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After Sandy: Re-building Smarter, Re-building Greener

After Sandy: Re-building Smarter, Re-building Greener

Last summer, Defenders released a report, “Harnessing Nature: The Ecosystem Approach to Climate Change Preparedness,” to demonstrate the potential for ecosystem-based approaches – restored wetlands, protected habitats, and resilient forests – to help protect communities and infrastructure in the face of increasingly severe floods, droughts and heat waves that we expect a changing climate to bring. Little did we know that the nation would soon be faced with one of the costliest weather disasters in our nation’s history, a massive and deadly superstorm that demonstrated unequivocally that climate change is here, and it is happening now.

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, President Obama recognized the need for massive public investment in order to help rebuild one of the nation’s most populous regions, as well as the need to coordinate these investments in order to expedite recovery, avoid duplication of effort, and rebuild with an eye to withstanding challenges that climate change is sure to bring down the road. Thus, the Administration convened the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, which today released a Strategy “to serve as a model for communities across the nation facing greater risks from extreme weather and to continue helping the Sandy-affected region rebuild.” Defenders is pleased to see that among the report’s recommendations are several that highlight the invaluable role played by our natural capital during Sandy itself, and point to a more widespread use of this “green infrastructure” to enhance resilience to future climate challenges.

In building its case, the Strategy highlights the role that a restored oyster reef in Pamlico Sound played in reducing flooding at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. It could have just as easily discussed how communities in New York and New Jersey with intact dune systems fared far better than those that did not, or how restoration of wetlands and living shorelines to absorb storm waters and reduce wave action is an integral part of New York City’s resilience plan.

The Task Force lays out its “Green Infrastructure” strategies in Recommendations 19- 22:

Consider green infrastructure options in all Sandy infrastructure investments. Toward this end, the Task Force has developed Guidelines for incorporation of ecosystem services into projects:

“(1) provision of habitat (coastal, inter-coastal, inland)

(2) landscape conservation for the tourism, recreation, and aesthetic values on which economies depend

(3) watershed protection for clean drinking water and improved flood management

(4) threatened and endangered species conservation and restoration

(5) other associated ecosystem services from which people derive benefits (e.g., aquaculture and recreational and commercial fishing).”

Improve the understanding and decision-making tools for green infrastructure through projects funded by the Sandy Supplemental. Agencies are developing monitoring, mapping, remote sensing, valuation tools, and design protocols to better understand and apply the full range of benefits that natural solutions can provide.

Create opportunities for innovations in green infrastructure technology and design using Sandy funding, particularly in vulnerable communities. The Sandy supplemental was unprecedented in its support for natural resilience solutions, with funding available for protective measures like restoration of sand dunes and wetlands, water-absorbing measures like green roofs and permeable pavement, as well as ecosystem restoration at parks, refuges and Tribal lands in the region.

Develop a consistent approach to valuing the benefits of green approaches to infrastructure development and develop tools, data, and best practices to advance the broad integration of green infrastructure. The agencies are in the process of developing tools for encouraging the broader adoption of green infrastructure.

As we showed in “Harnessing Nature,” Natural solutions have proven value in helping to protect people and communities from some of the challenges that climate change will bring, like storms and floods, droughts and wildfires, and deadly heat waves. With the release of the Hurricane Sandy Task Force recommendations, hopefully the region – and the nation – will embark on a path to their broader adoption.

Brown Pelican, USFWS

Posted in Climate Change, Federal Policy, Florida, Imperiled Wildlife0 Comments

Farm Bill Prioritization Done Right

Farm Bill Prioritization Done Right

The federal Farm Bill is the largest single source of private land environmental funding in America, with a baseline of more than $6 billion in funding a year directed to a suite of conservation programs. However, many programs have long been plagued by the parochial desire of many Members of Congress to have a large and predictable flow of this money go to their District. Thus, many programs work under an allocation formula through which USDA gives a set amount of money to each state based on criteria like farmland area, state population and other demographic factors.

The alternative is to allocate money based on the highest and best environmental outcomes that can be achieved with those dollars – so this week’s announcement that USDA will allocate $100 million to wetland restoration and protection to benefit the Florida Everglades is great news. This is on top of $89 million already spent in this area in the last 2 years.

Under NRCS’ Chief Dave White, USDA is showing greater and greater interest in using conservation dollars for high priority projects. When Congress passes a new Farm Bill, conservation programs need additional improvements to make it even clearer that dollars should increasingly be allocated to high priority problems like Everglades restoration.

Posted in Agriculture, Florida0 Comments

National Research Council Assessing Deepwater Spill

The Natural Resource Damage Assessment process (NRDA) is part of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. The Oil Pollution Act was passed after the Exxon Valdez oil tanker ran aground in Alaska, spilling at least 11 million gallons in Prince William Sound (critics believe this Exxon-provided spill estimate is a significant underestimate).  The NRDA process is designed to “make the public whole” after an oil spill or hazardous substance release by precisely calculating damages to environmental services and developing a plan to rehabilitate, restore, replace or acquire the equivalent environmental services.

One of my biggest concerns with an oil spill as large as the 204 million gallon Deepwater disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, is that the types and complexity of short and long-term environmental impacts will prevent public agencies from making a complete assessment of damages.  Essentially that the public – and especially the environment – won’t be made whole.

This was one of the reasons Defenders of Wildlife worked closely with Senator David Vitter (R-Louisiana) and Senate offices to secure funding for the National Research Council to help ensure Deepwater damages get measured correctly.  As part of Emergency Supplemental Disaster Relief signed into law on August 2nd, a key amendment was passed that provides the National Research Council with $1 million from the Department of Commerce budget.  This funding is being used to bring together scientists expert in resource assessments and ecosystem services evaluation who will form a Committee to advise agencies on the best methodologies and technologies with which to assess difficult to quantify damages.  Knowing that timing is important, the Committee’s first report will be available within 6 months.

A second phase of the Committee’s work will take place over 2 years and is a more comprehensive effort to actually provide a second set of estimates of natural resource damages, also using the best existing and new science to accurately measure the damages caused by BP’s Deepwater well blowout.

This month NOAA and the National Research Council (NRC) agreed on a ‘scope of work’ for the study which you can find here.  Now that the scoping document has been finalized, the Ocean Studies Board of the NRC is taking nominations of expert scientists to serve on the 12-member Committee that will implement this study.

If you are an expert in ecosystem service valuation or know one who would be willing to be nominated, please consider participating on this Committee whose work will have a lasting influence on the restoration of Gulf ecosystems.

Posted in Energy, Florida, Fossil Fuels, Paying for Conservation0 Comments


dotWild is the blog of scientists and policy experts at Defenders of Wildlife, a national, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities.

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