Association of State Wetland Managers - Protecting the Nation's Wetlands.

The Compleat Wetlander: Sustainable Funding for State and Tribal Wetland Programs

The Federal Budget, or rather the lack thereof, has been front and center in the news the past two weeks. The closure of the federal government certainly highlighted the importance of gaining support and agreement on a budget well in advance of spending. Attention to this topic is important for state and tribal wetland program managers. Good budgeting requires more than identifying the funding needed to run a program. The benefits of a program need to be communicated to decision-makers and elected officials so that commitment to support funding will be gained from those decision makers and elected officials well in advance of formal approval.

In short, a multi-year funding strategy is needed with goals, benefits, and outcomes that are folded into a communication plan.

A funding communications plan should be part of any state, tribal or local wetland program.  People in leadership positions need information to make informed decisions.  People running wetland programs are in the position to provide that information.

A primary objective of a communication plan will be to have the resources required to meet program goals.  This should include receiving funding from more than one source.  For example state wetland regulatory programs are often funded from three or four sources including permit fees, the state’s general fund, one or more U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant programs, penalties received from enforcement actions, or funds forwarded from other parts of state and local government.

There is a great deal of variation in the amount of funding individual states receive from any of these sources.  State permit fees vary from nothing ($0) in some states to tens of thousands of dollars in others.  Some states have flat fees while others have a sliding scale. However, the number of permits applied for is not the same from one year to the next.  A period of recession in a state generally leads to a reduction in the permits needed for homes, roadways, etc.  This in turn can lead to a drastic reduction in permit fees received.  Funding available from federal grant programs can vary from one year to the next.  State administrations and legislatures change and new players will require information about the benefits that accrue to the state and its citizens in order to continue support for wetland programs.

States, tribes and other entities developing a funding communication plan can take the following steps:

  • Know what the funding needs are.  This should include current and future funding as well as any known areas of future need and growth.  It should also anticipate the potential costs of ramping up a wetland program to respond to disasters such as floods, hurricanes, earthquakes and wildfires which all require emergency permitting.
  • Develop a communication strategy to share the needs and benefits of the program with decision makers and elected officials.  It is important to focus on benefits that people can understand and relate to.  For example if a communication plan focuses on staffing needs without articulating short and long term benefits, it is likely to be challenging to gain long term support.
  • Diversify.  Individual state programs are or have been funded by: permit fees, the general fund, lottery sales, special fees such as real estate transfer fees, and other dedicated sources of funding.
  • Identify potential federal sources including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Interior and the Federal Highways Administration.  Contracts are also possible with other agencies who may not have grant funding authority such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
  • Collaborate with other state and local agencies to achieve common goals.  State highway departments have funded permitting staff in a number of states to reduce the average processing time for permitting because state highway departments apply for a large number of permits.  Multiples state and local agencies have pooled funding to purchase imagery for mapping and developing GIS data to support informed decision-making.
  • Have ideas for funding ready when the opportunity arises.  A request may come out from a state for recommendations on how to meet shortfalls in funding. Be ready.

An excellent resource for exploring these and other concepts is the University of North Carolina Environmental Finance Center and in particular the Sustainable Financing for State and Tribal Wetland Programs websiteThere are also other online resources such as:

Local Government Environmental Assistance Network

How to Pay: Challenges and Solutions of Environmental Protection – ICMA Webcast Materials

New England Environmental Finance Center

University of Maryland Finance Center

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