservation goals, and has specific, quantifiable performance metrics to evaluate project success. Project addresses one or more of the program priorities outlined in the Request for Proposal.

Technical Merit – Project is technically sound and feasible, and the proposal sets forth a clear, logical and achievable work plan and timeline. Project engages appropriate technical experts throughout project planning, design and implementation to ensure activities are technically-sound and feasible.

Transferability – Project has potential and plan to transfer lessons learned to other communities and/or to be integrated into government programs and policies.

Communication – Project includes a detailed plan to communicate information about the project to appropriate audiences, especially NRCS state and field offices.
Funding Need – Project establishes a clear need for the funds being requested, and demonstrates that activities would not move forward absent funding.

Conservation Plan and Context – The project advances an existing conservation plan or strategy.

Monitoring – Project includes a plan for monitoring progress during and after the proposed project period to track project success and adaptively address new challenges and opportunities as they arise.

Long-term Sustainability – Project will be maintained to ensure benefits are achieved and sustained over time. This should include how future funding will be secured to implement necessary long-term monitoring and maintenance activities.

Past Success – Applicant has a proven track record of success in implementing conservation practices with specific, measurable results.

Partnership – An appropriate partnership exists to implement the project and the project is supported by a strong local partnership that leverages additional funds and will sustain it after the life of the grant. Identify proposed partners, if known (including potential or contemplated subawards to third party subrecipients of the applicant), the roles they will play in implementing the project, and how this project will build new or enhance existing partnerships.  (Note: a project partner is any local community, non-profit organization, tribe, and/or local, state, and federal government agency that contributes to the project in a substantial way and is closely involved in the completion of the project.)


Budget – Costs are allowable, reasonable and budgeted in accordance with NFWF’s Budget Instructions cost categories.  Federally-funded projects must be in compliance with OMB Uniform Guidance​ as applicable.

Procurement – If the applicant chooses to specifically identify proposed Contractor(s) for Services, an award by NFWF to the applicant does not necessarily constitute NFWF’s express written authorization for the applicant to procure such specific services noncompetitively.  When procuring goods and services, NFWF recipients must follow documented procurement procedures which reflect applicable laws and regulations. 

Publicity and Acknowledgement of Support – Award recipients will be required to grant NFWF the right and authority to publicize the project and NFWF’s financial support for the grant in press releases, publications and other public communications.  Recipients may also be asked by NFWF to provide high-resolution (minimum 300 dpi) photographs depicting the project.

Receiving Award Funds – Award payments are primarily reimbursable.  Projects may request funds for reimbursement at any time after completing a signed agreement with NFWF.  A request of an advance of funds must be due to an imminent need of expenditure and must detail how the funds will be used and provide justification and a timeline for expected disbursement of these funds.

Compliance Requirements – Projects selected may be subject to requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act (state and federal), and National Historic Preservation Act.  Documentation of compliance with these regulations must be approved prior to initiating activities that disturb or alter habitat or other features of the project site(s).  Applicants should budget time and resources to obtain the needed approvals.  As may be applicable, successful applicants may be required to comply with additional Federal, state or local requirements and obtain all necessary permits and clearances. 

Quality Assurance – If a project involves significant monitoring, data collection or data use, grantees will be asked to prepare and submit quality assurance documentation (  Applicants should budget time and resources to complete this task.

Permits – Successful applicants will be required to provide sufficient documentation that the project expects to receive or has received all necessary permits and clearances to comply with any Federal, state or local requirements.  Where projects involve work in the waters of the United States, NFWF strongly encourages applicants to conduct a permit pre-application meeting with the Army Corps of Engineers prior to submitting their proposal.  In some cases, if a permit pre-application meeting has not been completed, NFWF may require successful applicants to complete such a meeting prior to grant award.

Federal Funding – Federally-funded projects must operate in compliance with the OMB Uniform Guidance as applicable to the applicant. The availability of federal funds estimated in this solicitation is contingent upon the federal appropriations process. Funding decisions will be made based on level of funding and timing of when it is received by NFWF.


Dates of activities are subject to change.  Please check NFWF's Conservation Partners Program webpage for the most current dates and information.

​​Applicant Webinar
​July 13, 11:00 AM, Eastern Time
Full Proposal Due Date
​August 17, 11:59 PM, Eastern Time
Review Period
​August 18 - November
​​Awards Announced 
​Early December


All application materials must be submitted online through National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Easygrants system.

  1. Go to to register in our Easygrants online system.  New users to the system will be prompted to register before starting the application (if you already are a registered user, use your existing login).  Enter your applicant information.
  2. Once on your homepage, click the “Apply for Funding” button and select this RFP’s “Funding Opportunity” from the list of options.
  3. Follow the instructions in Easygrants to complete your application.  Once an application has been started, it may be saved and returned to at a later time for completion and submission.


A PDF version of this RFP can be downloaded at NFWF's Conservation Partners webpage.

A Tip Sheet is available for quick reference while you are working through your application. This document can be downloaded at NFWF's Conservation Partners webpage.  Additional information to support the application process can be accessed on NFWF ’s Applicant Information webpage.

For more information or questions about this RFP, please contact:
Eric Forward​

For issues or assistance with our online Easygrants system, please contact:
Easygrants Helpdesk
Voicemail:  202-595-2497
Hours:  9:00 am to 5:00 pm ET, Monday-Friday.
Include:  your name, proposal ID #, e-mail address, phone number, program you are applying to and a description of the issue.



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