Habitat Restoration Can Drive Economic Recovery
May 22, 2013 | Posted by Kevin Chandler in RESTORE Act

By Ben Weber, National Wildlife Federation. This article was originally posted on the Vanishing Paradise blog.

Vanishing Paradise's Ben Weber.

After years of habitat loss and abuse, the story of the Mississippi River Delta is starting to look a bit different. Following the 2010 Gulf oil spill, a monumental piece of legislation called the RESTORE Act is providing a rare opportunity to address decades of mismanagement and habitat degradation.

Among other things, the RESTORE Act created the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, which is a multi-state, multi-agency group that has been tasked with developing a comprehensive ecosystem restoration plan for the Gulf. The Council is currently developing the plan, with a draft due for public comment this spring.

The Vanishing Paradise team is working to make sure the Council remembers the national hunting and fishing community was at the forefront of the efforts to pass the RESTORE Act, and we intend to see this through.

Our message to the Council is simple. We believe habitat restoration can drive and support economic recovery. The people, businesses, communities and economy of this region are undeniably reliant upon a healthy and productive Gulf, and ecosystem restoration should be the top priority in drafting and finalizing the Council’s comprehensive restoration plan.

This message will be delivered to the Restoration Council in the form of a letter that carries the signatures of roughly 350 hunting and angling businesses and organizations that believe investments in long-term ecosystem restoration will drive economic prosperity in the Gulf Coast region.

As the Council considers how best to “restore and protect the natural resources, ecosystems, fisheries, marine and wildlife habitats, beaches and coastal wetlands of the Gulf Coast region,” we believe that they should engage the hunting and fishing community to ensure that their restoration plan reflects the interests and values of our country’s hunters and anglers.

Following up on this letter, we’ll be meeting with the Restoration Council early next month. We will deliver the message that sportsmen and women are paying attention, but more importantly we will also discuss a list of recommendations on restoration project selection, implementation and monitoring.

Louisiana’s coastal wetlands are some of the most important habitats American hunters and anglers will ever know. The sad truth is that this American treasure is disappearing before our eyes.

The future of the Mississippi River Delta has long been challenged by a severed connection between the river and its wetlands. Hurricanes that destroy our marshes made us famous. More recently the Gulf of Mexico was thrown another curveball, the 2010 oil spill.

The unprecedented release of 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf has caused near-term impacts to the fishery, coastal habitat and thousands of people’s livelihoods. It may cause significant long-term damage to the Gulf, affecting sportsmen and women throughout the country that rely on a healthy Gulf coast that serves as wintering grounds for nearly 10 million waterfowl and  one of the absolute best fisheries in our country.

We all take something different from the field. Whether it’s an exciting adventure chasing the trophy of a lifetime, a quiet day at your favorite fishing hole or some good old-fashioned quality time with your grandkids.

Hunters and anglers rarely agree on everything, but there is a fundamental connection between people who hunt and fish. No matter what our goals or interests are, we all depend on quality habitat to enjoy our passion. It sounds simple, and it is. At the end of the day, despite all of our opinions, preferences and predispositions, the key to quality hunting and fishing opportunities all comes down to productive habitat.

That’s why sportsmen and women must be involved in the development of the Council’s restoration plan. Investments in projects that restore healthy and productive habitat mean a future full of quality hunting and angling opportunities. If the wild spaces of the Gulf region are protected and restored, sportsmen and women will have played an essential role in saving one of America’s last best places.

A legacy to be proud of indeed.

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