Conservation Partners Program 2016 Request for Proposals

Pre-Proposal Due Date: Monday, July 25, 2016 by 11:59 PM Eastern Time

Full Proposal Due Date: Monday, September 19, 2016 by 11:59 PM Eastern Time


The Conservation Partners Program​ 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 increase technical assistance capacity to advance the implementation of three complementary programs: 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 programs, the program 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 below
  • Incorporation 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


In 2016, the Conservation Partners Program will award approximately $2.7 million in NRCS funds, leveraged by up to an additional $4 million in NFWF funding to eight priority geographic areas listed below.  ypical grant awards will range from $50,000 to $200,000.


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

Competitive proposals will be focused in one of the eight geographic areas listed below:

  • Pacific Salmon
  • Grassland Bird Habitat
  • Great Lakes
  • Mississippi River Basin 

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.


  • Conservation practices that promote instream flows and water quality in freshwater systems
  • Conservation planning on agricultural lands that restore stream flows while maintaining or balancing crop yields
  • Conservation planning on agricultural lands that promote and facilitate conservation best practices including irrigation efficiencies and other conservation agricultural practices that benefit freshwater systems and promotes water conservation
  • 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 supports more than 300 species of breeding, migrating, and overwintering bird species and is a hotspot for about two dozen bird species of high national importance.


  • Engage ranchers and 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
  • Evaluation and monitoring of species response to practices implemented
  • Identifying and monitoring overlapping benefit to monarch butterflies 

Activities that will be implemented to meet the objectives include (but are not limited to) grassland habitat restoration, land acquisition and easement programs, 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

Great Lakes Basin

Awards in the Great Lakes region will be made to address two different goals:
  1. 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 development of farm nutrient management plans; enrollment in Farm Bill programs; and implementation of 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. 
  2. To develop and implement management plans for golden-winged warbler (and American woodcock) in priority geographies identified in National conservation plans within the Great Lakes region. Golden-winged warblers are one of dozens of species that require early successional habitat to complete their annual breeding cycle. Recent population data indicate that golden-winged warblers have declined significantly. This trend is mirrored by other early successional species, such as American woodcock and suggests habitat loss has been a contributing factor to population decline.
  • Outreach and implementation of conservation systems on agricultural land in priority watersheds, such as the Western and Eastern Lake Erie watersheds
  • Engage farmer-led groups in conservation planning
  • 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  
  • Improve forest health and productivity

Mississippi River Basin

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, 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 and farmer-led organizations, and the agricultural sector in best practices, innovation and stewardship practices that benefit water quality, fish, and wildlife
  • Examine economic benefit 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 effects on wildlife

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 and managers to help optimize wildlife conservation on private lands in the Mississippi River Basin. 


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 2016 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 $200,000. 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 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.

Required 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.

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 (OMB Uniform Guidance).

Metrics - 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’.

Location - Project work must occur on privately owned or managed land or, in certain cases on public land, where private land manager access for grazing or other agricultural rights have been secured.

Other Criteria:

Partnership and Coordination – Appropriate partnership exist, when appropriate, 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. Where applicable, coordination amongst partner organizations is clearly defined.

Communication – Project includes a detailed plan to communicate information about the project to appropriate audiences, especially NRCS state and field offices. Where appropriate, partners involved in project actively demonstrate support.

Funding Need – Application demonstrates a clear need for the funds being requested, and defines that project activities would not move forward absent funding.

Conservation Plan and Context – The project advances an existing conservation plan or strategy, or is a part of a defined, new conservation plan or strategy. Application details project’s importance to larger 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.


  1. 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.
  2. General - Applicants will be required to indicate the status of all permits required to comply with federal, state or local requirements.
  3. Federal Funding Requirements – Projects selected to receive Federal funding may be subject to requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act, 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. Federally-funded projects must operate in compliance with the OMB Uniform Guidance as applicable to the applicant.
  4. 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


Dates of activities are subject to change. Please check the Program page of the NFWF website for the most current dates and information.
  • Applicant Webinar     June 23, 1 p.m., Eastern Time
  • Pre- Proposal Due Date     July 25, 11:59 p.m., Eastern Time
  • Invitations for Full Proposals    Sent Week of August 8 
  • Full Proposal Due Date     September 19, 11:59 p.m., Eastern Time
  • Review Period      September 20 – mid December 
  • Awards Announced     Mid December

After project selection, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation staff will work with applicants to prepare grant agreements and other necessary paperwork, all of which will be completed electronically using the Easygrants system.

Additional information about the grantee's organization and its finances may be solicited during this time. Please note that preparation of grant agreements will require approximately 2 to 6 weeks after the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation receives the additional required information from the grantee.

Once grant agreements are finalized, funds will be advanced to qualified grantees based on an as-needed basis, either as reimbursable or upfront funds. Grantees will be required to submit interim and final financial and programmatic reports


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 as 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 here.

A Tip Sheet is available for quick reference while you are working through your application. This document can be downloaded here.

Additional information to support the application process can be accessed on the NFWF website’s “Applicant Information” page.

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

Traci Giefer, Coordinator, Central Regional Office

For issues or assistance with our online Easygrants system, please contact:

Easygrants Helpdesk
Voicemail: 202-595-2497
Hours: 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. 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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