Making NAWCA grants personal

In 2013, Matt Hough wrote his first North American Wetland Conservation Act (NAWCA) grant proposal while working as an intern at Ducks Unlimited (DU) in Nebraska. Now, seven years later, as manager of conservation programs for Kansas at DU, writing NAWCA grants is an integral part of his everyday work.

Projects that Hough and the DU team have put together are one example of how important NAWCA is to wildlife and habitat protection and the role these grants play in wetland conservation across the PLJV region.

NAWCA is a federal grant program administered through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to fund wetland conservation. Since 2013, NAWCA grants have provided DU and partners with over $6.6 million for wetland restoration, acquisition, and enhancement work in Kansas and to support staff time on these projects.

“NAWCA is kind of our bread and butter for Kansas,” Hough said. “Our driving force in the country is wetland conservation, so the metric I use to evaluate my program is acres of habitat delivery. We have to have funds and resources to get those acres on the ground, and NAWCA is our number one tool in doing that.”

There are two types of NAWCA grants available: small and standard. While each requires a different amount of planning and work, both grant options need an investment of time and effort to develop a successful proposal.

For someone like Hough, who loves wildlife and time in the field, dedicating hours to spreadsheets, draft approvals and overall grant proposal construction is worthwhile when he gets to see how habitat is impacted by the funds.

“I love wetlands. I love working with wetlands and improving waterfowl populations. We all have science-based goals and habitat acre goals that we are trying to meet, but it is also gratifying to work with those local communities and local partners to help them get a cool project done and it is a win-win for us and them.”

DU uses a map to track and report on their projects, and Hough said this is one of the best ways for him to see impact year after year.

“The western third of Kansas used to be just a big open space with no dots showing projects, and now we have all kinds of dots covering that portion of the state,” he said. “It’s pretty rewarding when you run the new report every year and there’s just more and more little spots on the map — and you know those are projects you helped put on the ground. That’s pretty special.”

Hough and his team at DU began applying for NAWCA grants in Kansas about six years ago with the first focus on the Central Flyway Corridor. Then, they started the Kansas Prairie Wetlands Project, a series of standard NAWCAs. The project was awarded its sixth NAWCA grant this year. Overall, Hough, along with his colleagues, has authored 12 standard NAWCAs and one small NAWCA and assisted in the delivery of six more.

The key, Hough says, is finding non-federal match to support the grant and getting enough points in the different categories to meet the criteria. One of the most important aspects of NAWCA, and where a lot of the scoring criteria is focused, is on partnerships.

Often, DU partners with other big organizations like Pheasants Forever and the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. But, having smaller partners can also strengthen a proposal.

“If there’s a new partner doing some kind of big project, we definitely want to get involved with them,” Hough said. “I don’t want to just do the best-of-the-best wetland areas. We’re always going to do that and put a lot of our resources in those areas because they’re priority bird habitat. But if there’s a private landowner that really would like to do a wetland project or a small public use area, I definitely want to help them if we can as well. I don’t want to turn away people that want to do good things for conservation so we always try to find opportunities for them.”

At the end of the day, this collaboration and seeing people take action to protect wildlife and habitat is what drives Hough to continue to put in the work to develop proposals.

“Not every project turns out exactly how we hoped but we’re always looking at how to improve upon that. My philosophy is, if we could help everyone conserve a wetland that wants to, we would. Until we get to that point, we’ll do our best to keep things as cost-effective as we can and be good partners,” he said. “That’s what drives me at the end of the day —  buying, protecting, or restoring a new wetland on the landscape somewhere and knowing somebody’s happy with how it turned out.”

Photos of NAWCA grant projects provided courtesy of Ducks Unlimited.

Interested in applying for a small NAWCA?
The NAWCA Small Grants Program can help fund small-scale wetlands projects, with up to $100,000 requested. These grants are perfect and relatively easy to develop for the restoration and protection of small playa wetlands. If you are interested in submitting a proposal, we can help you understand the application process and assist with proposal development. The deadline for small NAWCA grant applications is October 15, 2020. If you are interested in developing a NAWCA small grant proposal, contact Christopher Rustay at or 505-414-0342.
Posted: July 16, 2020