Conservation Partners Program Spring 2014 Request for Proposals


A webinar for applicants will be available on March 6, 2014, from 2:30-3:30 PM, EST. An overview of the program priorities, application process and question and answer period will be offered. Please register here.


Through this Request for Proposals (RFP), Conservation Partners will fund organizations to partner with NRCS field offices to deliver technical assistance for high priority conservation objectives.

Conservation Partners 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 partners. The purpose of the partnership is to provide grants on a competitive basis to:

Added capacity provided via Conservation Partners will be directed toward:

  • Accelerated implementation of NRCS/NFWF initiatives and Farm Bill conservation programs within the Program Priority Areas and Working Lands for Wildlife Focal Areas listed below
  • Incorporation of best available science in applying conservation systems and strategically focusing resources where the greatest conservation opportunities exist
  • Increased landowner awareness and participation in NRCS/NFWF initiatives and Farm Bill programs

Forms of Capacity 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

Grant Size

The Spring 2014 Conservation Partners Program will award a total of $1.9 Million. Typical grant awards will range from $50,000 to $200,000.  Each Program Priority Area is expected to receive between $100,000 and $250,000 in funding.

Proposal Requirements

  • Project proposals must include a letter of commitment from the NRCS State Conservationist(s) representing the state(s) in which the grant activity will take place.
  • Projects may be funded for two years of staffing.  Additional months are permissible for start-up time and post-project reporting.
  • Grant recipients will be required to identify performance and conservation targets, consistent with NFWF’s and NRCS’s objectives, against which progress will be measured and reported to NFWF.  Among these requirements will be ‘number of full-time equivalent jobs supported’, ‘number of landowners (outreach)’, ‘number of landowners (engaged)’, and ‘number of acres restored or preserved’.
  • A match of at least 1:1 non-federal cash or in-kind is required, but larger match ratios are encouraged.
  • Project work must occur on private land or, in certain cases on public land, where private landowner access for grazing or other agricultural rights have been secured.

Applicant Eligibility

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.).  Individuals, federal government agencies and for-profit entities are not eligible for grants under this program.

Project Duration

Each staff position will be funded up to 2 years; however with start-up and post-grant reporting, projects are anticipated to be fully completed within 2½ years following receipt of a grant agreement. Project start and end dates should define the period during which all proposed work is accomplished, all requested funds are spent, and all matching funds are spent.  A grant may support one part of a larger, longer project with multiple stages; that part of the project supported by the grant must be completed within the specified time frame.

Program Priority Areas (PPAs) and Potential Uses of Funds

A map of PPAs can be accessed by clicking here.  Priority for funding will be directed to proposals that target species and ecosystems of shared interest between NFWF and NRCS, including but not limited to the following:

1. Upper Mississippi River Basin                                                                       

The Upper Mississippi River is a national treasure, known as a valuable natural, historic, cultural, and economic resource. It is critical to the vitality and abundance of wildlife, birds, aquatic species, people and their communities.  Its basin drains over 189,000 square miles of land in the upper Midwest, including portions of six states: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri and Wisconsin.  Conservation Partners will prioritize projects that will be conducted in NRCS’s priority watershed 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 is included here, though only HUC’s in the states referenced above will be eligible for funding, and the Driftless Area map can be found here.  Chief among Conservation Partners priorities for the basin are improvements to water quality and a focus on riparian habitat.              


  • Engage farmers, farm-related organizations, and the agricultural sector in best practices, innovation and stewardship practices that benefit fish and wildlife
  • Promote grass-based grazing systems with positive impacts on soil health, water quality, and cold water stream systems
  • 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 effects on wildlife

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

Fish and Wildlife Species of Interest:

  • Mussels, fish 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 to help optimize wildlife conservation on private lands in the U.S. portion of the Great Lakes basin.  Roughly $500–700 thousand will be available for grants in this category.  Approximately half of this funding can be used to support technical assistance in any part of the U.S. portion of the basin, whereas the other half is available specifically for private landowner technical assistance in targeted areas of Michigan.   

