"Today we took a major step forward toward meaningful restoration that will benefit the natural resources of the Gulf Coast for generations to come. I commend the leadership of the Gulf Coast states and their federal partners to develop a comprehensive blueprint for conservation and restoration investments that will support the environment and the local industries that grow our economies and create jobs. I look forward to our continued partnership in the Task Force as we move into a period of accelerated implementation and continue to make progress to bring health and strength back to the Gulf Coast's wetlands, beaches, reefs and other habitats that are unique to this vital region of our country."
The Task Force's final strategy is the result of a collaborative effort among five Gulf Coast states and 11 federal agencies, including the Department of the Interior, and includes significant input from the public, NGOs, tribes, businesses, local governments and the scientific community. It reflects the involvement and participation of thousands of citizens and organizations committed to addressing the decline the Gulf has endured in decades past.
With land management responsibility for nearly 4.2 million acres in the Gulf region comprised of national seashore, wildlife refuge and other important habitat for a host of species that reside in the Gulf, the Department of the Interior will continue its efforts to protect, preserve, and restore critical coastal resources to promote the long-term restoration and resiliency of Gulf Coast communities. Interior has also worked to strengthen safety and oversight of offshore energy exploration and development.
Background on Key Interior Efforts to Support Gulf Coast Restoration:
Restoring the Gulf Islands National Seashore: Past dredging of navigation channels has deprived barrier islands in the Gulf Islands National Seashore of millions of cubic yards of sediments. The National Park Service (NPS) and Army Corps of Engineers are working on two projects to restore Gulf Islands National Seashore. A funded ($439 million) program to begin in fall 2012 will return approximately 20 million cubic yards of sediment to the West and East Ship Islands and fill the Camille Cut (Mississippi).
The NPS and Army Corps are also developing a project to start in November 2012 to restore approximately 300,000-400,000 cubic yards of compatible sediment to the Florida barrier islands at an estimated cost of $6 million that is proposed to be funded by the Natural Resource Damage Assessment Trustee Council.
Restoring Disturbed Lands and Protecting Jean Lafitte National Historic Park: Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve is working to restore 442 acres of canal and spoil banks back to emergent wetlands or shallow water habitat. The project will improve hydrology over an estimated 23,000 acres of wetlands, with an estimated construction cost of $8,731,000. Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve plans to construct 45,200 linear feet of dikes to protect shoreline of two lakes and restore 1,650 acres of associated marshland in the Preserve, with an estimated cost of approximately $58 million.
Expanding Gulf Coast National Wildlife Refuges: There are 41 National Wildlife Refuges located in the five Gulf Coast states. These refuges protect and recover endangered species, provide essential migratory bird habitat and support a diverse array of native plant and animal species while enhancing the sustainability and resiliency of the Gulf coast. The Gulf Coast refuges, along with other conservation lands and working landscapes, provide important ecosystem services such as biological diversity, pollination, carbon sequestration, clean water, flood protection, erosion control, and recreation.
Restoring and conserving additional natural areas will limit loss of critical coastal habitats for migratory birds, support endangered species recovery, protect important nesting areas and secure important ecosystem services for coastal communities. To meet this need, the Fish and Wildlife Service has targeted priority expansions in five Gulf coast national wildlife refuges, for a total of more than 160,000 additional acres.
Building Science-Based Conservation Partnerships in the Gulf: The Department of the Interior has taken a leadership role in science based conservation of the nation's land, water, wildlife and cultural resources through the formation of Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs) across the country, with four LCCs providing science support in the Gulf. These partnerships have engaged the states, federal agencies, NGOs and research institutions to provide science support across a diversity of Gulf habitats, ensuring that the appropriate resources and expertise are engaged in this effort. The Department is committing over $5 million annually to Gulf LCCs.
Underpinning Gulf Coast Restoration Activities with Sound Science: The U.S. Geological Survey is committed to a science plan in the Gulf that supports the four major goals of the Strategy. For example, USGS will commit $4 million to build on and expand upon existing efforts by the Coastal and Marine Geology Program to understand and assess ecosystem and community vulnerability as a consequence of human activities (including restoration projects) and natural change and define actions needed prepare coastal communities in their efforts to anticipate and respond to landscape changes and evolving vulnerability from storm surge, subsidence, erosion, and sea-level rise.