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Entries in wetlands (29)


New Plan 'a Good Start' for Improving Louisiana Coastal Habitat

A 2017 Coastal Master Plan that will "improve coast-wide habitat for wild crawfish, largemouth bass, alligator, and mottled duck . . . " has been approved by the Louisiana State Legislature. This updated state blueprint prioritizes $50 billion in coastal restoration and risk reduction work during the next 50 years to address land loss, as well as sea level rise and encroachment into marshes.

In arguing for the plan earlier this year, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said, "Save coastal Louisiana, and you save 37 percent of all the coastal marshes in the continental United States. You save the habitat that produces 21 percent of all commercial fisheries' landings by weight in the lower 48 states and is home to approximately 75 percent of all commercially harvested fish species in Louisiana that use our wetlands for at least one stage of their life cycle."

Already, he added, important progress has been made since Hurricane Katrina's devastation in 2005, with more than 31,000 acres of land reclaimed, using more than 115 million cubic yards of material dredged from rivers and the Gulf of Mexico. Also, more than 274 miles of levees have been improved and 52 miles of barrier islands and shorelines restored in a more sustainable fashion.

"It's a good start," he said. "But just a start."

Approval of the 2017 plan received enthusiastic praise from a coalition of local and state conservation organizations, including the National Wildlife Federation, National Audubon Society, and Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana.

In a joint statement, they said, “The 2017 Coastal Master Plan process is truly an innovative, unparalleled effort that all Louisianans can be proud of--- and our state desperately needs to implement the plan as quickly as possible. The master plan is grounded in science, balances coastal restoration with protection, and is publicly-informed. Louisiana has again provided a model for how coastal communities around the world can adapt to land loss, rising seas, increased storms and other climate change challenges.

“With sediment diversions as a cornerstone of the master plan, Louisiana stands ready to harness the power of the strongest tool available to build and sustain land – the Mississippi River. The state should continue this momentum by constructing sediment diversions as quickly as possible and take advantage of this amazing resource that is being wasted."


Okeechobee Water Storage Reservoir Receives Funding Boost

A bill signed into law by Florida Gov. Rick Scott will provide additional funding and accelerate the strategy to build a water storage reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee, with the goal of reducing harmful, nutrient-laden releases into coastal estuaries.

"With today's signing of Senate Bill 10, Governor Scott has shown his strong commitment to advancing Everglades restoration," said Kellie Ralston, Florida Fishery Policy Director of the American Sportfishing Association.

Directing excess water south also will help replenish the Everglades and provided much needed freshwater flow into Florida Bay. That occurred naturally before the lake was impounded decades ago to protect towns and farm lands on the south side from flooding, especially during hurricanes.

Enacting Lake Okeechobee Water Resources Legislation has been a top priority of Senate President Joe Negron.

"Thank you to Governor Rick Scott, Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran for their leadership in preserving and protecting Florida's natural resources," said Gary Jennings, Director of Keep Florida Fishing. "This will ensure that Florida remains the 'Fishing Capital of the World' for generations to come."

Meanwhile, plans to build a storage reservoir north of Lake Okeechobee continue to be advanced as well. Late last year, the project team for the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Project (LOWP) evaluated possible sites for storage and treatment of the nutrient-rich water that flows into the lake from the Kissimmee River watershed.

LOWP is part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), which is focused on restoration from the Kissimmee River to Florida Bay. CERP was authorized by Congress in 2000 "to restore, preserve, and protect the south Florida ecosystem, while providing for other water-related needs of the region, including water supply and flood protection." It's a $10.5 billion project expected to require 35 years for completion.

In addition to considering location options for a reservoir, the project team also is considering aquifer storage and recovery wells. Wetlands restoration is a part of the plan as well, but the emphasis is on storing water, not water quality.

“At the end of the day, we want a project that ultimately will result in Congressional authorization,” said John Campbell, a spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers. “We know we can do that by focusing on storage.”

He added that the public will invited to review options sometime during 2017. "By 2018, we would select one of those alternatives and start developing details," Campbell said.

Environmental and sportsmen groups argue that a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee, with a return to more natural flow, is best way to deal with excess water that has caused algae blooms and fish kills on both coasts. Communities and agricultural interests to the south of the lake generally favor storage on the north end.


Rebuilding Wetlands Focus of Plan for Regulating Lake Ontario Water Levels


Following 16 years and $20 million in studies, the United States and Canada, via the International Joint Commission, have established a new strategy for regulating Lake Ontario water levels, with the focus on rebuilding wetlands to benefit fish and wildlife. Not surprisingly, "sportsmen were among the loudest proponents of Plan 2014," the Syracuse Post-Standard said in an editorial endorsing the action.

Essentially, the plan calls for a return to more natural highs and lows that the lake experienced before the Moses-Saunders Dam was built on the St. Lawrence River in 1958. From year to year, the lake could fluctuate as much as 8 feet.

