A Nebraska state agency that awards grants for environmental projects has logged another uptick in applications, and the executive director expects to see even more in the future as federal and private grants shrink.
The Nebraska Environmental Trust received a record 130 new applications for the current year, a number that has increased slowly but consistently over the last several years, said Mark Brohman, the trust's executive director. In 2012, the fund received 93 applications.
Most recently, applicants requested a collective $68.3 million worth of grants from an available cash pool of about $16.7 million. Of the 130 who applied, only 33 received money.
Brohman said part of the increase is due to cuts at the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other federal agencies and nonprofit groups.
"The lack of federal dollars, it's a huge thing," Brohman said. "We have seen a demand for the money. It's definitely not going down."
The trust is financed through Nebraska Lottery revenue and interest payments. Grants from the trust are used to reimburse organizations for projects that improve groundwater, air quality, soil, natural habitats, municipal waste and recycling. Applications for the 2017 grant cycle came from Nebraska cities, nonprofits and state agencies.
The trust has given away $275 million for more than 2,000 projects statewide since it was created in 1992.
Funding from the trust helped the western Nebraska village of Arthur complete a key part of its local community center after other would-be private donors rejected the project, said Terry Enfield, president of the nonprofit Arthur Betterment Authority.
The $10,000 grant helped pay for landscaping with native plants, trees and rocks to keep wind from eroding the fragile, sandy soil around the building.
"That's a lot of money for a little community like us," Enfield said. "I'm sure they (the Environmental Trust) get people coming at them from all directions, wanting money. And there's only so much out there."
The Omaha-based Friends of Heron Haven used to receive grants from federal and local agencies, but in recent years has relied more on the Nebraska Environmental Trust to pay for projects, said W. Bruce Warr, the nonprofit's vice president.
Warr said applying for grants through the trust is generally less cumbersome than seeking money from federal agencies, which require more paperwork.
"The trust is marvelous," he said. "They seem both willing and able to provide us modest grants."
Warr said his group uses the grants to teach children about the wetland sanctuary and nature center off West Maple Road, one of the city's thoroughfares.
Grants from the trust also play a large role in the work of the Sandhills Task Force, a group formed in 1993 to work on conservation projects with local ranchers, said Shelly Kelly, the group's program director. The task force, based in Sutherland, received $275,000 this year plus commitments for another $145,000 over the next two years.
Kelly said the trust's grants played a "huge" role in the task force's work and account for 25 percent to 50 percent of its yearly budget. The money helps pay for educational meetings for ranchers, wetland and stream restorations and controlled burns to get rid of eastern red cedar trees that threaten the landscape.
"We're helping the whole community and the ecosystem at the same time," Kelly said.