Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
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Service Grants Help Turn Tide on Erosion in Galveston Bay, Texas
Southwest Region, December 15, 2001
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When they approached the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department for help, members of the West Galveston Island Property Owners? Association may or may not have known the ecological implications of eroding shorelines along the bay. What they definitely did know was that the marshes and wetlands which once characterized their neighborhood, along Delehide Cove directly adjacent to Galveston Island State Park, were quickly giving way to encroaching bay waters; and their once familiar neighbors -- willets, clapper rails, and roseate spoonbills ? were moving ominously away. Fortunately, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has recently awarded two wetland conservation grants totaling in excess of one million dollars to help stop the clock on erosion in West Galveston Bay. Because of erosion and subsidence (the sinking of land), the disappearance of wetlands and marshes on Galveston Island has been a trend that signifies more than decreased property values for a handful of homeowners. Tidal marshes are critical for the entire bay ecosystem, including colonial waterbirds, shorebirds, migratory songbirds, several imperiled species, and numerous marine species which sustain the local seafood industry. Tidal marshes also help remove pollutants and buffer nutrient levels in bay and coastal waters. It's not just back yards that are being threatened ? the loss of these marshes poses serious long-ranging threats to hundreds of species, including humans.

That is why the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department was so responsive when approached by the West Galveston Island Property Owners? Association. The agency joined with Texas General Land Office staff to plan a conservation strategy. Together they submitted two formal grant proposals for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grant Program. Both proposals were approved last November.

One restoration project, at Delehide Cove, will protect more than 1,400 acres of an estuarine marsh complex from erosion. Additionally, the plan calls for the placement of a breakwater structure to shield, and thereby enable restoration of 50 acres of estuarine intertidal emergent marsh and one acre of seagrass. These cooperative efforts will improve important ecosystem components including shorebird nesting habitat, higher-elevation marsh, upland transition areas where marsh yields to grass prairie, tidal pools and flats, lagoons, freshwater wetlands, and foraging areas for upland and aquatic species.

?The unique thing about this particular project,? said Woody Woodrow, Program Leader for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, ?is that the local people came forward and really wanted to make this happen. Their initiative, and the collaboration of many partners, will have direct benefits to the entire Galveston Bay ecosystem.?

Partners for the Delehide Cove project include Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Texas General Land Office, the West Galveston Island Property Owner's Association, Reliant Energy, Galveston Bay Foundation, Galveston Bay Estuary Program, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Texas Coastal Program and the Division of Federal Aid.

Many of the same partners, as well as the Texas Audubon Society and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, will also work together to protect the most important rookery island in Galveston Bay. Located just five miles northeast of Delehide Cove, North Deer Island is home to endangered brown pelicans, threatened reddish egrets and white-faced ibis, and 16 other species of colonial waterbirds. The restoration and protection project will conserve shoreline and estuarine intertidal marshes that will benefit 147 acres of coastal habitat, including 103 acres of wetlands. Funding for both projects became available in November 1991, after President Clinton reauthorized the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act of 1990. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which has long considered the protection of coastal wetland habitat a mission priority, annually selects from competitive grant proposals for wetland conservation projects through the National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grant Program. Funding comes from a portion of the Sport Fish Restoration program which collects tax on fishing equipment, pleasure boats, yachts, and a percentage of the federal fuel tax on motor boats and small engines.

This year, the National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grant Program awarded more than $15 million in 2001 wetlands conservation grants for 22 projects in 11 states, including the two in Texas. Only coastal state agencies and agencies of states bordering the Great Lakes can apply. One stipulation is that the grants require at least 50 percent matching funds from the state government or their private partner. The 2001 grants will be supplemented by more than $33 million in funds from state governments and private partners.

Since the National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grant Program began in 1990, the Service has given some $90 million in grants to 25 states and one U.S. territory. When the 2001 grants projects are complete, more than 105,000 acres will have been protected or restored since the program began. As the saying goes, ?one good thing leads to another.? In fact, the seeds for the idea of restoring Delehide Cove were planted when members of the West Galveston Island Property Owners? Association saw activities on nearby Galveston Island State Park, where biologists worked to stave off shoreline erosion by planting marsh terraces behind breakwaters. These initial efforts were also made possible through Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act grant awards from 1996. [Article by Ben Ikenson first appeared in Environmental News Network (enn.com); also appeared in Cable News Network (cnn.com); Albuquerque's Weekly Alibi; and Fish & Wildlife News]

Contact Info: Martin Valdez, 505-248-6599, martin_valdez@fws.gov
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