2. U.S. Great Lakes Basin

This technical assistance funding is intended to increase the effectiveness of Farm Bill conservation programs within the basin.  Grant funding may be used to hire field biologists and other habitat professionals (botanists, ecologists, foresters, etc.) who will work with Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) field offices for up to two years.  Typical grant awards to support these positions will range from $50,000 to $200,000.  Additional information on the requirements of this funding can be found at: 

Michigan Only

Distinct from the technical assistance funding described above, a second source of funding is available for technical assistance projects in the Saginaw Bay watershed and the Michigan portion of the western Lake Erie basin.  This funding will address the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative priority of protecting these impaired watersheds from phosphorus runoff and harmful algae.  Grant funding will be used to hire field conservation professionals who will, in collaboration with Michigan NRCS field offices, assist private landowners and increase participation in federal Farm Bill programs to reduce phosphorus runoff from agricultural lands and improve the ecological condition of these watersheds.  Positions will be supported by grant funding for up to two years.  Typical grant awards to support these positions will range from $50,000 to $300,000, and a matching contribution of at least 1:1 non-federal cash or in-kind services is required.  At the full proposal stage, applicants seeking consideration for this funding will be required to submit a letter of support from the Michigan NRCS State Conservationist.  Priority actions for this Michigan technical assistance funding include: 

  • Reducing nutrient loading from agricultural lands
  • Implementing EQIP Non-Point Source strategies in EQIP Priority Watersheds

A map of Phosphorus Priority Areas and EQIP Priority Watersheds in Michigan can be found by clicking here 

3. Landscapes Supporting Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW) Targeted Species

Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW) is a partnership between NRCS and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to use agency technical expertise combined with at least $24 million in fiscal year 2013 financial assistance from the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP) to combat the decline of seven specific wildlife species whose decline can be reversed and will benefit other species with similar habitat needs.  In fiscal year 2012, NRCS entered into WHIP contracts for over $21 million under WLFW.  Working Lands for Wildlife engages private landowners to enact pro-active conservation measures, moving wildlife agencies from regulation to cooperation.  An overview of WLFW’s priorities can be found here.

    • Bog Turtle
    • Lesser Prairie Chicken
    • New England Cottontail
    • Southwestern Willow Flycatcher

4. Texas: Lesser Prairie Chicken Habitat and Gulf Coast Region

The Conservation Partners Program will award projects that focus on the development of conservation plans and adoption of conservation practices in the Lesser Prairie Chicken  region in Texas. Projects funded will support technical assistance for private landowners to develop and implement Lesser Prairie Chicken conservation and management.


  • Provide technical assistance to private landowners on LEPC conservation and management.
  • Develop conservation plans that address LEPC habitat, management, conservation, and economic
  • Develop and implement region wide LEPC strategic outreach plan and recruit potential participants for all available technical and financial assistance programs to benefit LEPC conservation.

The development of conservation plans and adoption of conservation practices in the gulf coast region of Texas will also be prioritized.


  • Develop and implement a region wide Gulf of Mexico ecosystem restoration strategy.
  • Restore and conserve habitat.
  • Restore water quantity and water quality.

5. Northeast Forests

The New York/New England region contains over 52 million acres of forest land, including the largest intact block of temperate broadleaf forest in the Nation. Eighty percent of northeastern forestland is privately owned. The forests are diverse, ranging from the extensive broadleaf deciduous and mixed forests to montane and lowland spruce-fir and low elevation forests of oak, pine, and hickory. They stretch from the Atlantic coast to the highest mountain peaks in the region. The forests also provide habitat for a variety of wildlife such as moose, black bear, lynx, reptiles, other game species, and bird species of special consideration that breed in the northeast, but winter in Central and South America.


  • Improve forest health and productivity
  • Improve water quality primarily through reductions in sediment and phosphorous losses
  • Improve fish and wildlife habitat
  • Enhance long-term economic, recreational, social, and environmental benefits of forest system                                                                 

Activities that will be implemented to meet the objectives include (but are not limited to) forest stand improvement, prescribed burning, tree and shrub plantings and restoration of rare and declining habitats.

