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Kempthorne: Refuge and Park Recovery Funding to Restore Gulf Coast Wetlands, Undertake Other Projects

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 18, 2006

Contacts:
Hugh Vickery,
202-501-4633
Jeff Fleming,
404-274-6693


(New Orleans) – Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne today announced $256 million in new federal funds to restore vital Gulf coastal wetlands on national wildlife refuges, rebuild Interior facilities, and undertake other hurricane recovery projects.

“We stand with the people of Louisiana and other Gulf states as they seek to rebuild their communities and restore their coastal ecosystems,” Kempthorne said. “This includes providing new funding to restore national wildlife refuges, national parks and other Interior facilities in Gulf Coast states that were devastated by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.”

Kempthorne emphasized that wetland restoration is paramount to both the people and wildlife of the Gulf Coast region.

“More than 118 square miles of coastal wetlands and marshes on the southeastern Louisiana coast were turned into open water by the storms,” he said. “The damage to this coastal ecosystem has accelerated wetland losses, endangering communities across the coast and threatening nationally significant fish and wildlife resources and important on-shore facilities.”

President Bush signed legislation last month providing $256 million for Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas and Florida. The funds are in addition to $70.3 million provided in Dec. 2005

Combined, the two appropriations provide a total of $162.4 million to restore national wildlife refuges, many of which were severely damaged by the storms; $74.4 million will help national parks, which also were hard hit; $31 million to assist the Minerals Management Service, which had to relocate its regional headquarters; and $15.5 million to enable the U.S. Geological Survey to replace stream gauges and other vital water monitoring equipment. The appropriations also include $43 million for grants to states for historic preservation.

The funds are being used to remove debris and clear canals; repair levees, docks, bridges, roads, campgrounds, and trails; restore damaged or destroyed buildings; replace lost equipment, vehicles, and boats; and restore damaged cultural artifacts. The restoration funding also will generate millions of dollars in purchases, create thousands of jobs, and help to revitalize the region’s economy.

“People cannot live there if the Delta dies. It’s as simple as that,” Kempthorne said. “This is a national challenge that requires all of us to work together to solve. Restoring a sustainable wetland ecosystem must be a part of any rebuilding plan if we are to address future risks to human safety.”

Louisiana contains 45 percent of the nation's coastal wetlands, including 10 national wildlife refuges and one national park, covering more than 310,000 acres.

“Our national wildlife refuges and national parks contribute to the larger solution by restoring their levees, clearing their marshes and wetlands of debris, and working with state and local partners on long-term, common-sense solutions to halt the accelerated loss of coastal wetlands,” Kempthorne said.

“Nearly $80 million of the funding for the Fish and Wildlife Service will be used on national wildlife refuges and other Service facilities in Louisiana,” he said. “So we’ll be ready when Louisianans are ready to seek outdoor recreation.”

Earlier in the day, Kempthorne took a helicopter tour of some of the devastation and visited Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge where he saw the impacts of salt water intrusion into the refuge and the loss of important marshes inside the levees.Many acres of trees in the refuge were once a beautiful hardwood oasis for songbirds and refuge visitors alike. Today, because of the saltwater intrusion, the trees are dead.

“Without a self-sustaining coastal wetland ecosystem, not only are fish and wildlife resources at risk, but the coastal communities, infrastructure and industries will surely face increasing risks as the protective wetlands, barrier islands and other natural features are converted to open water,” he said.

Kempthorne commended refuge employees for their extraordinary efforts in responding to last year’s storms and rebuilding their communities and refuges.

“U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees have served, and continue to serve, the American public in so many ways, and I just want to thank them for a job well done,” he said.


For more information about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, visit our home page at http://www.fws.gov/southeast or http://www.fws.gov/.



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