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Restoration Program Frequently Asked Questions

What is Natural Resource Damage Assessment?
Who are Natural Resource Trustees?
What are Trust Resources?
What are Resource Injuries?
What are Damages?
How are Injuries Determined?
How are Damages Determined?

What is restoration?
How is restoration funded?
Who conducts restorations?
What are the benefits of restoration?


What is Natural Resource Damage Assessment?
 
Hazardous substances are constantly entering our environment, threatening fish, wildlife, and other natural resources, and sometimes, people.  As a result of concern over this constant influx of contaminants into the environment, and a wish to ensure that the responsible parties pay for the restoration of contaminated habitats, Congress authorized the Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration Program (Restoration Program). 

Natural Resource Damage Assessment is:  A process which natural resource trustees use to determine the extent of injury to trust resources caused by an oil spill or a release of a hazardous substance.  The goal of the Department of the Interior’s Restoration Program is to restore natural resources injured by contamination by implementing natural resource damage assessments.

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Who are Natural Resource Trustees?

The Department of the Interior, along with State, Tribal, and other Federal partners, act as trustees for our natural resources.  Trustees identify the injured natural resources, determine the extent of the injuries, recover damages from the party(ies) responsible for the injuries, and plan and carry out natural resource restoration activities.  Where trusteeship overlaps, trustees benefit from acting together as a trustee group.  Natural resource trustees include:

  • Federal resource management agencies:
    • Department of the Interior (Fish and Wildlife Service)
    • Department of Commerce (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)
  • Federal land management agencies:
    • Department of the Interior (Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, Bureau of Indian Affairs)
    • Department of Agriculture (Forest Service)
    • Department of Defense
    • Department of Energy
  • State resource agencies and land management agencies
  • Indian tribes (Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs provides assistance)

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What are Trust Resources?

  • Animals, plants, and other living organisms, including endangered and threatened species, migratory birds, marine mammals and anadromous fish.
  • Surface water and ground water, including drinking water supplies.
    Land, including National Wildlife Refuges, National Parks, National
  • Forests, Defense and Energy Department facilities, and other federal, state and tribal lands.
  • Soil, sediments and air.

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 What are Resource Injuries? 

During a natural resource damage assessment, the natural resource trustees gather information on impacts (called injuries) to trust resources.  This information is used to determine appropriate restoration projects.  Injuries include impacts on the natural resources as well as impacts on the Public’s ability to use a site while it is contaminated.

Natural Resource injuries include:

  • Injuries to fish and wildlife such as death, disease, cancer, genetic mutations, physical deformities, physiological malfunctions, reproductive malfunctions and behavioral abnormalities.
  • Exceeding standards, criteria, tolerances or action levels.
  • Measurable adverse change in chemical or physical qualities, especially those that adversely affect other resources (e.g., changes in water quality that result in reproductive failure in fish).

Lost Public use:

  • Occurs when people (or other living organisms) are unable to use the resource as a result of the injury (e.g., an area is closed to fishing or hunting because of contamination).
  • Begins when the injury occurs and does not end until the resource has been restored.

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What are Damages?

Damages are the amount of money required to compensate the public for the injury, destruction or loss of natural resources.  These are paid for by the responsible party to restore, replace, or acquire the equivalent type of the natural resources and the services they would have provided.

How are Injuries Determined?

Injuries are identified based on existing data and studies developed as part of the damage assessment process.  Several pieces of information are critical to determine injury:

  • What contaminant(s) was/were released?
  • Is the quantity or concentration released large enough to cause injury or limit use of the resource (by the public or other natural resources)?
  • Did the contaminant reach fish and wildlife/trust resources directly or indirectly (e.g., through the food chain or exposure to contaminated water, soil, etc.)?
  • Did the exposure cause injury?    

Once this information is gathered, potential restoration options are developed and presented to the responsible party.

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How are Damages Determined?

A variety of methods are used to determine damages:

  • For certain types of spills, a computer model calculates damages based on the type and quantity of the contaminant, the habitat affected, and various environmental parameters. 
  • In other cases, damages are based on the cost of restoring the site.
  • In addition, a variety of economic valuation methodologies may be used to determine the value of “lost services.”

What is restoration?

Restoration includes both returning injured resources to the condition they would have been in if the oil spill or release of a hazardous substance had not occurred and replacing the services that were lost while the habitat was contaminated.  Restoration encompasses rehabilitation, replacement and acquisition.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (Service) objective is to restore trust resources which have been injured by oil spills or hazardous material releases. The Service’s primary restoration goal is to enhance and protect its trust resources.

Examples of restoration include:

  • restoring the quality of wetland and riparian areas after removal of contaminants (e.g., replanting native wetland or riparian vegetation);
  • providing additional opportunities for fishing elsewhere when a spill or release results in the permanent or temporary closure of a fishing area (e.g., building a new boat ramp to provide access to previously inaccessible areas);
  • recolonizing a historic breeding site (e.g., deploying common murre decoys and vocalizations to attract breeding birds to an abandoned breeding site).

Restoration goes beyond cleanup or remediation.  Remediation only addresses removal of hazardous substances and preventing further releases from the source.  In some cases, contamination that has already migrated away from the site is not addressed by the site cleanup.

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How is restoration funded?

The party(ies) responsible for the oil spill or release of hazardous substances pay(s) for restoration, not the American taxpayers.  To determine the appropriate payment amount, the trustees first collect information on the injuries to natural resources.  They use this information to determine the damages caused by the oil spill or hazardous substance release and to develop potential restoration projects.  The trustee agencies then attempt to negotiate a settlement with the responsible parties for the cost of restoration, the cost of conducting the damage assessment, and any costs associated with the public’s “lost use” of the land or natural resources.  In the rare instances where a settlement cannot be reached, the trustees can file a claim against the responsible party(ies) in a court of law.  

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Who conducts restorations?

The responsible party may choose to conduct the restoration themselves, with trustee supervision, or provide funding to the trustees for restoration.  If funds are provided to the trustees, the trustees can use the money to do the restoration themselves or they can hire contractors to do the work.  In addition, trustees encourage local community groups to become involved in the restoration efforts.  Occasionally trustees are able to integrate restoration efforts with those of community groups providing further benefit to the public.

What are the benefits of restoration?

The primary benefit of restoration is that injured natural resources are returned to the condition they would have been in if the spill or release of hazardous substances had not occurred.  Restoring our natural resources benefits not only the fish and wildlife that depend on these resources but also the local community and visitors to these areas.  People are able to fish and swim in cleaner water and enjoy the sights and sounds of the abundant wildlife which a healthy environment can support.

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Last updated: February 13, 2013