Common Evaluation Criteria

Several criteria are common across most or all the 24 project types. The following information provides additional detail on these fields and how they are evaluated.

Scroll down or use the above links to jump to a desired section.

For category specific criteria click on the below links.

Habitat Projects Specific Criteria
Species Projects Specific Criteria
Education Projects Specific Criteria
Other Options Projects Specific Criteria

Regulatory Requirements

WHC recognizes voluntary efforts, and all projects must exceed any relevant regulatory requirements. For projects that relate to regulatory requirements (e.g., a mitigation wetland), the applicant must explain how they exceed that requirement. For example, if 5 acres were required for mitigation and 6 acres were created, this would exceed that regulatory requirement for the Wetland project. Many projects will not have any associated regulatory requirements, if this is the case the project meets this criterion because the project is entirely voluntary.

Project Start Date

Projects must have been implemented or “on-the-ground” long enough to have a measurable impact to be qualifying. A project is considered “on-the-ground” when active management/monitoring began. 

The project start date is used to evaluate the duration of ongoing projects. New projects are evaluated based on a combination of the listed project start date and other information and documentation provided in the application to ensure the project has been on the ground long enough to qualify.

The requirement for how long a project must be on the ground for a specific project type can be found in the corresponding Scoring Rubric. For planning purposes, applicants are encouraged to consider a full year as a good rule of thumb for the time a project should be on-the-ground to ensure the project will meet this criterion.

The time a project has been on the ground is measured in years and Reviewers may include decimals as small as ¼ of a year (e.g., 5.25 years) in the score. If the specific criteria outlined in the rubric is met, a value of less than one year can earn points. 

Conservation or Conservation Education Objective

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Applicant understanding
A conservation or conservation education objective outlines what the end goal of the project is. Revisiting an established objective over time can help ensure that a project remains on track to accomplish the desired goal.
Applicants are asked to provide a conservation objective for habitat and species project types or a conservation education objective for education project types. As there can be some variation and subjectivity involved in evaluating objectives, this criterion is evaluated as either there is an objective for the project or there is no (or a non-sensical) objective.    

Employee and Other Participant Involvement

Engagement of employees and partners can strengthen a project and WHC encourages such engagement by recognizing it through the scoring rubric. This recognition evaluates both the quantity of involvement (number of hours) and the quality of involvement (depth of engagement).

Hours of Involvement

The partner and employee hours recorded for each year are divided into planning and implementation (on-the-ground work). Hours are project-specific and should not be repeated across project types.

Jane and Jason lead a one-hour training for 10 other staff members about managing for an invasive plant. Jane and Jason would list 2 hours for their training project (1 hour each for leading the training). The employees who received the training would not be included in the hours recorded as they were not planning or implementing the training project, they were recipients of the training. Since the activity was a teaching/learning activity and no actual actions or planning for invasive species management was occurring, Jane and Jason's two hours would not also be listed under an invasive species project.

Calculating Hour Averages

Certification terms can vary in length (2-3 years), so to fairly allocate points for employee/partner hours, the average number of hours per year is used for scoring. The average is based on the annual total of both planning and implementation hours. 

Applications may be submitted at any time during the calendar year, and this could impact average hours. For consistency and to avoid over or under counting hours, there is specific guidance based on when an application is submitted.

Applications submitted early in the year (by July 15) will have the hours in the current year omitted from the calculation if the current year’s hours are less than the total hours listed in any of the previous years in the certification cycle. 

Conversely, applications submitted later in the year should not have the hours counted in both the current and future application. To avoid counting the same hours from the previous application, the calculation only includes the hours from the year the program last applied if they applied before July 15 that year. 

Depth of Engagement

The description of how the employees and/or partners are involved provides insight into the depth of engagement. 
  • Indicators of one-off or irregular involvement include mentions of a specific event or day
  • Indicators of regular involvement in implementation include mentions of participation in doing work needed for the project to function such as management, monitoring, teaching, etc. 
  • Indicators of regular involvement in long term planning include mentions of team meetings to assess the project, annual project planning, etc.

Technical Advice

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Applicant understanding
Seeking out and utilizing technical advice improves projects. Technical advice can take many forms, including written material (e.g. website, guidebook) and relevant experts. Sources of technical advice must have a demonstrable background in the relevant subject matter. Examples include: an author who has been published, an individual with multiple years of experience, or a publication or employee of a reputable organization.