Fish and Wildlife Species of Interest:

  • New England cottontail; Bog turtle; Golden-winged warbler; American woodcock

Specific Capacity Needs:

  • Development of a monitoring, evaluation and assessment protocol to assess effectiveness of NRCS/NFWF initiatives in achieving stated conservation objectives and outcomes

6. Northern Great Plains and Prairie Pothole Regions

This region is covered with rolling hills, prairie grasses, agriculture and thousands of depressional wetlands ranging in size from shallow temporary wetlands to deeper semi-permanent wetlands.  Conservation Partners will help landowners create and fund systems that maintain or improve soil health, keep water clean, reduce flooding, and provide essential wildlife habitat for abundant as well as threatened species.  Land stewardship by tribes, ranchers and public agencies has ensured that there are still significant large intact native grasslands remaining in the Northern Great Plains and Prairie Pothole Regions. The relatively intact nature of these regions provides an opportunity to manage working landscapes so that farmers and ranchers can realize economic benefits from wildlife stewardship activities.  Conservation Partners seeks to help interested partners integrate ranching practices, soil health, water quality and prairie/grassland/wetland restoration across the landscape ensuring that keystone species and ecological processes thrive and private landowners reap economic benefits from managing for wildlife.


  • Deliver conservation outcomes and benefits from ecological stewardship through private landowner cooperation
  • Restore, enhance and protect wetlands, wetland function and associated upland grassland habitats on working lands
  • Identify and direct incentive programs toward priority landscapes that will support species of conservation interest
  • Maximize financial incentives for ecosystem-scale grassland conservation and restoration
  • Drainage water management and monitoring its effects on wildlife

Activities that will be implemented to meet the objectives include (but are not limited to) fencing removal and modification, native grassland enhancement and restoration, grazing management systems, cover crops, range seeding, forage harvest management, prescribed grazing, conservation easements, signing up landowners for wildlife incentive programs, designing sustainable landscape plans and monitoring programs, monitoring wildlife response to restoration activities, conservation tillage practices, abating conifer encroachment,  and systems that support sustainable ranching. 

Fish and Wildlife Species of Interest:

  • Pronghorn; black-tailed prairie dog; black-footed ferret; swift fox; waterfowl; marsh birds; shorebirds; Sprague’s pipit and other grassland birds, threatened and endangered species.

Specific Capacity Needs:

  • Development of a monitoring, evaluation and assessment protocol to assess effectiveness of NRCS / NFWF initiatives in achieving stated conservation objectives and outcomes

7. Additional Conservation Partners Award (Offered through another RFP at a different time)

Conservation Partners funding is supplementing some pre-existing grant programs in which NFWF and NRCS have joint conservation priorities and technical assistance has been identified as a useful tool.  Although funding for these additional PPAs is not available through this RFP, prospective applicants should begin considering whether their organization can help implement NRCS’s and NFWF’s technical assistance objectives in the following areas: 

Criteria for Competitive Proposals

Proposals will be more competitive if they include:

  1. Specific Conservation Activities and Metrics.  During the online application in Easygrants, applicants will be requested to supply metrics for their proposals.  These metrics typically relate to species outcomes, acres restored or preserved, jobs created, outreach to landowners, number of landowners engaged, and other potential measurements.  The list of metrics will be provided via drop-down menu within the online application.  Applicants can also select “other” to provide a metric that is unique to their project.
  2. A thorough explanation of how the proposal relates to Conservation Partners’ program preferences for:
    • Activities that help conserve the species, habitats and ecosystems in the Program Priority Areas listed above
    • Measurable conservation outcomes linked to project activities (e.g., target bird population increases by X%)
    • Activities that advance the priorities of the NRCS and/or of established regional, state and federal conservation plans
    • Restoration/protection of habitats/species in, or adjacent to, existing protected areas
    • Provisions for ongoing management, maintenance and protection, as appropriate
    • Documentation of knowledge and experience with the NRCS planning process
    • Organizations with a proven capability in working successfully with private landowners
    • Matching contributions greater than the minimum of 1:1
    • Match that can be directly applied to technical assistance delivery

Matching Contributions

All grant recipients are required to provide a minimum 1:1 match of cash, contributed goods and services, or a mixture of both from non-federal sources.  The ratio of matching funds offered by the applicant is one factor considered during the competitive review process.

