New Public-Private One-Stop Shop Will Make It Easier for Communities to Access Grants and Will Deliver Landscape-Scale Impact
Today, the Biden-Harris Administration launched a $1 billion America the Beautiful Challenge that will leverage Federal conservation and restoration investments with private and philanthropic contributions to accelerate land, water, and wildlife conservation efforts across the country.
The America the Beautiful Challenge is anchored by an initial commitment of $440 million of Federal resources over the next five years to a new public-private grant program, administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), that will support locally led ecosystem restoration projects that invest in watershed restoration, resilience, equitable access, workforce development, corridors and connectivity, and collaborative conservation, consistent with the America the Beautiful Initiative. The historic Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is a major source of the initial Federal investments for the America the Beautiful Challenge.
Through the America the Beautiful Challenge, NFWF will leverage initial Federal commitments from the Department of the Interior (DOI), Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the Department of Defense (DOD) to raise additional philanthropic and private support, with the goal of directing at least $1 billion in grants to communities over the next five years. A Congressionally-chartered entity, NFWF has nearly 40 years of experience in developing and managing competitive grant programs, including restoration efforts on the Gulf Coast following the BP oil spill.
The America the Beautiful Challenge will offer states, Tribes, territories, local groups, non-governmental organizations (NGO), and others the opportunity to apply for multiple grant programs through a single application that is managed by NFWF. This one-stop-shop solicitation will streamline the grant application process and facilitate the coordination of funding for projects across landscapes, watersheds, and seascapes to achieve larger and more durable benefits on the ground.
The America the Beautiful Challenge will seek to advance conservation and restoration projects that are consistent with the principles outlined in the Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful report and that focus on at least one of the following core areas of need:
- Conserving and restoring rivers, coasts, wetlands, and watersheds
- Conserving and restoring forests, grasslands, and other important ecosystems that serve as carbon sinks
- Connecting and reconnecting wildlife corridors, large landscapes, watersheds, and seascapes
- Improving ecosystem and community resilience to coastal flooding, drought, and other climate-related threats
- Expanding access to the outdoors, particularly in underserved communities
Consistent with the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to honoring Tribal sovereignty and advancing equity for Indigenous people, applicants will be encouraged to prioritize projects that uplift Tribal and Indigenous-led efforts. Funding will be set aside specifically to support Tribal Nations’ efforts, as well as those of territories.
In addition, NFWF will work to ensure that the effort is implemented in a manner that is consistent with the President’s Justice40 Initiative, as applicable. Furthermore, applicants are encouraged to consider how proposals build the conservation and resilience workforce of the future, through workforce development, utilizing national service, and partnering with relevant and accessible training opportunities, such as youth corps.
“The America the Beautiful Challenge will help mobilize new investments in locally led, voluntary conservation and restoration projects across the country, while making it easier for communities to access these resources,” said White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory. “This new effort responds to the President’s call to all of us to do more to conserve our lands and waters for future generations and to ensure that every person in our country can experience the wonder of the outdoors.”
“With President Biden’s bold leadership, this first-ever national conservation goal draws upon our best values – including collaboration, science, and innovation – to help conserve and protect our lands and waters,” said Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland. “The America the BeautifulChallenge offers an opportunity to support local efforts led by those who know, love, and have a stake in their surrounding landscapes. The Interior Department is proud to invest in a future where we can all work together to preserve our Earth for generations to come.”
“Collaboration with our state, Tribal, NGO and private working land partners is an essential part of USDA’s successful conservation programs. With strong partnerships we can more effectively conserve our precious natural resources and lands and expand access to these national treasures for underserved communities. Enabling more efficient partner access to financial and technical assistance through this initiative will build on our progress and help fulfill the President’s promise to conserve our land and water for generations to come,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
“The America the Beautiful Challenge meets a critical need as the Department of Defense is building diverse partnerships with local communities to sustainably manage landscapes and scale up climate resilience work. This increased access to federal funding will help our partners collaboratively advance conservation and climate adaptation goals that are key to sustaining military missions and national security imperatives,” said Mr. Paul Cramer, Performing the Duties of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Installations, Energy and Environment.
