I’d like to take a moment today to call attention to an initiative implemented in April 2006, called the National Fish Habitat Action Plan, which is currently being implemented through a collaborative effort by varied agencies and organizations.
This program was hatched, no pun intended, in 2001 by an ad hoc group of fisheries interest, led by the Sport Fishing and Boating Partnership Council and supported by the Fish and Wildlife Services (FWS) Division of Fish and Wildlife Management and Habitat Restoration. Their interest in the declining number of fish species drove them to explore and develop a new program and partnership that would restore fish habitats on the same scale as what was done for waterfowl in the 1980’s through the North American Waterfowl Management Plan. That program effectively recovered plummeting numbers of migratory bird populations and essentialy became the model in forming the partnership that would lead the Action Plan.
The program was quickly validated by fisheries experts. After several meetings between said experts and the Council mentioned above, they were nearly unanimous in their support for the plan. In 2004, the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, which represents all state wildlife agencies, voted to take the lead in plan development with the FWS and NOAA Fisheries as the lead partners.
Since then, grand developments have been made. On April 24, 2006, the National Fish Habitat Action Plan was released to the public during the Congressional Casting Call, an annual event that brings together cabinet secretaries, members of congress, staff and fly-fishing enthusiasts to try their hand at fishing along the banks of the Potomac River. It was there that the Action Plan was highly endorsed by an array of state, federal, industry, fishing and conservation leaders. This included Acting Secretary of the Interior Lynn Scarlett, Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez, then President of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies John Cooper, and John Baughman, Executive Vice President of the Association.
To date, the Action Plan has enjoyed tremendous success, winning the support of more than 450 organizational supporters, from small local watershed groups and fishing clubs to international conservation organizations, federal agencies, angling industries and academia. Among these, the Action Plan is supported by the More Fish Campaign, administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, which recently launched efforts to attract millions of dollars to fund projects that complement and support the Action Plan. Bass Pro Shops, Tracker Marine and the John Morris Foundation have stepped up as the first corporate sponsors of the campaign, planning to contribute over $5 million in cash and in-kind contributions over five years to kick-off Fish Habitat Partnerships under the Action Plan.
Congress has also appropriated $1 million in the FWS budget for on-the-ground, plan-related efforts. With the money appropriated this year, the FWS was able to fund 24 projects planned by the various pilot partnerships across the country. The best part is that this investment and the work of partnerships is expected to double the number of assessed habitat miles; re-open streams for fish passage; and restore streams, shorelines, and wetlands to benefit fish populations.
Now with all that said, I feel that this Action Plan is as excellent in its purpose as it is unique. There are countless organizations floating around, which are equally as important, that focus mainly on high level regulatory groups or specified industry groups. This program gets to the heart of the matter by involving any citizen with concerns about the environment, specifically regarding the dwindling fish populations, whether it be a school group or a local fishing group…right on up to agencies such as Fish and Wildlife Services. It is imperative to see involvement at all levels where the environment is concerned, because without the support of citizens to care for the environment, the laws may not work. Implementation is key! I urge anyone with an interest in this program to visit the official website for the Action Plan and get involved in your community.
I’d like to thank the National Wetlands Newsletter, published by the Environmental Law Institute, for providing an excellent source of information, from which I gathered much of the information about this program. Click here to subscribe.