Photo: Indigo Bunting

"A brilliantly blue bird of old fields and roadsides, the Indigo Bunting prefers abandoned land to urban areas, intensely farmed areas, or deep forests." Learn more about this and other birds at The Cornell Lab of Ornithology All About Birds website. Photo courtesy of Tom Grey.

Navigating the NAWCA Small Grant Process

Tips From a Successful Applicant

Russian Olive removalApplying for a North American Wetland Conservation Act (NAWCA) grant may seem daunting, but preparing a proposal for the small grant program may be easier than you think. We recently talked to Noe Marymor, from the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory (RMBO), to get some tips on writing a successful proposal. She is a private lands wildlife biologist who works with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and Colorado Parks and Wildlife to deliver habitat conservation projects through Farm Bill funding sources in northeast Colorado and recently helped develop a NAWCA proposal that was awarded $75,000. The funds will help remove invasive Russian olive trees along the Republican River in Yuma and Kit Carson counties in northeastern Colorado.

"This was the first time I wrote a proposal for the NAWCA small grant program," says Marymor. "My advice is to start the process early, and develop some patience, but it is well worth the effort."

For first-time grant writers, understanding the background of this grant program and how it fits into the North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP) can be helpful. The plan, which seeks to increase duck population levels on the continent, recognizes that providing wetland habitat is key to sustaining waterfowl populations. NAWCA grants, both small and large, provide funding for long-term wetlands conservation projects. Since NAWCA grants are ultimately designed to help sustain wetland bird populations, projects should be designed with that in mind and proposals tailored to fit that goal.

The RMBO riparian project has been ongoing since 2007, so many of the pieces were already in place when they decided to apply for a grant, but timing was key according to Marymor. "It was very timely and fortuitous that we were at the point of the project which coincided with some major waterfowl goals. With the draining of Bonny reservoir, a major reservoir in eastern Colorado, we lost a bunch of wintering waterfowl habitat. It just went away over the course of one summer. At the time that was happening, we had begun to focus more on riparian restoration along the south fork of the Republican River adjacent to the reservoir. That work is opening new parts of the river for waterfowl roosting and helping to offset some of the wintering habitat loss from the draining of the reservoir."

Once you have a project idea, you'll need to consider how to get it accomplished, which requires looking at two money issues: 1) how much the entire project will cost, and 2) how much non-federal cash and volunteer services will be contributed by the partners involved (match).

"Fortunately, since this is a large ongoing project, we had a lot of partner involvement," says Marymor, "including non-federal match from US Fish and Wildlife Service, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Yuma County Pest Control District. It definitely helps to go over the application guidelines with a very fine tooth comb to determine what constitutes match and how you can use it. There are so many ways to figure the match; there's more flexibility but also more rules you have to pay attention to."

When looking at match, there are several things to be aware of.

  • Match must be from non-federal funds.
  • Match can include funds that have already been used for the project, up to two years previously, as well as funds that will be given during the two years after you submit the proposal.
  • Match can be either cash or volunteered services. Finding these funds from more than one partner helps your proposal.
  • Matching funds must be equal to or more than the requested amount, with a higher matching ratio looked on more favorably.
  • If the currently projected match is lower than half the project's entire cost, consider dividing the project up into logical chunks and requesting funds for one portion now and for another portion when there are additional matching funds. Some grantees in the PLJV region have made requests for as little as $5,000.

When the budget is determined you are off and running. The proposal itself requires only four pages of written material. This includes describing the project and partners, and answering questions about the project's value to wetlands and wetland dependent species.

"We worked with Christopher Rustay, at Playa Lakes Joint Venture (PLJV), and Brian Sullivan, at Colorado Parks and Wildlife, to get some of the waterfowl information we needed to write the grant proposal and to figure out how to make it as strong as possible. Christopher gave us ideas on how we might try to address some of the application questions and also did a final review of the proposal before we submitted it."

PLJV can provide support with many aspects of proposal development—including discussing project ideas, directing applicants to planning information and helping to determine the value of the project to birds in the area—so we recommend having a conversation with our Conservation Delivery staff early in the process.

"It is really important to work with the Joint Venture," noted Marymor. "Christopher was invaluable. The first time we submitted our application, we didn't get funded. But Christopher came back to us and recommended we try again. We were a bit burnt out from the first attempt and not too motivated to try again. He really encouraged us to update the proposal and give it one more try; and this time the project was funded. I really appreciate Christopher being involved in the process and the support that PLJV provided."

