At Issue: Greenbacks for Greenheads (and Other Game)

Last year alone, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act was responsible for $100 million in funding to benefit game, fish and other wildlife in the United States.

At Issue: Greenbacks for Greenheads (and Other Game)

Since 1989, NAWCA grants totaling more than $1.6 billion dollars have conserved nearly 30 million acres of wetland habitat. (Shutterstock image)

Think of all the good ideas that have their expression in our conservation heritage. There’s the good idea that in order to have wildlife to hunt and fish for, the "users"—hunters and anglers—should help pay for game and fisheries management. That user-pay idea culminated in the creation of state wildlife agencies, and the mechanism of hunting and fishing licenses.

There’s the good idea that wildlife should be owned by everyone in general and nobody in particular. That’s the public-trust idea behind our very democratic arrangement in which we all have a stake in the fate of our ducks and deer and doves, whether we hunt for them or not.

Then there’s the good idea that public wildlife isn’t really public unless hunters and anglers can set foot in the places where game and fish species live. That public-access idea is responsible for the multitude of public- and private-sector access programs, and the expectation that our public lands will be open to hunters and anglers unless otherwise noted.

Here’s another good idea: because wild geese and ducks migrate up and down the continent, and because they cross international borders without a passport, each country along that flyway should have a voice in their management. That’s the idea behind our migratory bird treaties with Canada and Mexico, and it’s also the idea that led to one of the most effective conservation funds you’ve probably never heard of. It’s called the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, or NAWCA for short. Folks who know more about it than I do call it “Nawka,” like it is an old friend or uncle, or a cherished hometown.


If you have a wetland in your neighborhood, or a river that chronically floods, or even a prairie stream that feeds a slough or a pothole, there’s a good chance it’s been improved or enhanced with funds distributed by the NAWCA. The source of the funds is another very good idea in the history of our conservation tradition.


The NAWCA was passed into law in 1989, and it converts the Pittman-Robertson account into a trust fund. (If you’re an astute reader of this column, you’ll recall we discussed the P-R fund previously. It’s the checkbook, managed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, that distributes funds from the excise tax we pay on guns, ammunition and archery gear.) Interest from the fund is available to be granted to eligible wetland projects through a process established by the NAWCA.

Just how large is this fund? Well, in 2019 alone—the 30th year of NAWCA grants—the fund distributed $28 million for various wetland projects in the United States. That’s a lot of greenbacks, but it doesn’t get at the second excellent idea of the NAWCA. Every project must have matching donors, the more the better in the competitive grant-awarding process, which means that the $28 million in NAWCA grants was matched by more than $72 million in partner funds.

And here’s the rest of the good idea: the improvements funded by the NAWCA don’t just benefit mallards and swans. Wetlands filter and store water, helping recharge aquifers in arid landscapes, serving as a critical (and inexpensive) water filter for communities in agricultural areas, and providing vital habitat for a wide variety of species.Wetlands provide many ecological, economic and social benefits such as habitat for fish, wildlife and a variety of plants, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which administers the grants. Grants awarded through the NAWCA conserve bird populations and wetland habitat, Fish & Wildlife notes, while supporting local economies and American traditions such as hunting, fishing, birdwatching, family farming and cattle ranching.

Recall that the good idea of migratory waterfowl management is that all three countries in the continent participate in providing places for ducks and geese to thrive. One of the tenants of the NAWCA is that, when it comes to enhancing habitat for migratory birds, international borders are not an impediment to funding. The 2019 round of NAWCA grants included $33.6 million for 17 projects in Canada and Mexico.


Those international projects all are earmarked to benefit some aspect of migratory birds. Whether they’re the waterfowl species that we Americans love to hunt or non-game birds that spend much of their life cycles in the United States, Uncle Nawka ensures they have hospitable habitats, no matter where they fly for the winter or spring.

And that’s a very good idea, indeed.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Tactacam Fish-I Action Camera

Tactacam Fish-I Action Camera

Tactacam founder Ben Stern highlights the features of the Fish-I action camera with In-Fisherman associate publisher Todd Ceisner as part of the ICAST New Fishing Gear Guide.

Daiwa J-Fluoro Samurai Fluorocarbon Fishing Line

Daiwa J-Fluoro Samurai Fluorocarbon Fishing Line

Pro angler Cody Meyer calls Daiwa's J-Fluoro Samurai the best fluorocarbon he's ever fished. Meyer spoke with In-Fisherman associate publisher Todd Ceisner as part of the 2020 ICAST New Fishing Gear Guide.

How to Drift Rivers for Summertime Catfish

How to Drift Rivers for Summertime Catfish

While anchoring up is a good way to catch summertime catfish, so too is floating the current line on a local river. As Jeff Williams explains on this episode of Outdoors with Ole Pops, it's as easy as finding fish with your electronics, pinpointing the action with a Garmin Panoptix LiveScope, and dropping the right rig of a weight, circle hook and Team Catfish Fiber Nugget down below. Just remember, the strikes can be subtle even when you're watching the live action, so don't miss!

To learn more and to purchase Team Catfish and Wohali tackle, click here to visit their website.

How to Quickly Re-Spool a Fishing Reel

How to Quickly Re-Spool a Fishing Reel

Stripping a reel and adding fresh line is a breeze if you know the drill—literally.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

The colder waters of early spring are prime times to use these proven bait rigs for stripers. Striper & Hybrid

3 Proven Bait Rigs for Stripers

J.B. Kasper

The colder waters of early spring are prime times to use these proven bait rigs for stripers.

More adjustability and improved balance make these nine compounds even easier to shoot. Bows

The Best Compound Bows for 2020

Jace Bauserman - August 24, 2020

More adjustability and improved balance make these nine compounds even easier to shoot.

When spring and summertime high water comes to your favorite catfish lake, how do you catch these popular fish in a suddenly flooded environment? Fishing How-To

How to Catch Catfish in High Water

Game & Fish Staff

When spring and summertime high water comes to your favorite catfish lake, how do you catch...

Dozens of different bait types are commonly used for catfish, including these great options. Catfish

12 Great Catfish Baits

Jeff Samsel

Dozens of different bait types are commonly used for catfish, including these great options.

See More Trending Articles

More Conservation & Politics

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused us to re-examine many cherished traditions, but hunting remains an essential activity. Stories

Perspective: Why We Hunt

Andrew McKean - August 12, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused us to re-examine many cherished traditions, but hunting...

Perspective from the National Shooting Sports Foundation. Conservation & Politics

NSSF: Recovery of Bald Eagle a Win for Michigan Hunters

Larry Keane - August 18, 2020

Perspective from the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

Perspective from the National Shooting Sports Foundation. Conservation & Politics

NSSF: Election Fundraiser Raises Critical Eyebrows

Larry Keane - August 19, 2020

Perspective from the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

Op/Ed from the National Shooting Sports Foundation. Conservation & Politics

NSSF: Virginia Bill Would Make Some Assaults on Police a Misdemeanor

Larry Keane - September 04, 2020

Op/Ed from the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

See More Conservation & Politics

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get Digital Access.

All Game & Fish subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now