"It is this process that maintains the diversity of wetland plant communities, and also the diversity of habitat for a whole variety of fish and wildlife species," said Doug Wilcox of the College at Brockport, State University of New York.

With the dam in place, the goal was to moderate levels to facilitate shipping and hydropower, with shoreline property owners also benefiting from more stable water. But it had unintended consequences.

Many native plants among the fishery's 64,000 acres of coastal wetlands died, and invasive cattails flourished. The lake lost both habitat and nutrient filters that enhanced water quality. Fish and wildlife populations declined.

Proponents of the plan insist that it will allow for a nature-based fluctuation without materially changing the current range of high and low water. In doing so, it will restore fish and wildlife populations, which will boost outdoor recreation, including fishing, boating, and ecotourism. At the same time, they say, it also will increase hydropower production and aid the shipping industry.

Opponents, meanwhile, mostly are home owners, especially on the south shore, who fear greater fluctuation will damage or destroy properties.

IJC Chair Lana Pollack said that members understand such concerns, but believes that Plan 2014 is the best possible compromise.

"It's hard to give 100 percent to any particular interest when there are competing interests involved," she said.


Wisconsin Law Encourages Volunteer Habitat Projects

A new law in Wisconsin is intended to encourage volunteers to place more permitted fish habitat projects in state waters. Its sponsors say it will do so by protecting those who do from the civil liability associated with damage or injury caused by placement of certain types of structures in navigable waters and wetlands.

"During this legislative session, my office was contacted by a number of property owners who were hesitant to pursue a DNR (Department of Natural Resources) permit for placing a fish crib or other coarse woody habitat due to liability," said state Rep. Rob Swearingen.

"After working closely with officials at the DNR, I am confident that Senate Bill 315 will protect Wisconsin property owners and promote fish and wildlife habitat."

Carrying the lengthy title of "An Exemption From Civil Liability Related to the Placement of Certain Structures in Navigable Waters and Wetlands," the law provides immunity  if the structures were placed  for the creation, protection, or improvement of fish and wildlife habitat. Additionally, it affords protection for non-commercial net pens used to hold and rear fish for stocking into the body of water in which they are located.

DNR must have approved placement of the habitat or determined that

a permit or approval was not required. Also, the law specifies that those placing habitat are not required to inspect or maintain the structure or to give warning of the existence of the structure.


Citizens Must Be Voice for Fish and Wildlife in Gulf Restoration

Less than five years after the largest marine oil spill in U.S. history, BP has agreed to pay $18.7 billion in penalties and damages for its role. This stands in stark contrast to the decades-long litigation following the Exxon Valdez spill, and is great news not only for those who live along the Gulf Mexico, but for all of us who recognize the ecological, recreational, and economic value of this region to the nation.

Much of our seafood comes from there. Millions of us visit the five Gulf states annually to fish and enjoy other outdoor pursuits. And if you live in the Midwest or Great Plains, the waterfowl hunting that you enjoy annually is  dependent on healthy and abundant marshes and wetlands along the Gulf Coast, where 70 percent of waterfowl from the Central and Mississippi Flyways stopover or winter annually.

Now that we have an amount for what it likely the largest environmental settlement in history, it's important that plans and projects be implemented wisely and effectively. The federal RESTORE Act of 2012 will ensure that 80 percent of any Clean Water Act civil and administrative penalties paid by BP and other companies responsible for the disaster goes to the Gulf Coast Restoration Fund. That means each of the Gulf states will receive hundreds of millions of dollars to implement recovery plans, starting with Pot 1 for wildlife habitat restoration and improvement of water quality. This category also provides for “job creation” and “infrastructure projects,” which could allow expenditures that sound good but that won’t help the Gulf.

That's why it will be important for citizens along the Gulf to be a voice for fish and wildlife. They must tell their governors and state legislators that they want the money spent on projects such as restoring wetlands, sea grasses, and barrier islands, as well as ensuring adequate freshwater flows, which are important for sustaining healthy spawning and nursery habitat for fish and wintering areas for ducks and geese.

Vanishing Paradise looks forward to working with federal and state officials and the RESTORE Council to make sure that the BP funds go to meaningful, comprehensive restoration.

And as this work begins, we should remember that we still don't know the true extent of the damage caused by an estimated 4.9 million gallons of oil pouring onto the ocean floor. Years and possibly even decades will be required to determine population level impacts to species.

What we do know is that an estimated one million birds died from exposure to the oil, as well as large numbers of dolphins and sea turtles. We also know that cleanup crews removed 106,465 tons of "oily material" from Gulf shorelines by the end of 2013. And BP reports that it already had spent $14 billion and 70 million personnel hours on cleanup and response by that time.

With direction as provided by the RESTORE Act and watchful oversight from those of us who want the best for Gulf Coast fish and wildlife, it now will spend an additional $18.7 billion.