The Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program was established in 1987 with a core group of biologists and a small budget for on-the-ground wetland restoration projects on private lands. This successful, results-oriented program has garnered support through the years and has grown into a larger and more diversified habitat restoration program assisting thousands of private landowners across the Nation.

Celebrating its 20th anniversary, on October 3, 2006 Congress unanimously approved and the President signed the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Act . 

At the heart of the Service's mission are the conservation and management of the Federal Trust Species: migratory birds; threatened and endangered species; inter-jurisdictional fish; certain marine mammals; and species of international concern. It is estimated that 73% of our Nation’s land is privately owned and that the majority of our fish and wildlife resources occur on those lands. Consequently, the conservation lands held by Federal and state agencies and other conservation groups cannot completely provide for fish and wildlife needs. Because the habitat needs of all Trust Species cannot be met solely on public lands, public funds are also expended on private lands to accomplish habitat improvements through cooperative conservation programs such as the Partners Program. 

The Partners Program provides technical and financial assistance to private landowners and Tribes who are willing to work with us and other partners on a voluntary basis to help meet the habitat needs of our Federal Trust Species. 

The Partners Program can assist with projects in all habitat types which conserve or restore native vegetation, hydrology, and soils associated with imperiled ecosystems such as longleaf pine, bottomland hardwoods, tropical forests, native prairies, marshes, rivers and streams, or otherwise provide an important habitat requisite for a rare, declining or protected species. 

Locally-based field biologists work one-on-one with private landowners and other partners to plan, implement, and monitor their projects. Partners Program field staff help landowners find other sources of funding and help them through the permitting process, as necessary. This level of personal attention and follow-through is a significant strength of the Program that has led to national recognition and wide support. 

The Partners Program is guided by a national policy (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Manual, section 640 fw1) that identifies the following objectives: 

  • Promote and implement habitat improvement projects that benefit Federal Trust Species 
  • Provide conservation leadership and promote partnerships 
  • Encourage public understanding and participation 
  • Work with U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to implement conservation programs 

In addition, the Partners Program policy has established priority ranking factors to help guide project selection. These priorities are stepped down to the state and local levels as field staff collaborate with our stakeholders to further refine habitat priorities and geographic focus areas. 

National priority ranking factors for the Partners Program are used to assign funding priority status to proposed projects that meet these conditions: 

Improve habitat for Federal Trust Species, including migratory birds; threatened and endangered species; inter-jurisdictional fish; marine mammals; and, other declining species. 

Complement activities on National Wildlife Refuge System lands, or contribute to the resolution of problems on refuges that are caused by off-refuge practices. 

Address species and habitat priorities that have been identified through Service planning teams (with our partners), or in collaboration with state fish and wildlife agencies. 

Reduce habitat fragmentation or serve as buffers for other important Federal or state conservation lands. 

Result in self-sustaining systems that are not dependent on artificial structures.  

If other considerations are generally equal, then priority is directed to those projects that link private lands to important Federal lands (such as Refuges), have cooperative agreements of longer duration, multiple partners, cost sharing, and the greatest cost effectiveness. The overall goal of Partners Program projects is to return a site to the ecological condition that likely existed prior to loss or degradation.