Senate approves Gulf Coast restoration

The U.S. Senate passed a measure March 8 that would facilitate restoration activities in Gulf Coast regions affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and expand funding for land conservation across the nation.

“This is great news,” said Noreen Clough, B.A.S.S. national conservation director. “It is so good to see that an outstanding bipartisan boost for conservation can actually occur in this Congress, reaffirming the importance of healthy fish and wildlife resources across this nation.

“Senators Bill Nelson, Mary Landrieu, Richard Shelby and Max Baucus showed great leadership and stewardship in championing this legislation,” Clough continued. “Every one of the more than 500,000 B.A.S.S. members should be celebrating this historic vote for fishing — for habitat restoration, access, infrastructure improvements, and especially for restoration of the ravaged Gulf of Mexico.”

The passage of the amendment to the Senate Transportation Bill advances the RESTORE the Gulf Coast Act, which dedicates 80 percent of Clean Water Act penalties charged to BP to restoration of Gulf Coast resources and economies. It also includes two years of dedicated funding, at $700 million per year, to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which uses a portion of revenues from offshore oil and gas leasing to conserve fish and wildlife habitat and increase access and recreation opportunities for sportsmen and the general public.

“Today’s vote stands as a shining example of how conservation policy can be — and should be — bipartisan,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, which issued a press release praising the measure as soon as the votes were counted. “Sportsmen of all stripes, whether saltwater anglers or big-game hunters, can celebrate this historic action and the movement of thoughtful conservation policy through Congress. It’s also important to note that this vote represents an investment in the nation’s conservation- and recreation-based economy, which supports more than 9 million jobs across the country.”

Nationally, activities related to fishing support more than 1 million jobs and contribute almost $125 billion annually to the economy, with the gulf region alone supporting more than 82,000 jobs and $8 billion in economic output.

“During this time of fiscal uncertainty, the RESTORE Act plays a central role in restoring the Gulf and its outdoor-based economy,” said Jim Martin, a biologist who is conservation director of the Berkley Conservation Institute.

The LWCF has helped conserve some of America’s richest fish and wildlife habitat and most popular sporting destinations and has maintained access for hunting, fishing and shooting. Congress, however, has consistently diverted these funds from their intended purpose.

“Hunters and anglers are losing access by the day to our traditional places to hunt and fish,” said William H. Geer, TRCP climate change initiative manager. “The Land and Water Conservation Fund provides funding to purchase public access to hunting and fishing areas, maintain important waterfowl nesting sites on prairie potholes, conserve functional habitat for a range of game and nongame species and offer a valuable tool for ranching families and communities to maintain the economic viability of working landscapes.”

Following yesterday’s vote, the Senate as well as the House of Representatives will consider the full Transportation Bill, likely later this year.

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