When asked what she would have done differently, Marymor said she would have given herself more time. "We really started working on the proposal four to five weeks before the deadline; I wish we had started a couple months earlier. It is a detailed application, so it takes time to go through and build all the budget spreadsheets. Then there is chasing down partners to get letters of support. That can take a couple weeks of making phone calls and hunting people down."

So be sure to plan enough time to gather supporting materials and write, review, edit and submit your proposal through Also, remember that PLJV is here to help support your project. Please talk to us and your other partners throughout the development process.

The deadline for this year's NAWCA small grants program is Oct. 31, 2013. Learn more:

Christopher Rustay is the Conservation Delivery Leader for the Playa Lakes Joint Venture. For questions on anything NAWCA related, please contact him at 505-243-0737 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

PLJV Grant Reporting

Grantees of both the PLJV ConocoPhillips Grant Program and the Capacity Grant Program are required to report accomplishments every six months until the project is completed. Please download and complete the PLJV Project Report Form and email reports, as a Microsoft Word document, to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. by the beginning of June and December until the project is completed. Please check the appropriate grant program webpage each year to find the exact dates.

Complete interim reports to the extent possible, reflecting current progress, and include updates in the final report. Sections that are not applicable to your project may be deleted.

Project Report Form

Download the PLJV Project Report Form and supporting document, Habitat Assessment Procedures.


If you have questions about the reporting requirements, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

PLJV Capacity Grants

The PLJV Capacity Grant Program provides member states additional resources to deliver habitat conservation projects that address PLJV priorities. The grants are intended to increase the ongoing ability of states to develop and deliver habitat conservation, rather than directly support any particular habitat project. PLJV encourages grantees to identify bottlenecks in habitat delivery within their state and think about projects/programs that remove or reduce these bottlenecks.

Grantees may be focus areas, habitat partnerships, or other coalitions wanting to do habitat conservation work. Once funded, the parternships work to strengthen their infrastructure and their ability to contribute to PLJV habitat objectives. While we do not expect immediate habitat accomplishments, continuing accomplishments are expected after two to three years. Our intent is to support groups to get them on their feet and move beyond current capabilities.

The Capacity Grant program is by invitation only. Capacity Grant proposals must be run through your state wildlife agency. Prospective grantees may contact PLJV at any time to discuss a project and explain how it will encourage additional and ongoing habitat conservation once PLJV funding for the project has stopped. If the project meets the program criteria, callers may be directed to talk with the appropriate PLJV state wildlife agency representative.

Grants are awarded on an annual basis and proposals are due from states on Dec. 15. For more information, download the Capacity Grant Request for Proposals (RFP) or contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , PLJV Conservation Delivery Leader, at 505-243-0737.

North American Wetlands Conservation Act Grants

pljv boundary map counties labeled smThe North American Wetlands Conservation Act provides federal funding in the form of matching grants for projects that support long-term wetlands acquisition, restoration, and/or enhancement and that benefit migratory birds in the United States, Canada and Mexico. There are two programs: Small Grants and Standard Grants. Up to $75,000 is available for proposed projects in the Small Grant program. For larger projects, the Standard Grant program is best, with up to $1 million available per project.

The NAWCA national proposal-review committee relies on Joint Ventures to rank and evaluate proposals for their region (see map of North American JV boundaries), so it is essential that applicants work with the PLJV when developing NAWCA proposals within our boundaries (see map to right). We can help prospective grantees with conceptualization of the project, suggesting additional partners, writing and reviewing the proposal, and providing the necessary bird conservation information. 

If you are interested in developing a NAWCA grant proposal, please contact PLJV Conservation Delivery Leader Christopher Rustay at 505-243-0737 well in advance of the application deadline. All grant applications must be submitted through If you have not previously worked with the website, please access it at least three weeks prior to when you'd like to submit in order to receive a username and password.

