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Midwest Region
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The Value of a Partners for Fish and Wildlife Project:
Investing in a Community

A field being excavated by large machinery in the distance to restore a wetland. Photo by Jacob Hernandez/USFWS.

Field with large equipment machines working in the distance. Photo credit John Riens/USFWS.

By John Riens
Minnesota Private Lands Office

Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program projects do more than restore habitat for wildlife and  help landowners reach their stewardship goals, they also provide important financial benefits to  communities by hiring local independent contractors and buying supplies from rural/family owned businesses. Since the mid 1980’s the Partners Program has been conducting cost effective habitat restoration projects on private lands - including rural America. From 1987-2017 the Partners Program partnered with over 50,000 landowners to voluntarily restore or enhance over 4,000,000 acres of uplands, 1,200,000 acres of wetlands and 12,500 miles of stream habitat.

Funding for the Partners Program comes from Public Law 109-204,  The Partners for Fish and Wildlife Act. Established by Congress, the Act authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to provide landowners with financial and technical assistance for the benefit of fish and wildlife.”

Many private lands biologists such as John Riens, live and work in communities in ecological important areas. Whether a project needs native prairie grass seed purchased, a field tilled for planting, or a small earthen dam to restore wetlands, the work often relies on local businesses and contractors for their diverse and specialized skills or equipment.

Local contractor planting a prairie using a rented drill from a local soil and water conservation district. Photo by Jacob Hernandez/USFWS.

Local contractor planting a prairie using a rented drill from a local soil and water conservation district. Photo by Jacob Hernandez/USFWS.

One example is our  wetland restoration efforts in Benton County, Minnesota, which is in the Mississippi Headwaters and near where Riens lives. When wetlands are restored, we require the assistance of a small local excavating companies. Through a competitive bidding process, business owners decide whether they find the work desirable and elect to decide to bid. Because many find the work to be profitable, multiple bids often come in which in turn makes the work cost effective and ensures that taxpayers dollars are being used efficiently.

“Consistently, we find that because of their competitive bids and ability to get the job done well, small companies are awarded contracts to work on a variety of Partners Program landowner agreements,” said Riens. “This work in turn provides an important financial benefit to local communities In fact, a 2011 survey estimated that nationally in 2010 the Partners Programs funds contributed in creating 3,500 jobs and provided an economic stimulus of $327.6 million to the communities near these restoration projects.”

Although this number seems large, consider the example of an average prairie planting. To complete a 20 acre prairie it is not uncommon to hire the local agricultural cooperative to treat a field to remove undesirable species, a local farmer to till and work the field, a local vendor to purchase the seed, someone with a no-till planter to seed the field and another to assist in the follow up management of the prairie. From this example alone, four or five individual contractors and business could be utilized to complete the restoration. All of which are hired locally, providing a big boost to the local economy.

Seed from a local vendor. Photo by John Riens/USFWS.

Seed from a local vendor. Photo by John Riens/USFWS.

To get a better understanding of the importance of our work from a local Minnesota business owner’s perspective, we asked Paul’s Excavation, a company that we’ve worked with frequently, a few questions.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: “What do you like about PFW work versus other projects you do?”

Paul’s Excavating: “My typical excavating work consists of a building site, basement, septic and finish grade. The wetland projects I work on are challenging and never the same. One day I may be working on a number of smaller sites, the next day a large site. I enjoy the change of pace and the challenges the restoration projects offer.”

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: “Do you feel you are doing your part to help your community or the environment?”

Paul’s Excavating: “I definitely think we are helping both the local community and the environment. Besides the obvious wildlife benefit, I think we are also helping with the water quality and water runoff issues we face in our community.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: “Why do you continue to bid for the work?”

Paul’s Excavating: “The Fish and Wildlife Service has been good to work with and I feel like we have developed a good partnership. It has been steady work that has helped my bottom line to add equipment to my fleet which hopefully will make me more efficient. Also, I really enjoy seeing the smile on a landowners face when a project is complete, it is rewarding to me that I have helped a neighbor and wildlife.”

Ask any private land biologist about these sentiments and they will say it’s echoed by other contractors that have worked with us. Biologists in the Partners Program find it rewarding that the federal funds from their projects often stimulate the local community's economy. Our efforts to restore fish and wildlife habitat on private lands go a long way toward  promoting public trust in the work that we do and being a good neighbor. Learn more about the Midwest Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program.

Last updated: June 8, 2020