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Gulf of Mexico Initiative - Councils and Partnerships

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Taking a proactive approach after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, NRCS launched the Gulf of Mexico Initiative (GoMI). This initiative was part of a comprehensive effort to accelerate voluntary conservation in the region while collaborating with other federal and state government agencies and other groups to further develop a comprehensive, regional strategy and to aid ecosystem restoration following the oil spill.  These efforts aim to broaden opportunities for voluntary private lands conservation. GoMI is supported by USDA’s role as a trustee on the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council (RESTORE council), Natural Resource Damage Assessment Trustee Council (NRDA) and partnership with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF).

 

Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council

The Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act (RESTORE Act) signed into law in July 2012 established the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, which is comprised of governors from the five affected Gulf states, the secretaries of the Interior, Commerce, Agriculture, the Army and Homeland Security, and the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has served as the Council’s chair since March 2016.

The Council’s first Funded Priorities List (FPL) of projects and programs funded with civil penalties available from the government’s settlement with Transocean was approved in December 2015. USDA received more than $18 million to lead three projects:

  • Bayou Dularge, Marsh and Hydrologic Restoration: USDA is working with the Chitimacha Tribe of Louisiana to plan and design the restoration of a land bridge that once protected marshes from saltwater restoration. Once implemented, the land bridge will re-establish historic hydrologic and salinity conditions and make the area suitable for healthy marshes.
  • Tate’s Hell Strategy: USDA is working with Florida to develop a landscape-scale hydrologic assessment, a decision support system and plan for restoration activities in the lower Apalachicola River basin. The assessment, tool and plans will be used to guide and prioritize the implementation of conservation efforts in the basin to address water quality and quantity issues in the area.
  • Gulf Coast Conservation Reserve Program: USDA is working with Alabama, Florida, Mississippi and Texas to protect and restore critical wildlife habitat and improve water quality.   Through the development and implementation of wildlife habitat and conservation management plans on priority landscapes, the program will address local ecosystem issues, optimizing ecosystem benefits to local communities.

USDA is also supporting additional projects led by other Council members such as the Suwannee River Partnership Irrigation Water Enhancement Program and the Apalachicola Watershed Agriculture Water Quality Improvements.

Natural Resource Damage Assessment

After the oil spill, federal and state agencies came together to form the Gulf of Mexico Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) Trustee Council. USDA has served as a trustee since September 2012. USDA has provided technical assistance to the Trustees for assessments and early restoration projects.

In October 2015, negotiations resulted in a draft Consent Decree and Programmatic Damage Assessment and Restoration Plan (PDARP).  The NRDA Consent Decree was entered by the Court and became a binding agreement on April 4, 2016. Under this settlement, BP will pay up to $7.7 billion for restoration, in addition to the $1 billion BP already paid to conduct Early Restoration.

To support restoration of the Gulf ecosystem and wisely use settlement funds, the NRDA Trustees completed a thorough assessment of impacts to the Gulf’s natural resources, selecting a comprehensive, integrated ecosystem restoration approach outlined in a comprehensive restoration plan, which will allocate funds from the settlement for restoration during the next 15 years.

National Fish and Wildlife Foundation

Through an agreement with NFWF, NRCS is providing support to the five Gulf of Mexico states directly impacted by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The partnership began with a $20 million investment in late 2014 from NFWF, matched by a $20 million investment from NRCS. Additional commitments of up to $30 million from each partner are possible. NFWF and NRCS continues to focus on working with private landowners to implement conservation projects that will enhance the existing recovery efforts in the impacted states of Louisiana, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi and Texas.

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