$1 billion “America the Beautiful Challenge” links federal environmental restoration investments to philanthropic contributions

On April 11, 2022, the $1 billion America the Beautiful Challenge was launched. It’s designed to leverage Federal restoration and conservation investments with private and philanthropic contributions to accelerate land, water, and wildlife conservation efforts across the country.

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,” said Commerce Secretary Gina M. Raimondo.

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), it 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.

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,” she added.

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; and
  • Expanding access to the outdoors, particularly in underserved communities.

To honor 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 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 Paul Cramer, Performing the Duties of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Installations, Energy and Environment.

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, plus $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

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.

This 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.

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.

Photo of mountains in Colorado by David Mark from Pixabay.

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