DU to sportsmen: Ask Congress to direct oil spill fines back to Gulf Coast restoration
Ducks Unlimited recently participated in a national sportsmen's teleconference that drew more than 5,000 listeners in order to urge sportsmen to ask Congress to support legislation that ensures penalties paid by BP under the Clean Water Act
be directed back to the Gulf Coast region.
During the teleconference, which occurred April 20 on the one year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill
, DU CEO Dale Hall and National Wildlife Federation CEO Larry Schweiger spoke about the importance of the Gulf's coastal wetlands to waterfowl populations and local communities and the damaging effects that will occur if these precious habitats
are not restored and sustained. (To listen to a recording of the 30-minute teleconference on the DU website, click here.)
"In order to protect this vital ecosystem from vanishing, we must focus on policy initiatives and projects that will prevent the long-term loss of Louisiana
coastal wetlands," Hall said. "The Gulf Coast
parishes and counties provide wintering and stopping grounds for more than 10 million ducks and geese, not including other countless wildlife that depend on these habitats. If we do not conserve these crucial areas now, the Gulf's rich waterfowling tradition could be lost forever."
For decades, DU has been working on the ground, in the halls of Congress and in state capitols to promote long-term wetlands restoration efforts. Since the spill, DU and its partners have formally requested that Congress support legislation that ensures penalties paid by BP under the Clean Water Act be directed back to the Gulf Coast region.
Directing these penalty fees back into the areas affected by the oil spill is essential to the recovery of the Gulf's coastline and overall way of life. Without such investments, the Gulf Coast's recovery efforts will be seriously threatened.
"DU and its partners feel very strongly that the Gulf's already vulnerable communities will remain in jeopardy and be susceptible to future disasters if habitat restoration investments are not made now," said Bart James, director of public policy at DU's Governmental Affairs Office. "Currently, the Gulf is losing wetlands and coastal marsh at an alarming rate, putting both coastal and inland communities, as well as infrastructures, in jeopardy. We believe using the CWA fines levied against the responsible parties to restore the Gulf's ecosystem is a rational and necessary solution."
While the teleconference focused on several key policy initiatives, Hall and Schweiger also took time to discuss a post-spill project that is currently being used to protect waterfowl and other water bird populations, called the Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative. DU partnered with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Natural Resources Conservation Service to help put the MBHI into action. This initiative provides fall, winter and spring flooding of coastal rice wetlands and other wetlands for waterfowl, water birds and other wetland-dependent wildlife whose habitats were at risk from the spill. Currently, the MBHI has resulted in the flooding of nearly 79,000 acres of shallow harvested rice fields, idle rice fields and other wetlands to provide foraging habitat for a variety of bird species.
"While the MBHI was initially developed to provide alternative habitat after the oil spill, this initiative is also desperately needed to off-set the estimated long-term loss of foraging habitats in coastal wetlands," said Dr. Tom Moorman, director of conservation planning for DU's Southern Region. "Now, DU is working to secure funding to continue a similar conservation program indefinitely in coastal Louisiana and Texas
to ensure that desired populations of waterfowl can continue to winter in this continentally significant wintering area."
DU helps protect Miss. land grants funding from massive budget cuts
As more states begin to deal with tremendous budget constraints, DU has been taking action to ensure important state-level conservation
programs are not senselessly cut, such as critical land grants based in Mississippi
. Recently, the Mississippi state legislature threatened to cut support by $5 million for essential grant programs at Mississippi State University and Alcorn State University.
Not only would the reduced funding negatively impact the department of fisheries, wildlife and aquaculture, but it would also endanger the future of vital waterfowl programs that are currently managed by the department, said Dr. Curtis Hopkins, who serves as director of the Southern Regional Office
for Ducks Unlimited. "DU has a long-standing cooperative relationship with MSU," said Hopkins. "MSU is home to the James C. Kennedy endowed chair for wetlands and waterfowl, has an outstanding waterfowl research reputation and is one of the few universities that still offers a waterfowl-focused program."
Understanding the negative consequences these cuts would have on important waterfowl research efforts, DU sprang to action to defend the importance of these grants. In less than 48 hours, DU partnered with almost 50 other natural resources, agricultural and veterinary organizations to request that these proposed budget cuts be rejected.
After DU and a range of partners, including the Miss. Farm Bureau, Delta Council, Miss. Association of Conservation Districts and the Miss. Rice Council, spoke out against this reduced funding proposal the $5 million cut was eliminated. Furthermore, the Division of Agriculture, Forestry and Veterinary Medicine received level funding for the year.
"In a time when all levels of government are forced to scale back their budgets, it is essential Ducks Unlimited remain vigilant on policy initiatives at all levels in order to ensure critical conservation programs are not cut without fair consideration of the value the programs provide," said Scott Sutherland, director of the Governmental Affairs Office for DU. "The recent effort to protect grants in Mississippi proves DU and its members have a voice and that we can make a difference if we speak up."
Natural Resources Trustees announce $1 billion down payment for Gulf Coast restoration efforts
For the past year, the Gulf Coast region has been struggling to recover from the oil spill's damaging effects on coastal habitats while simultaneously attempting to curb long-term wetlands loss affecting the region. Without proper funding, restoring these crucial marshlands
and wetlands will be a challenge.
However, many of these restoration efforts will now begin to yield on-the-ground results thanks to a $1 billion Natural Resource Damage Assessment down payment made by BP. The down payment, which was announced on the one year anniversary of the Gulf oil spill, will play an important role in coastal conservation efforts.
"We are encouraged to see agreement by all parties that restoration of the Gulf Coast natural resources is critical to the recovery of the economy and the social values we all hold so dear," said Dale Hall, CEO of Ducks Unlimited. "We commend BP for their willingness to take this unprecedented move to immediately start much-needed conservation work."
To learn more about the effects of the Gulf oil spill, click here