Habitat & Conservation  |  06/12/2023

Innovative Finance Partners: Helping Communities Achieve Conservation at a Scale That Matters


PF on the Landscape in the West

By Michael Brown PhotosPhotos by Gus Wathen

Habitat conservation is key to sustaining pheasants, quail and other upland wildlife, agriculturally rich working landscapes, and the communities that depend on them for economic stability.

But conservation at a meaningful scale can be difficult to implement — particularly on private lands where the financial and administrative burdens of implementing conservation can be overwhelming, especially for small landowners.

Under normal circumstances, landowners take on the added burden of conservation because they know better than most how important fostering healthy landscapes is. Yet, even if they are working with Pheasants Forever and working through state and federal grants, it is up to them to provide the upfront cost of implementing conservation practices and then deal with the uncertainty of when they could be partially repaid.  

Practices can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Reimbursements can sometimes take months, even after properly prepared and submitted invoices. Not to mention the added workload of implementing the conservation practices themselves, or having to find and oversee qualified contractors to implement the work. And all that on top of their normal activities.

If we are going to implement grassland conservation at the pace and scale we need to, then we need to find new ways to aid landowners in implementing conservation measures. We need to make it easier for landowners to engage with the process and reduce the financial and administrative burdens so they can focus on what they do best: Working the land they love, and producing food and fiber for the world.

That’s why we are working to develop a new way of aiding private landowners and their communities in implementing conservation. Under this new approach, Pheasants Forever is working with a new partner, Blue Forest Conservation, to shift the financial and administrative burdens from landowners to a Watershed Resilience Fund. 

A Watershed Resilience Fund (WRF) is an innovative public-private partnership that deploys private capital to fund restoration activities that enhance watershed resilience: increase water infiltration, stabilize stream flows, enhance soil health, increase the amount of wildlife habitat on the landscape, and support local communities and their goals.

The WRF raises investment capital from groups like foundations, insurance companies, corporations and impact investors, to cover the upfront cost of implementing restoration activities. Stakeholders who benefit from these activities then share the cost of reimbursing investors over time. 

By engaging private capital to cover the upfront cost of restoration, the WRF increases the pace and scale at which critical work to improve watershed health can be undertaken on private and public lands. We can implement the work now and realize the benefits now, while spreading the cost over time.

We can’t just wait around for years while habitat continues to degrade and disappear. We need a way to test the new approach quickly. That’s why we are focusing on three different landscapes … in southern Oregon, the Bear River (Utah, Idaho and Wyoming), and the Bitterroot Valley in Montana.

These are all places where Pheasants Forever has strong partnerships with the local communities and has been successful in implementing conservation at smaller scales. Our goal is to find a way for everyone across the country — private landowners and public agencies — to be able to realize their conservation goals now and not at some unknown point in the future.

Blue Forest has already successfully shown this can work on public land in California. Now is the time to find a way to expand that to private landowners.

Michael Brown is manager of innovative finance for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever.

This story originally appeared in the 2023 Spring Issue of the Pheasants Forever Journal. If you enjoyed it and would like to be the first to read more great upland content like this, become a Pheasants Forever member today!