It’s been nearly two years since the nation witnessed the largest oil spill in U.S. history. In that time, Congress still has not passed legislation to direct oil spill penalty funds to the Gulf Coast and its multi-billion-dollar natural-resources-based economy. Ducks Unlimited and the National Wildlife Federation co-hosted a briefing Feb. 28 to inform congressional staff about ongoing conservation efforts and to urge passage of the RESTORE Act directing Clean Water penalty fines resulting from the oil spill to areas directly impacted by the disaster.

Experts from the Gulf Coast region provided updates on the status of waterfowl, fisheries and wetland habitats on the Gulf. These experts included Dale Humburg, chief scientist for Ducks Unlimited; Captain Ryan Lambert, coastal Louisiana professional fishing and hunting guide; Chris Macaluso, Louisiana Wildlife Federation’s coastal outreach coordinator; and Dr. Tom Moorman, director of conservation planning for DU’s Southern Region and leader of Ducks Unlimited’s Gulf Coast Oil Spill Response Team.

“The Gulf Coast ecosystem is a vital national asset,” Moorman said. “Shipping and waterborne commerce, commercial and recreational hunting and fishing, tourism, oil and gas infrastructure and agriculture industry inputs from Gulf Coast states are a significant contributor to the national economy. The financial strength of the region and its large contributions to the U.S. economy are intrinsically tied to the sustainability of its natural resources.”

Long-term losses of more than 1.2 million acres of coastal marsh and barrier islands along the Gulf Coast have brought the coastal ecosystem to the brink of collapse. With the added blow from the 2010 oil spill, conservationists are concerned that further delay in serious, large-scale restoration will mean a loss of this coastal wetland system so crucial for millions of migratory birds, including more than 15 million waterfowl, and foundational to the regional economy.

Rep. Steve Scalise sponsored the briefing and is a co-sponsor of the RESTORE Act. “Louisiana’s coastal wetlands are vital to our ecosystem, our economy and our entire way of life. Ducks Unlimited has done invaluable work to raise awareness about the importance of restoring Louisiana’s eroding wetlands, and I will continue working with them to pass my bill, the RESTORE Act, to dedicate Clean Water Act fines to Gulf states for ecosystem and wetlands restoration in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon disaster,” Scalise said.

“Various plans are in play to complete large-scale restoration, with some partial funding sources, but we really need a long-term, nationwide commitment and creative policies to fully restore the Gulf Coast,” Moorman said. “Over the last century or so, billions of dollars have been used to alter the system and subsequently caused many unintended negative impacts. It will take an equal commitment of time and resources to restore its sustainability. Congress has before it an opportunity to pass the RESTORE Act and significantly contribute toward ensuring this region’s natural resources and their far-reaching effects on the national economy are sustained.”

The House has already passed an amendment that would dedicate 80 percent of the estimated $5-21 billion in Clean Water Act fines from the 2010 oil spill toward restoration of the area’s ecosystem and economy. The Senate is expected to take up that amendment soon. However, the amendment still needs Senate approval and enactment of the stand-alone RESTORE Act before it can move forward.

“Ducks Unlimited urges everyone to contact their members of Congress and let them know the nation understands the value of the Gulf Coast and supports sending these Clean Water Act fines back to the ecosystem impacted by the disaster,” Moorman said.

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