Matching funds may include cash, in-kind contributions of staff and volunteer time, work performed, materials and services donated, or other tangible contributions to the project objectives and outcomes.  To be eligible, matching contributions must be:

  • Dedicated specifically for the project
  • Spent between the project start and end dates designated in the grant application
  • Voluntary in nature (mitigation, restitution, or other permit or court-ordered settlements are ineligible)
  • Applied only to the Conservation Partners grant and not to any other matching programs

Ineligible Uses of Funds

  • Funds granted under this program may not be used to support political advocacy, lobbying or litigation.

  • Grant recipients may not use grant funds to support ongoing efforts to comply with legal requirements (e.g. permit conditions, mitigation, settlement agreements) of any local, state or federal permit. Grant funds may be used, however, to support projects that enhance or improve upon existing baseline compliance efforts.

  • Grantees may only use grant funds for indirect costs if 1) the grantee organization has a federally-approved indirect rate; AND, indirect costs do not exceed 15 percent of the total direct costs as defined in the Federally Negotiated Indirect Rate Agreement (even when the federally-approved rate is greater than 15 percent).

Deadlines and Application Procedures

  • A webinar to review the grant process, program goals and answer questions will be held March 6, 2014 2:30-3:30 PM EST and will be available on the Conservation Partners website throughout the RFP cycle. 

  • Pre-proposals due on April 17, 2014 
  • Applicants notified of pre-proposal decisions; full proposals invited April 28, 2014
  • Full proposals due on June 23, 2014
  • Awards announced in late August 2014
  • Grant agreements developed with successful applicants September-October 2014

At the pre-proposal stage, the only file that an applicant must upload into Easygrants is a two-page Pre-proposal Narrative. An applicant invited to submit a full proposal will be required to upload several additional files described in the following table:


Required or Optional


Full proposal narrative


Template provided in Easygrants; completed narrative not to exceed 6 pages in length

Board of Trustees


Provide a list of members of Board of Trustees, Directors or equivalent.  If your organization does not have a Board, upload a signed statement on letterhead stating so.

A-133 Audit


If your organization has not expended more than $500,000 in Federal funds in the past year, upload a signed statement on letterhead stating that an A-133 Audit is not required. You may need to request an unsecured PDF from your finance department or accountant. This file is saved for our records and will not be included in the final PDF.

GAAP audited financial statements 


If your organization does not have GAAP audited financial statements, upload a most recent balance sheet and profit/loss statement instead. You may need to request an unsecured PDF from your finance department or accountant. This file is saved for our records and will not be included in the final PDF.

IRS Form 990


If your organization is not a non-profit organization, upload a signed statement on letterhead stating that a 990 Form is not required. You may need to request an unsecured PDF from your finance department or accountant. This file is saved for our records and will not be included in the final PDF.

Statement of Litigation


Template provided in Easygrants

Map of project location


Map should show the project location with respect to major landmarks (e.g., cities, rivers).  A Google map is sufficient.

Letters of Support


Include letter(s) of commitment from the NRCS State Conservationist(s) representing the state(s) in which the grant activity will take place.

Other relevant documents, figures and photos



Click here for additional guidance regarding required financial documents.

All application materials must be submitted online through National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Easygrants system.  Hard-copy applications will not be considered for funding.

To start an application, please click on the following link:  New users to the system will be prompted to register before starting their application.  Applications may be saved and returned to at a later time for completion and submission, up until the application deadline.  It is imperative for Easygrants users to disable their browser’s pop-up blocker prior to beginning the application process.

The following link contains access to other useful information for applicants, including videos that demonstrate the Easygrants online system:

Prospective applicants may contact Teal Edelen at before submitting a proposal to discuss project ideas.  More information about the Conservation Partners program can be found on the program’s webpage. For Easygrants technical support please contact our helpdesk at or call 202-595-2497. Please include your name, login ID, e-mail address, phone number, and a description of the issue. Helpdesk hours are 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM EST, Monday through Friday.

Related Files

Back to Program Home

NFWF Guidance for Online Applications

List of NRCS State Conservationists

View the Conservation Partners Map (Adobe PDF File)

NRCS Core Conservation Practices

Projects Funded in 2013