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The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) announced 55 new grants totaling nearly $91 million through the new America the Beautiful Challenge.

One-third of the awards are going to projects implemented by tribal nations, an unprecedented level of funding dedicated to tribally led projects for a single grant program at NFWF. This includes the largest-ever grant the Foundation has given to a tribal nation.

The funds will support landscape-scale conservation projects in 42 states and three U.S. territories, leveraging $50.7 million in matching contributions to generate a total conservation impact of about $141.7 million.

The America The Beautiful Campaign support projects that conserve, restore and connect habitats for wildlife while improving community resilience and access to nature. The program is a partnership between NFWF and the U.S. Department of the Interior through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture through the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Department of Defense, and Native Americans in Philanthropy. 

The campaign has an emphasis on supporting tribal nations’ access to grant funding for restoration, conservation and capacity-building, and seeks projects that incorporate Indigenous traditional knowledge in planning and implementation. The number of proposals received from tribal nation applicants in 2022 far exceeded expectations and demonstrated high demand and clear need for the funding, according to a statement. 

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“Nature is essential to the health, well-being and prosperity of every family and every community in America,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement. “Through the America the Beautiful Challenge, we are investing in projects that advance collaborative conservation utilizing the best available science, innovative practices, and Indigenous Knowledge to help conserve and protect our lands and waters. This work will create jobs, strengthen our economy, address equitable access to the outdoors, and help tackle the climate crisis.” 

The competitive grant awards were made possible with funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, other federal conservation programs and private sources. Additional support this year was provided by the Bezos Earth Fund. 

“Restoring and maintaining 193 million acres of national forests and grasslands and conserving hundreds of thousands of acres of agricultural and private lands is a task too large for any one organization to do alone,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement. “That is why we have long worked with a wide array of partners and our co-stewardship agreements with Tribal nations help bridge the gap between what we can accomplish ourselves and the work we all know needs to get done together. These grants help make those connections possible.”

Among the funded tribal projects, the Bristol Bay Native Corporation in Alaska received $1 million to map millions of acres of ecologically, economically and culturally important wetlands in Bristol Bay to improve region-wide prioritization and management for sockeye salmon and salmon habitat. In Washington State, the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation was awarded nearly $6.2 million to implement seven habitat restoration projects on 1,540 acres, functionally reconnect the land and water on more than 6,000 acres, capacity building initiatives, and to ensure climate resilience for people and the natural resources. As well, the Fort Belknap Indian Community received nearly $5 million to advance ecosystem resiliency of lands allocated for bison restoration through the unique collaboration of Blackfeet, Rocky Boy, Fort Belknap and Fort Peck Native American communities in Montana. 

“Many global philanthropic investments in Indigenous conservation efforts neglect U.S. based Tribes. Despite underfunding, Tribes consistently demonstrate that they are the best stewards of their lands and waterways, using Indigenous ecological knowledge and their unique legal and political relationship with the U.S. government,” Erik Stegman, CEO of Native Americans in Philanthropy, said in a statement.