“NFWF looks forward to working with states, Tribes, territories, and the conservation community to invest in voluntary conservation projects that support working lands, improve community resilience through nature-based investments, and enhance habitat for our nation’s fish and wildlife,” said Jeff Trandahl, executive director and CEO of NFWF. “This historic new initiative will drive conservation at a landscape scale by partnering with multiple agencies to create a single point of entry for potential grantees across the nation to apply for conservation funding.”
Federal agency funds that will be coordinated through this one-stop-shop application include:
- Department of the Interior – $375 million in Ecosystem Restoration funds for states, Tribes, and territories from the historic Bipartisan Infrastructure Law
- Department of Agriculture, Forest Service:
- $10 million in grants that improve water quality or restore fish passage
- $25 million in grants for invasive species detection, prevention, and eradication
- Department of Agriculture, Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS):
- $5 million in grants that increase private land owners’ participation in priority conservation areas
- Department of Defense – $25 million through the Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration Program to support Sentinel Landscapes and promote military installation resilience
The Request for Proposals for the America the Beautiful Challenge will be issued in early May, with proposals submitted by the end of July and funding awarded in November of 2022. Awards will be issued biannually, and consistent metrics for conservation and restoration deliverables will be reported across projects and funds to improve outcomes.
Today’s announcement comes as the White House released a Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Rural Playbook to help state, local, Tribal and territorial governments in rural areas unlock the benefits from the historic investments in our nation’s infrastructure. The Rural Playbook, found at build.gov/rural, is a one-stop-shop on the programs in the law that specifically benefit rural communities.
While not eligible for the single solicitation, additional investments totaling $2.34 billion over several years will be issued by USDA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to fund projects that are consistent with the goals and recommendations of the America the Beautiful Initiative.
“I am proud to co-chair the America the Beautiful Interagency Working Group because coast-to-coast conservation of our wildlife, wetlands, and watersheds is vital to our nation’s health and wellbeing,” said Commerce Secretary Gina M. Raimondo. “This unprecedented funding allows NOAA to expand their work on climate resilience in communities across the country, while creating jobs and stimulating our economy. As we approach Earth Day, the Biden Administration renews our commitment to revitalize America.”
Alignment with NRCS Working Lands Conservation Efforts: In addition to the funds directly available through the America the Beautiful Challenge, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service administers several targeted landscape-level initiatives that align directly with priorities of the America the Beautiful Initiative. These include Working Lands for Wildlife; Great Plains Grasslands Framework; Sagebrush Biome Framework, Northern Bobwhite, Grasslands, and Savannas Framework; Chesapeake Bay Watershed Action Plan; and Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership (in partnership with the Forest Service). In FY2022 and FY2023 combined, NRCS expects to award more than $500 million in financial assistance through these targeted initiatives. As part of the America the Beautiful Challenge evaluation process, NFWF will work directly with NRCS to identify opportunities and investments through these NRCS initiatives that align with and are complementary to funds available directly through the America the Beautiful Challenge. Alignment may occur on a geographic region or watershed, shared priority area, eligible applicant, or other basis. In evaluating applications, NFWF will identify opportunities to leverage or directly pair proposals with existing NRCS resources. The NFWF web page for the America the Beautiful Challenge also will link directly to an NRCS page with details on these funding opportunities so that applicants can consider and propose projects that pair resources available through the America the Beautiful Challenge with funding available through NRCS directly.
Alignment with NOAA’s Habitat Conservation, Coastal Resilience, and Fish Passage Investments: Through the historic funding provided by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, NOAA will invest approximately $1.84 billion over five years to help restore aquatic habitats and ecosystems, build coastal resilience, enhance fish passage, and support Pacific salmon recovery. NOAA will invest $491 million of these funds to provide funding and technical assistance to restore marine, estuarine, and Great Lakes ecosystems; $492 million to support coastal resilience and restoration through National Oceans and Coastal Security Fund grants; $207 million for habitat restoration through the Coastal Zone Management Act; and $77 million to support habitat restoration through the National Estuarine Research Reserves. In addition, NOAA will invest $400 million to enhance fish passage by removing barriers, improving aging infrastructure (e.g., fish ladders), and providing technical assistance under the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act; and $172 million to protect, restore, and conserve Pacific salmon and steelhead and their habitats. Across all of these investments, NOAA seeks to advance Tribal priorities, provide benefits to underserved communities, and enhance climate resilience.