Points are awarded for technical advice that has already been implemented. The maximum points for this criterion are awarded if there is ongoing regular use of the technical advice (i.e. implemented or used at least once per year for at least two years).

Corporate Commitment 

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Documentation required
Projects may be part of of a corporate initiative or commitment to that specific project type. Corporate level commitments that specify a project-level focus are uncommon among applicants. If there is such a commitment (such as a corporate level commitment to grassland habitats) documentation is required to demonstrate the formalized commitment.

General corporate commitments to the environment, biodiversity, or education are not recognized through this project-level criterion. There must be specific mention of and focus on the project type for the commitment to be awarded points. Documentation for a commitment that is uploaded into more than one project can be counted for multiple projects only if each project type is explicitly included as a focus. 

Alignment with Large Scale Initiatives 

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Applicant understanding
Large scale initiatives are established plans or priorities recognized or authored by experts in the field. Alignment with large scale conservation and conservation education initiatives can magnify the impact of actions being taken and ensure that work is supporting regional priorities. 

The name and website link of the conservation plans or large-scale initiatives the project aligns with must be included in the application. In most cases, a website link should be available for a large-scale initiative. If a website link is not provided, the applicant must provide sufficient information to describe the initiative, including the primary objectives or focuses and the parties who developed the initiative. 

To earn credit for aligning with the large-scale initiatives, the applicant must specifically explain how their project aligns (e.g., what objectives or actions from the initiative are addressed through the project). Alignment with a general plan, such as a State Wildlife Action Plan, can earn points. To earn the maximum points, the alignment needs to be with a project type specific plan (e.g., a regional grassland restoration plan).

Examples of project type specific plans:
For Habitat Projects: A southeastern grassland conservation initiative
For Species Projects: A shorebird conservation initiative
For Education Projects: Relevance to conservation or education plans

Third Party Certification

A third-party certification specific to the project type demonstrates not only a commitment to the project, but also serves as an additional verification of the work being done. Third-party certifications specific to a project type are uncommon among applicants. 

In order to earn points for third-party certification it must be:
  1. Project type specific
A forest project has a general habitat certification. This does NOT meet the requirement.
A forest project has a forest certification. This DOES meet the requirement.

2. Credible – Third-party certifications must include at least some of the following characteristics to be considered a credible certification program:
  • Requirements and/or evaluation criteria are publicly available
  • Some form of verification (documentation or audit) 
  • Applicants are not guaranteed to receive certification just for applying (not all applications are successful)
  • There is a renewal aspect (certification is not awarded on a permanent basis)

Scoring Invalid Projects

Making sure the correct project type is selected to properly capture the on the ground efforts is the first step to a successful application. If a submitted project is not relevant to Conservation Certification or if the efforts do not match the selected project type, the project is not valid, and scoring will be impacted. When the project is entirely irrelevant to the certification or selected project type, the efforts will not be recognized. Reviewers will score zeros for all scoring criteria for the project. 

Examples of non-valid projects include: 

  • Greenhouses as habitat projects
  • Species structures (nest boxes, platforms, brush piles) as habitat projects
  • Stream or trash clean ups as remediation projects
  • Education projects with topics/content not relevant to habitat/species conservation (i.e., geology, recycling, etc.)

Project Mapping

Reviewers review each project individually. Reviewers have separate review sheets for each project type, and they can only award points for relevant information. It’s important to make sure information provided is specific to that project as providing unnecessary information may cause confusion or increase the possibility that a reviewer may overlook something. 

To ensure you are adding the correct project type it is important to think about what the focus of the project activities are:

  • If the project focuses on management/monitoring of vegetation à habitat project
  • If the project focuses on management/monitoring of wildlife à species project
  • If the project focuses on informing an audience & evaluating the learners or event à education project

Project Overlap

If a significant amount of information appears to be duplicative across different projects, this is an indicator that the projects are the same. Signs of project overlap include the same information presented in the conservation objective, management, and monitoring questions. To be consistent and fair to all applicants, duplicative projects cannot be awarded points. If there is significant overlap of information between projects, reviewers will only award points for information relevant to the project type. If it appears that the information provided is only relevant to one project type or the projects are almost identical, then one project will be scored while the other project(s) will not earn any points. 
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