Summary of Hearings on Wetlands and Coastal Resources (7-5-06)
- June 29, 2006: House Resources Committee,
Subcommittee on Fisheries and Oceans, Hearing on H.R. 5539,
the "North American Wetlands Conservation Reauthorization
Act of 2006"
- November 8, 2005: House Resources Committee,
Subcommittee on Fisheries and Oceans, Hearing on H.R. 3552,
the "Coastal Barrier Resources Reauthorization Act"
Subcommittee on Fisheries and Oceans
Hearing on H.R. 5539, the "North American Wetlands Conservation
Reauthorization Act of 2006"
June 29, 2006
The Honorable Mark Kennedy, United States Representative, Minnesota
Matthew J. Hogan, Acting Assistant Secretary of Interior for Fish
and Wildlife and Parks
John Frampton, Director, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources
Dr. Alan Wentz, Group Manager of Conservation Programs, Ducks Unlimited
Steve Parker, Director, Virginia Coast Reserve Office, The Nature
David E. Nomsen, Vice President for Government Affairs, Pheasants
The Fisheries and Oceans Subcommittee of the House Committee on Resources
met on June 29, 2006 to discuss the reauthorization of the North American
Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA). Subcommittee Chairman Wayne Gilchrest
(R-MD) began the hearing by acknowledging the overwhelming bipartisan
support of the NAWCA reauthorization bill, H.R.5539.
NAWCA's popularity is due to the fact that, since its inception in
1989, more than 23 million acres of wetlands have been preserved throughout
the U.S., Canada and Mexico - providing natural flood control and
water filtration, and protecting critical habitat for fish, wildlife
and migratory birds.
In their testimony, environmental, fishing and hunting groups urged
the Subcommittee to pass the legislation that would reauthorize NAWCA.
Federal and state natural resources officials and conservation groups
agree that the program should continue to be funded through fiscal
year 2011 at an annual level of $75 million. The grants that NAWCA
issues to protect, restore and enhance wetlands must be matched with
funds from conservation groups, businesses, and private landowners.
According to Matthew Hogan, the Acting Assistant Secretary of Interior
for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, federal spending for the program
has reached more than $720 million, and private partners have contributed
over $2.1 billion for wetlands preservation.
John Frampton, the Director of the South Carolina Department of Natural
Resources, touted the public-private partnerships that NAWCA has helped
create. Frampton explained that NAWCA funds have stimulated the formation
of the ACE (Ashepoo, Combahee and Edisto Rivers) Basin Partnership
in South Carolina, which has been able to protect 170,000 acres of
wetland habitats. This joint venture between federal, state, corporate
and private partners is one of the largest and most successful partnerships
in NAWCA history.
Dr. Alan Wentz, Group Manager of Conservation Programs of Ducks Unlimited,
testified that the "public has [recently] become more aware of
the value of coastal wetlands in reducing the storm surge from hurricanes."
Wentz described the NAWCA-sponsored coastal wetlands restoration projects
that were underway in Louisiana when hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit.
"Some marsh management infrastructure was damaged [during the
hurricanes], but the terraces in interior marshes were not significantly
impacted," he reported. The terraces apparently trapped much
of the displaced marsh vegetation, providing an unanticipated benefit
that will likely accelerate the marsh rebuilding process in the region.
Subcommittee on Fisheries and Oceans
Hearing on H.R. 3552, the "Coastal Barrier Resources Reauthorization
November 8, 2005
Benjamin Tuggle, Acting Special Assistant to the Director, U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service
Robert Tilley, Director, Lousiana State University Wetlands Biogeochemistry
Robert Young, Associate Professor of Geosciences, Western Carolina
Stephen Ellis, Vice President of Programs, Taxpayers for Common Sense
Andy Coburn, Associate Director, Duke University Program for the Study
of Developed Shorelines
On November 8, 2005 the Fisheries and Oceans Subcommittee of the
House Resources Committee held a legislative hearing to discuss H.R.
3552, a proposed reauthorization of the Coastal Barrier Resources
Act (CBRA). In his opening statement, Subcommittee Chairman Wayne
Gilchrest (R-MD) praised the act, which prohibits federal subsidies
for development in vulnerable coastal areas, but he also said that
it is "not quite what it should be" because it does not
go far enough in discouraging new development or reconstruction in
hazardous areas. Gilchrest also said that he would like to require
that real estate developers pass a test on coastal ecology before
they get their licenses.
The first witness, Benjamin Tuggle of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service (FWS) testified about the need to digitize the maps used to
determine which areas fall under CBRA jurisdiction. The FWS is responsible
for creating and interpreting these maps, and currently the agency
must rely on outdated paper maps created fifteen years ago. HR 3552
would direct the agency to digitize all maps and to use the digital
maps to make decisions under CBRA, which Tuggle said would help to
improve the efficacy of the law. When asked by Representative Thelma
Drake (R-VA) whether the FWS needed additional funds to digitize the
maps, Tuggle only said that the agency would do its best with the
funds it had. Gilchrest assessed the situation, saying "I think
it's our responsibility to ask for more money."
The second panel, which included two geoscientists, offered their
views on coastal development. Robert Twilley, the Director of the
Lousiana State University Wetlands Biogeochemistry Institute, advocated
approaches to rebuilding in the Gulf Coast "that promote adaptation
to change rather than a philosophy of control". Robert Young,
a Professor of Geology at Western Carolina University, was very adamant
on the issue, saying "it is time to cut our ties with the most
vulnerable of our nation's coastal areas." Young proposed creating
a Shoreline Retreat Advisory Commission (ShRAC) that would identify
vulnerable coastal areas that would not receive federal support. Two
other witnesses, Stephen Ellis from Taxpayers for Common Sense, and
Andy Coburn, a marine geologist who directs a program Duke University
program on developed shorelines, echoed Young's argument that the
federal government should no longer provide aid to residents in highly
vulnerable coastal areas.
Chairman Gilchrest was the only subcommittee member who stayed for
the second panel, but he was clearly interested in discussing coastal
management with the witnesses. Gilchrest asked whether urbanized coastal
areas, such as Ocean City in his district, should no longer receive
federal support. Coburn saw the coastal cities as an exception that
justified a flexible approach. Young and Ellis, however, argued that
cities should have to pay for projects like beach replenishment. Coburn
also pointed out that only 3% of oceanfront properties in North Carolina
were primary homes, meaning federal subsidies for repairing storm
damage were primarily supporting second homes and investments. Twilley
contended that this was not true in Louisiana, where "wealth
moves away from water", and coastal communities were essential
for the energy and seafood industries. Young, however, disagreed,
suggesting that oceanfront buildings in Louisiana were primarily second
homes as well. Despite, this point of contention, however, it was
clear that everyone present was interested in changing policies that
encouraged people to live in hazardous areas.
Sources: House Resources Committee; Hearing testimony.
Contributed by Peter Douglas, 2005 AGI/AAPG Fall Intern; Katie Ackerly,
Government Affairs Staff; and Jessica Rowland, 2006 AGI/AIPG Summer
Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI
Government Affairs Program.
Last updated on July 5, 2006