Gulf Coast ecosystem restoration roadmap released by Obama Administration officials

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WASHINGTON, DC, March 4, 2010 -- Obama Administration officials today released a Roadmap for Restoring Ecosystem Resiliency and Sustainability in the Louisiana and Mississippi Coasts that emphasizes the protection and restoration of coastal ecosystems as a key element to the long-term safety and viability of the region. In keeping with President Obama's effort to cut through red tape and ensure residents of the Gulf Coast have access to the tools and funds they need to rebuild, the Roadmap outlines Federal actions over the next eighteen months to address policy, process, and legal hurdles to coastal restoration in the region.

President Obama formed the Louisiana-Mississippi Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Working Group in October, 2009, which is co-led by the White House Council on Environmental Quality and the Office of Management and Budget and comprises senior-level officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Departments of the Army, Homeland Security, the Interior, and Transportation. Over the past six months the Working Group has engaged with the States, local governments, and the public to develop this Roadmap, which will lay the foundation for a long-term vision achieved jointly with the States and works to eliminate barriers that have hindered previous restoration efforts.

"The Louisiana and Mississippi coastal region is critical to the economic, cultural, and environmental integrity of the nation,"said Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. "We have a unique opportunity to address the issue of coastal resiliency in the face of ever-present change. With bold and decisive action, we can slow the rate of ecosystem loss in the area and, where possible, restore the ecosystems and the services they provide."

"This ecosystem restoration for the Louisiana - Mississippi Gulf Coast is a challenging and nationally-significant opportunity that is a high priority for the Army and the Corps, and builds upon the work we are already doing in the states of Louisiana and Mississippi,"said Jo-Ellen Darcy, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works. "The Roadmap maximizes the impact of Federal resources over the next 18 months, and we are very pleased with the spirit of inter-agency cooperation and commitment that is already in evidence."

"With 10 National Wildlife Refuges totaling over 300,000 acres in Coastal Louisiana and Mississippi, the Department of the Interior recognizes the vital role that Gulf Coast wetlands play in supporting fish and wildlife resources, as well as the nation's commerce and domestic energy. The Department and the Fish and Wildlife Service along with USGS will play a strong role working with our State and Federal partners to reverse Gulf Coast wetland and habitat loss so that we can ensure the long-term economic and ecological sustainability of the Lower Mississippi River basin, the delta and the Gulf Coast region," Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks Tom Strickland said.

"Human health, jobs, prosperity and well-being depend upon healthy and resilient marine ecosystems,"said Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D., Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA). "NOAA is looking forward to working with its Federal and State partners to utilize a science-based approach to address the challenges of restoring and protecting this region's coastal and marine ecosystems."

"President Obama knows how important the wetlands and habitat are to the culture, economy, and health of Louisiana and Mississippi Gulf Coast communities,"said Peter S. Silva, Assistant Administrator for the Office of Water at the Environmental Protection Agency. "This initiative will move us toward comprehensive, science-based management of the resources to protect the communities, jobs and ecosystems they support."

In the near term, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Working Group will request that the States designate a senior official to collaborate with the Working Group to develop a long-term vision and recommend a governance structure or other forum for Federal-State decision-making. The Working Group will also conduct public outreach and will host listening sessions in the region. Longer term, the Working Group will release a proposal outlining recommendations for a governance structure or entity to implement the vision.

To resolve policy and process obstacles, the Working Group also will begin a suite of actions to eliminate barriers that have hindered previous restoration efforts. These barriers include inadequate coordination within and among Federal agencies, water resource policies that unintentionally inhibit ecosystem restoration efforts, inconsistent or opaque priority-setting that undermines cooperation and support for projects, incomplete science and limited Federal and State budgets.

A Shared Long-Term Federal-State Vision
The Working Group seeks to define a shared Federal-State vision for ecosystem sustainability of the lower Mississippi River, its delta, and the Louisiana and Mississippi coastal areas. This vision will reflect the value of well-functioning ecosystems to the enduring resilience of the region. Moving forward, this will require more robust collaboration between the Working Group, the States, Tribes, local governments, and the public. A shared vision will help reconcile inconsistencies in existing planning and prioritization efforts and provide a framework for jointly evaluating necessary trade-offs.

Promoting Science-Based Decisions
Ultimately, successful implementation of the shared vision depends on access to the best available science in a form that is useful for management decisions. The Working Group will assess current capacities and identify gaps in science so the Federal-State vision will be implemented based on the best information. Furthermore, the Working Group will apply the principle of adaptive management to account for uncertainty and adapt to changed conditions. This will ensure the overall effectiveness of restoration and protection efforts.

Identifying Near-Term Projects
While the Working Group engages the States in developing the vision, it will simultaneously work toward implementing interim projects to help curb irreversible ecosystem degradation. The Working Group will draw these projects from relevant project lists, with special consideration for areas with the most critical need and for projects that will provide long-term benefits.

While implementing the Roadmap during the next 18 months, the Obama Administration will continue to advance actions underway both on the ground and in the water. The President's Fiscal Year 2011 Budget includes $35.6 million for the Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA) restoration program, $5 million to restore key fish and wildlife habitat in Mississippi and Louisiana, and $5 million to integrate ocean and coastal mapping. The LCA program also received $18 million in the enacted Fiscal Year 2010 Budget. Additionally, the 2009 Supplemental Appropriations Act directed $439 million to barrier island and ecosystem restoration projects along the Mississippi Coast. Taken together, these efforts are providing critical ecosystem protection and restoration resources to the region.

The Roadmap is available at www.whitehouse.gov/ceq/initiatives/gulfcoast

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