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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"

House Resources Committee
Subcommittee on Fisheries and Oceans
Hearing on H.R. 5539, the "North American Wetlands Conservation Reauthorization Act of 2006"

June 29, 2006

Panel I
The Honorable Mark Kennedy, United States Representative, Minnesota

Panel II
Matthew J. Hogan, Acting Assistant Secretary of Interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks

Panel III
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 Conservancy
David E. Nomsen, Vice President for Government Affairs, Pheasants Forever

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.


House Resources Committee
Subcommittee on Fisheries and Oceans
Hearing on H.R. 3552, the "Coastal Barrier Resources Reauthorization Act
November 8, 2005

Panel I
Benjamin Tuggle, Acting Special Assistant to the Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Panel II
Robert Tilley, Director, Lousiana State University Wetlands Biogeochemistry Institute
Robert Young, Associate Professor of Geosciences, Western Carolina University
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 Intern.

Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.

Last updated on July 5, 2006


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