EPA is encouraging all states and tribes to create wetland program plans. These plans lay out the activities that each state or tribal program plans to undertake over the next few years in each of the four core elements of wetland programs: regulation, monitoring & assessment, restoration & protection, and water quality.
In a previous post, we discussed how those plans can incorporate elements of sustainable finance. The most comprehensive plans first identify the work of the state or tribal program and then describe a plan for seeking out appropriate funding (both from the state/tribe itself and from grants) and appropriate partners to complete that work.
Of course, identifying funding sources is not the same as securing those funds. How, then, can wetland program plans be written to increase the likelihood of securing state and tribal appropriated funds and grants?
Let’s start with grants. In reviewing guidance documents on successful grantwriting and in speaking with several grants officers at EPA, several key tips emerge, a number of which can be incorporated into the wetland program plan, including:
- Having a specific work plan and timeline;
- Citing measurable goals and objectives;
- Showing program financials and budgets; and
- Demonstrating support from partners.
Several wetland program plans include detailed descriptions of planned work that start with an objective or action, include specific activities, and then propose a timeline. These include the approved plans by Virginia, Nebraska, the Blackfeet Nation, and the Fort Belknap Indian Community. Here is an excerpt from the Nebraska plan which also cites measurable goals and objectives and identifies partners:
Monitoring and Assessment Action Items
Objective: Increase our understanding of wetland conditions in at least 10 wetland complexes.
Action: Complete the analysis of data from the monitoring of wetland indicators (level 1, 2, and 3) within 10 wetland complexes that was done in the 2011-2013 Nebraska Wetland Condition Intensification Study. As the analysis is completed, the final report and other publications will be prepared.
Activities: This project was implemented by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, administered by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, with input provided by a Core Team composed of 11 agencies and organizations, including the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality. The UNL student is in the process of finalizing the data analysis and is working on his dissertation.
Timeline: The project will be completed in 2015.
Action: Use the information collected during the Nebraska Wetland Condition Intensification Study to finalize a rapid assessment method (RAM) for Nebraska’s wetlands.
Activities: This project was implemented by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, administered by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, with input provided by a Core Team composed of 11 agencies and organizations, including the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality. The UNL student worked to develop the initial two versions of the RAM. The Core Team of partners will need to field test and finalize the RAM.
Timeline: The project will be completed in 2016.
The Blackfeet Nation plan also includes which EPA core element the activity is related to:
Year Five (FY 2016)
Action: For Fiscal Year 2016, The Blackfeet Tribe Wetlands Program will complete a monitoring and assessment study within the Cut Bank Creek watershed. The project shall use a tested a refined monitoring and assessment protocol within the watershed. Using Geographic Information System (GIS), we will concentrate on identifying wetlands in potential reference condition for protection and restoration, sites impacted by stressors, and select sites for monitoring wetland condition and wetland water quality.
• Monitor a minimum of 40 wetlands using trained field staff (Core Elements 2, 4: Monitoring and Assessment, Wetland Water Quality Standards).
• Revisit 10 wetlands for data quality assurance and quality control (Core Elements 2,4: Monitoring and Assessment, Wetland Water Quality Standards).
• Analyze data and prepare wetland condition assessment report for the Cut Bank Creek watershed, compare data with previous years. (Core Element 2: Monitoring and Assessment).
• Identify quality reference standard wetlands from field study and make recommendations for conservation and protection (Core Element 3: Voluntary Restoration and Protection).
A wetland program plan is not itself a grant proposal, nor can it likely be attached to one. But having a well-articulated plan will make the process of grantwriting easier, and the plan will also allow the grant proposal to describe in better detail how the activities proposed under the grant will complement and enhance the overall wetland program.
Understanding the factors that influence the level of appropriations from states and tribes for environmental programs is more difficult to determine. If you were to read four studies, you would likely get four completely different answers. Many studies suggest that power players in the state, whether they are from industry, agriculture, or the environmental community, do influence the level of appropriations, so successful wetland program plans should keep those audiences in mind when describing the work they will accomplish.
Wetland program plans can also incorporate elements of an effective program message, which is a tool to educate and persuade potential funders and partners. Effective program messages typically include five elements:
- Who are you, and what do you do?
- What is the problem to be solved?
- What is your solution?
- What benefits come out of the solution?
- Why does the problem have to be solved now?
Virginia’s 2011-2015 plan, for example, integrates many of these questions into its plan. The plan first defines the problem through a section on “Threats and Stresses to Wetlands”—what in the state is adversely affecting wetlands?
Threats and Stresses to Wetlands
While some of the primary threats and stresses to Virginia’s wetlands are dependent upon whether the wetlands are non-tidal or tidal, others affect both tidal and non-tidal wetlands. The following list summarizes the major causes of wetland loss in Virginia (Tiner and Finn 1986, Tiner, et al. 2005).
1. Conversion to Other Land Cover – Nontidal wetlands are lost through conversion to uplands. Development conversion is the primary threat. Reservoir and impoundment projects convert nontidal wetlands to open water. Tidal wetlands are lost through conversion to open water and uplands. Conversion to uplands is most commonly associated with shoreline erosion control structures. The conversion of non-tidal adjacent wetlands to tidal wetlands and tidal wetlands to open water is caused by sea level rise.
They then present a strategy for each of the core elements of a wetland program that includes both over-arching goals and objectives and specific actions. These are their solutions. Here is the goal for monitoring and assessment:
The overarching goal of Virginia’s wetland monitoring and assessment strategy is to develop a long-term implementation plan for a wetland monitoring and assessment program that protects the physical, chemical, and biological integrity of the Commonwealth’s water resources, including wetlands.
The section then lists three more specific objectives and several action items, similar to the examples above from Nebraska and Blackfeet Nation.
Finally, Virginia includes something on the urgency of the need for the plan—the net loss of wetlands.
A study of wetland trends in Southeastern Virginia for 1994-2000 showed a net loss of 2,100 acres (1.3%). The actual loss of vegetated wetlands was even higher, but offset by a gain in pond and open water area. The loss of palustrine wetlands was primarily due to conversion to uplands, while estuarine wetlands were lost through conversion to open water (Tiner, et.al. 2005).
Again, the wetland program plan is not itself a request for funding, but by laying out plan in a way to reflects an effective message, the wetland program has a leg up when it is time to put together funding requests and grant applications. And having more diversified funding is a way to ensure a more financially sustainable wetland program.