The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced recently that it has allocated $31 million in funding to advance restoration work and improve water quality in the Gulf Coast states impacted by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
The funds will support three priority programs and related project work approved by the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration (RESTORE) Council as part of a multi-year process of collaborative planning and public engagement throughout the Gulf.
USDA’s Forest Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), along with state forestry agencies in Alabama, Florida and Mississippi will leverage the funds to restore forest health, improve coastal ecosystems and provide technical and financial assistance to private landowners.
“For more than a decade, the Forest Service and NRCS have worked side-by-side with private landowners and state agencies to support Gulf recovery efforts through an all-lands approach,” said Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen. “Our continued support in these collaborative projects will help to generate lasting ecosystem improvements and ensure clean water for millions of Americans downstream.”
“Most of the land in the Gulf Coast is privately owned, so working lands are pivotal to restoring habitat and improving water quality,” said Acting NRCS Chief Terry Cosby. “Working side-by-side with farmers, ranchers and forest landowners to improve their operations enables us to take better care of our natural resources, including our coastal ecosystems.”
“Healthy forests improve water quality and quantity by refilling groundwater aquifers and filtering rainfall and flowing water,” said Joe Fox President of the National Association of State Foresters and Arkansas State Forester. “Nationwide, and in the Gulf states, forested land is primarily owned by private landowners who are most likely to manage their forests with technical and financial assistance provided by state forestry agencies. To enhance the health of the Gulf watershed, the Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi forestry agencies will use proven social marketing techniques to double their outreach to private landowners, who will in turn, implement best management practices that sustain healthy forests for decades to come.”
The investment in these priority projects is part of the Funded Priorities List (FPL) #3b announced Thursday by the RESTORE Council.
The USDA funded activities through FPL #3b include:
- The Gulf Coast Conservation Reserve Program (GCCRP), led by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, will receive $3 million to continue planning and executing conservation and restoration activities for critical wildlife habitat and water quality. USDA and state partners established the current GCCRP in 2015 to protect and restore wildlife habitat and improve water quality through restoration and conservation best management practices. The initial funding included $6 million for project work in Texas, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.
- The Enhancing Gulf Waters through Forested Watershed Restoration Program, led by state forestry agencies in Alabama, Florida and Mississippi, will receive $23 million to protect, manage and restore forests in priority watersheds where states and partners have identified the greatest need. Project work will be delivered through a scalable, science-based approach, and can be applied on public and private lands along the Gulf Coast. Activities include social marketing techniques to effectively reach landowners, apply best management practices, and use of science-based decision support tools to inform forest restoration investments and quantify outcomes.
- The Apalachicola Regional Restoration Initiative, led by the Forest Service, will receive $5 million for collaborative, landscape-scale projects focused on restoring longleaf pine, coastal ecosystems and waters in the of Florida’s Apalachicola region. The funding continues the Apalachicola Regional Restoration Initiative proposal, which is employing a range of ecological restoration activities to address critical wildlife habitat and improve water quality on private and public lands around the Apalachicola River and the Apalachicola Bay.
The RESTORE Council was established in 2012 by the RESTORE Act, a federal law enacted in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The RESTORE Council consists of the governors of five Gulf Coast states (Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas) and the cabinet heads of six federal agencies (the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, the Army, Commerce, Homeland Security, Interior, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency). Additional information on the projects and programs included in FPL 3b as well as prior FPL activities can be found on the RESTORE Council’s website.