Small Grants

The NAWCA Small Grants Program can help fund small-scale wetlands projects anywhere within the PLJV boundaries. Principal conservation actions supported by the program are acquisition, enhancement and restoration of wetlands, streams or wetland-associated uplands, as well as long term leases of these habitats. Up to $75,000 in matching funds is available per project. The application deadline is November 7, 2014. In addition to the regular application process, certain portions of the proposal will also need to be submitted under

If a project has good wetland conservation value, brings partners together, and contributes to conservation plans, the project will rank well. NAWCA Small Grants have been used to fund a variety of wetland conservation practices in the PLJV region, from straight-out acquisition, like the Shaffer Playa project in Oklahoma, to invasive species removal, as demonstrated by a Huerfano Lake restoration project in Colorado.

For more information about navigating the NAWCA Small Grant application process, read tips from a successful grant applicant. The PLJV has also developed a NAWCA Small Grant Checklist to help applicants stay on top of proposal requirements. We can also help direct applicants to planning efforts and help determine the value of the project to birds in the area.

Standard Grants

Developing a NAWCA Standard Grant takes a significant amount of time, regardless of whether you are a first-time or seasoned applicant. If you are considering applying for a NAWCA grant and have not gone through the proposal process before — and even if you have — the PLJV Standard NAWCA Timeline can give you a good understanding of the process. Application deadlines are twice a year in March and July. Applications must be submitted through

In 2008, NAWCA staff organized a meeting at the 2008 Land Trust Rally in Denver, Colorado. They presented the NAWCA process from both the grantor and grantee perspective. Presentations focused on proposal development and submission as well as what happens after a proposal receives funding. The PowerPoint presentations from those sessions are below. We encourage you to view all of them prior to embarking on this process.

Reading through the proposal instructions can be a daunting task if you aren’t familiar with them. Finding specific items can also be a challenge. Below you'll find help with several key questions.

What are the eligibility requirements for what you can spend grant money on and what kinds of funds are eligible as match?
Download the Eligibility Requirements for NAWCA Grant and Matching Funds for details.

How does my project fit into the bird plan priority areas for Technical Question #3?
View maps of each of the four bird plan priority areas at the links below.

How will the proposal be judged?
Partnerships are paramount to winning a standard NAWCA grant. As you can see from the scoring criteria below, the partnerships question offers more points than any other single question. Below, you'll find two examples of partnerships that have scored very well on Technical Question #7. Partnerships without a variety of partner types and often those without a 2:1 match will not score well on this question and are likely not to get funded.

PLJV ConocoPhillips Grant Program

PLJV boundary mapThe PLJV ConocoPhillips grant program funds projects that address the PLJV mission within the Joint Venture's boundaries (see map). Funding is available for proposals in three categories — habitat conservation, research, and outreach — with the majority of the funding dedicated to habitat conservation projects. Funding is limited to no more than $25,000 per project. Proposals must have a minimum of a 1:1 match, with preference given to projects that have higher levels of matching funds, and must show support and involvement from state wildlife agencies and how the project fits with PLJV priorities. Projects selected are funded on a reimbursement basis, with all funds to be spent by Dec. 1, 2014.

To submit an application, download the proposal instructions and template using the link below. Please pay close attention to the instructions and requirements when developing and submitting your proposal to ensure it is accepted. Applications are due by 5pm MST on December 6, 2013. Applicants will be notified of funding decisions the first week of February 2014.

Proposal Instructions and Forms

PLJV Priorities

Grant Deliverables

  • Reports: An interim report on activities must be submitted to PLJV by June 6; a final report by Dec. 5. One reimbursement will be available after an interim report has been received and reimbursable work has been completed. Final reports must be received before the balance of funds are disbursed.

  • Photographs: Final reports must include photographs. Habitat projects must submit pre-and post-project photographs. For native prairie restoration, including wetland buffers, pictures are also encouraged after prairie establishment (1-3 yrs after planting). Other photos could include activities in progress or site signage. Outreach projects may submit photographs of events or other activities. Research projects may submit photographs of scientists collecting data, or other photographs of work in progress. PLJV reserves the right to use all photos in their communications, including newsletters, website, and presentations.

  • Maps: For habitat projects, maps showing final project boundaries are required. These may be electronic or drawn on USGS quads or aerial photos. Project boundary polygons (Arc-GIS or Arc-View shapefiles) are also encouraged.

  • Publications and other media: For research projects, reprints of any publications resulting from the project are required. Reprints will be submitted to the PLJV staff as soon as they are available, electronically if possible. For outreach projects, submit copies of any printed or electronic media and any other tangible material produced.

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