In 1964, Congress established the National Wilderness Preservation System, under the Wilderness Act. The legislation allows certain federal lands to be set aside as Wilderness Areas – lands generally 5,000 acres or larger that exist mainly in their “natural” state. The Wilderness Act describes these areas as places “…where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” The U.S. Forest Service is one of four federal agencies charged with management of the National Wilderness Preservation System, with responsibility for 35 million acres of wilderness areas, or 33% of the overall Wilderness system and 20% of Forest Service land.
In celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, the U.S. Forest Service issued a Stewardship Challenge, calling for all Wilderness areas in the National Forest System to meet baseline management standards by 2014. To meet this standard, Wilderness Areas are measured on 10 stewardship elements and must achieve 60% of the total available points. As of the end of Fiscal Year 2008, only a small fraction of Wilderness Areas met this standard. The National Forest Foundation (NFF), as the official nonprofit partner of the Forest Service, has increased the resources available to meet this challenge since its inception, providing matching grants of up to $50,000 to nonprofit partners for the implementation of on-the-ground conservation projects that directly benefit National Forest Wilderness Areas.
For 2012, two types of federal grants will be available: (a) requiring a 1:1 nonfederal cash match, or (b) requiring a reduced match of 50% in nonfederal in-kind contributions. Only organizations with an operating budget under $200,000 are eligible to apply for a reduced-match grant. Within this category, priority will be given to smaller organizations, provided the same quality of work. The NFF encourages organizations to conduct the highest priority work to help meet the Challenge.
The NFF will provide weighted advantage for (a) work in Wilderness Area(s) that do not meet the minimum stewardship level and for (b) work that advances or helps meet any individual stewardship element(s) that are not managed to the baseline standard.