Gulf Restoration
Conserving the Nature of America

The North American Wetlands Conservation Act


The U.S. Congress recognized the importance of conserving habitat for migratory birds by passing the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (Act). The Act provides matching grants to organizations and individuals who have developed partnerships to carry out wetlands conservation projects in the United States, Canada, and Mexico for the benefit of wetlands-associated migratory birds and other wildlife. In addition, the Act:

  • Encourages partnerships to conserve North American wetland ecosystems for waterfowl, other migratory birds, fish, and wildlife. It encourages the formation of public-private partnerships to develop and implement wetland conservation projects consistent with the North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP), a blueprint for continental waterfowl and wetlands conservation, and other North American migratory bird conservation agreements
  • Creates the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund to help support projects through grants. It establishes a nine-member North American Wetlands Conservation Council (Council) to review and recommend grant proposals to the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission for funding
  • Lists proposal evaluation factors to be considered by the Council

The Act specifically references goals of the NAWMP. The Act provides a mechanism to support NAWMP objectives and those of other migratory bird recovery programs.


NAWCA and the Settlements

On January 29, 2013, British Petroleum pled guilty to 14 criminal counts stemming from its actions related to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, including one misdemeanor count (Count Thirteen) of violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA).

Under the plea agreement, BP agrees to the following:

(Count Thirteen) – “a total of $100,000,000 shall be paid to the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund, pursuant to 16 USC Secs. 703, 707, and 4406(b) and 18 USC Sec 3571(d), for the purpose of wetlands restoration and conservation located in states bordering the Gulf of Mexico or otherwise designed to benefit migratory bird species and other wildlife affected by the Macondo oil spill.”

If MBTA fines are allocated proportionally with the Clean Water Act fines, NAWCA would receive: up to $40 million fiscal year 2014, $20 million fiscal year 2015, $12 million fiscal year 2016, $12 million fiscal year 2017, $16 million fiscal year 2018.


The Grants

There is a Standard and a Small Grants Program. Both are competitive grants programs and require that grant requests be matched by partner contributions at no less than a 1-to-1 ratio. Funds from U.S. Federal sources may contribute towards a project, but are not eligible as match.

The Standard Grants Program supports projects in Canada, the United States, and Mexico that involve long-term protection, restoration, and/or enhancement of wetlands and associated uplands habitats. In Mexico, partners may also conduct projects involving technical training, environmental education and outreach, organizational infrastructure development, and sustainable-use studies.

The Small Grants Program operates only in the United States; it supports the same type of projects and adheres to the same selection criteria and administrative guidelines as the U.S. Standard Grants Program. However, project activities are usually smaller in scope and involve fewer project dollars. Grant requests may not exceed $75,000, and funding priority is given to grantees or partners new to the Act’s Grants Program.


Current Funding

The Congressional appropriation to fund the Act’s Grants Program in FY 2013 is $33,640,402. Additional program funding comes from fines, penalties, and forfeitures collected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918; from Federal fuel excise taxes on small gasoline engines, as directed by amendments to the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act of 1950, to benefit coastal ecosystem projects; and from interest accrued on the fund established under the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937. In FY 2013 these other sources provided almost $31.5 million in additional grant funds.


The Process

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Division of Bird Habitat Conservation (Division) is responsible for facilitating the Act’s Grants Program.

Standard Grants Program: The process for receiving and preliminarily reviewing project proposals is handled slightly differently for each country and enjoys the active participation of each federal government. Once a slate of eligible proposals has been determined per each country-program’s process, the proposals are further reviewed and ranked by the North American Wetlands Conservation Council, a nine-member council established by the Act. The Council then recommends projects to the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission, a seven-member commission authorized by the Act to give final funding approval to projects. The Division administers the grants for all approved Standard Grants Program projects.

Small Grants Program: The process follows that of the U.S. Standard Grants Program, except for the timing of the final funding approval. Each year, the Commission pre-approves the total amount of funding to be distributed to projects in the next fiscal year. Final project-selection authority is delegated to the Council, which then reports its selections back to the Commission. The Division administers the grants for all approved Small Grants Program projects.


For more information, including biennial reports and programatic evaluations, visit




A brown duck with a blue bill flies across water

A ruddy duck in flight at Benton Falls National Wildlife Refuge in Montana. Photo: Neil Mishler, USFWS.

Tall purple flowers stand out in a wetlands landscape against a blue and pink sky

Windom Wetland Management District in Windom, Minnesota. Photo: USFWS.

Last updated: June 18, 2015