Dec 05, 2011

Federal Task Force Releases Final Strategy for Reversing Deterioration of Gulf Ecosystem

USDA $50 million financial assistance for restoration projects announced as efforts shift from planning to action

The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force released its final strategy for long-term ecosystem restoration for the Gulf Coast, following extensive feedback from citizens throughout the region. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator and task force Chair Lisa P. Jackson made the announcement.

The task force delivered the final strategy on Dec. 2 to President Obama, who established the task force by executive order to continue the administration’s ongoing commitment to the Gulf region.

The group is made up of representatives from the five Gulf states and 11 federal agencies, including the EPA, White House Council on Environmental Quality, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of the Interior, Department of Justice, Department of Transportation, Office of Management and Budget, Office of Science and Technology Policy and White House Domestic Policy Council.

The strategy is the first restoration blueprint ever developed for the Gulf to include input from states, tribes, federal agencies, local governments, and thousands of involved citizens and organizations across the region. The plan represents a commitment by all parties to continue to work together in an unprecedented collaboration to prepare the Gulf region to transition from response to recovery and address the decades-long decline that the Gulf’s ecosystem has endured.

“After the Deepwater Horizon disaster, this task force brought together people from across the Gulf Coast in unparalleled ways to talk about how we tackle both the immediate environmental devastation, as well as the long-term deterioration that has for decades threatened the health, the environment and the economy of the people who call this place home. It has all come to this moment when we move from planning and researching to supporting real, homegrown actions aimed at restoring this vital ecosystem,” Jackson said.

With the release of the final strategy, the task force marks the beginning of the implementation phase of the strategy by announcing new initiatives, including $50 million in assistance from the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service to help agricultural producers in seven Gulf Coast river basins improve water quality, increase water conservation and enhance wildlife habitat.

USDA's multi-year environmental restoration effort, known as the Gulf of Mexico Initiative represents a 1,100% increase in financial assistance for Gulf priority watersheds.

“Restoring the Gulf Coast ecosystem needs to begin immediately and USDA’s assistance is an important first step in placing the task force strategy into action,” USDA Under Secretary Harris Sherman said. “This collaborative voluntary effort will leverage contributions and commitments from farmers, communities, and all levels of government to improve water quality. A healthy water supply is not only vital for the people of the Gulf, but also for the estuaries, fisheries and wildlife that are the foundation of the local economy.”