Half the U.S. Population Lives in Coastal Counties Threatened by Wetlands Loss
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), along with U.S. Representatives Jared Huffman (D-Calif.-2) and Jennifer González-Colón (R-P.R.), have introduced legislation, the Coastal Habitat Conservation Act of 2021 (S. 2194), to reauthorize the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Coastal Program, which brings together FWS activities in priority coastal areas along the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, Gulf of Mexico, Great Lakes, and in the Caribbean. Within these areas, the FWS partners with coastal communities to conserve and restore coastal ecosystems for the benefit of fish, wildlife, and people. The partnerships provide a framework to conduct landscape-scale conservation planning and to implement these plans through on-the-ground coastal habitat conservation.
Coastal wetlands have become vulnerable to rising sea levels as well as to land development, land fragmentation, and pollution stemming from the half of the U.S. population that resides in coastal counties. Through partnerships, the FWS can leverage its technical and financial resources with partner resources to maximize habitat conservation and benefits to federal trust and other priority species. The Coastal Program also co-administers the FWS National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grant Program with the Sport Fish Restoration Program and Coastal Program to provide annually grants of up to $1 million to coastal and Great Lakes states, as well as U.S. territories to protect, restore and enhance coastal wetland ecosystems and associated uplands.
“Rising sea levels, land development, and pollution are taking aim at our coastal ecosystems, increasing the need to strengthen successful efforts like the Coastal Program that work to protect and preserve these critical resources,” said Senator Cardin. “Our bipartisan, bicameral effort demonstrates Congress’s commitment to this essential program and to the continuation of coastal wetlands that contribute hundreds of billions of dollars to our economy and our livelihoods. Investing in coastal wetland is an investment in fisheries, tourism, local businesses and jobs, as well as priceless regional traditions.”
“Protecting South Carolina’s wetlands is an economic driver and ensures our natural resources are preserved for future generations,” said Senator Graham. “I look forward to working with my colleagues to advance bipartisan solutions like the Coastal Habitat Conservation Act to conserve our nation’s important natural resources.”
“Coastal ecosystems and communities are an integral part of our nation’s economy, and we have a responsibility to be effective stewards of these invaluable places,” said Rep. Huffman. “This collaborative bill will ensure the health and resilience of coastal ecosystems, benefiting the wildlife, communities, and economies that depend on them.”
“In Puerto Rico, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Coastal Program has provided critical support to locally-driven conservation projects. From assisting in the restoration of sand dunes along our northern coast to working with coffee farmers to provide habitat for federally-endangered species, the program has proven successful in leveraging public and private resources to advance our Island’s most pressing conservation priorities,” said Rep. González-Colón. “I’m proud to join Congressman Jared Huffman, Senator Ben Cardin, and Senator Lindsey Graham in introducing the bipartisan and bicameral Coastal Habitat Conservation Act of 2021, which will authorize the FWS Coastal Program and ensure it has the necessary tools to continue supporting voluntary, partnership-based conservation efforts across the nation’s coastal areas.”
The Chesapeake Bay Coastal Program was the very first FWS Coastal program established to conserve coastal resources.
Across the mainland U.S., coastal wetlands comprise 38 percent of the estimated 107.7 million acres of wetlands. They provide essential nutrients, food, and shelter for plants, shellfish, waterfowl, migratory birds, more than half of commercial fish, and 45 percent of endangered and threatened species. In addition, coastal wetlands protect coastal areas from storm damage, help stabilize shorelines, and improve surface water quality by filtering urban, suburban, and agricultural wastes.
S. 2194, the Coastal Habitat Conservation Act of 2021 authorizes the Coastal Program to conduct collaborative landscape-level planning and on-the-ground coastal habitat protection, restoration, and enhancement projects in priority coastal areas to conserve and recover Federal trust species.
Endorsed by the National Audubon Society and Restore America’s Estuaries, the legislation directs the Secretary of the Interior to carry out within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service a Coastal Program to:
(1) identify the most important natural resource problems and solutions in priority coastal ecosystems in partnership with federal, state, local, and tribal governments, nongovernmental institutions, nonprofit organizations, and private individuals or corporations;
(2) provide technical and financial support through partnerships with such governments, institutions, organizations, private individuals, and corporations for voluntary habitat assessment, protection, planning, restoration, and enhancement projects on public or private land;
(3) ensure the health and resilience of coastal ecosystems through adaptive management procedures based on the best available science;
(4) build the capacity of federal, state, local, and tribal governments, nongovernmental institutions, nonprofit organizations, private individuals, and corporations to carry out environmental conservation and stewardship measures;
(5) assist in the development and implementation of monitoring protocols and adaptive management procedures to ensure the success of coastal ecosystem restoration and enhancement and measures; and
(6) collaborate and share information with partners and the public relating to best management practices for the conservation, restoration, and enhancement of coastal ecosystems.
The bill authorizes appropriations of $20-25 million for each of fiscal years 2022 through 2026 for the Coastal Program.