A Talk on the Wild Side.
|An oiled gannet is cleaned at the Theodore Oiled Wildlife Rehabilitation Center June 17, 2010. Photo by Colin White/USFWS|
Nanciann Regalado, of the Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment office, and Nadine Siak, of the Gulf Restoration Program, recount the Service's steady involvement in the spill recovery.
Five years ago last month we heard the devastating news – BP’s Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil rig had exploded and was spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico. As our personnel were lining up to support the immense response effort, the evening news was delivering an unending stream of gut-wrenching reports.
First up tonight, the breaking news: In fact, it's heartbreaking news for anyone who counts on the Gulf Coast for a living or simply loves the natural beauty of it; it is murder for the animals that call it home. The first fingers of the massive oil spill… [are] just a few miles off shore. The slick is enormous - 120 miles wide… The doomed well is … dumping 210,000 gallons of oil a day into the Gulf. Making things even worse, there is no indication that crews can cap the flow any time soon .... This spill is already America’s second worst environmental disaster on record after the 1990 Exxon Valdez spill. At the rate it’s going, it could be on track to be the worst.
To our horror, the Deepwater Horizon well gushed oil for 87 days and did surpass the Exxon Valdez by a factor of 10.
The Service responds quickly
|The Service's Drew Wirwa counts brown pelican nests at Breton National Wildlife Refuge, before the potential impact of incoming oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill. Photo by Tom MacKenzie/USFWS|
We have been addressing the impacts of the DWH spill for five years. First came the initial emergency response, to which we assigned an unprecedented level of resources. About 2,000 Service responders, or more than 17 percent of our workforce, assisted in the effort. Some Service personnel even made multiple deployments to the Gulf. At one point, 722 Service personnel were working on incident command, wildlife reconnaissance and recovery, sensitive habit and endangered species protection, finance and other administrative tasks, safety and more.
The Service assesses injury
We are now part of a federal-state coalition working on the largest natural resource damage assessment (NRDA) ever undertaken. Service members, along with Department of the Interior (DOI) colleagues from the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the US Geological Survey, are collaborating on this effort. DOI, representatives from the five Gulf states directly impacted by the spill and other federal agencies make up the DWH NRDA Trustee Council, which oversees the entire process.
The NRDA process typically starts with a multi-year assessment of injury to natural resources and lost human uses of those resources that result When hazardous substances, like oil, enter the environment. This is followed by restoration planning and implementation. As part of this effort, we are currently assessing DWH-caused injury to the wildlife the American public entrusts us to care for, including endangered species such as the Gulf sturgeon, beach mouse, brown pelican and sea turtles. Assessing injury involves everything from Service staff counting the number of oiled birds and sea turtles (alive and dead) to surveying damage to wildlife habitat such as the dunes and beaches essential to nesting birds and sea turtles.
The Service restores early
The DWH NRDA is unique not only for its size, but because one of the parties responsible for the spill agreed to make funds available for extensive “early restoration” -- restoration that could begin before the injury assessment was completed. Under an agreement reached in April 2011, BP agreed to fund up to $1 billion in early restoration projects. Thus far, the NRDA trustees have approved 54 early restoration projects with a combined price tag of about $700 million. DOI’s early restoration projects include those that enhance beach nesting habitat for birds and sea turtles along the Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi costs; restore North Breton Island, part of Breton Island National Refuge; and improve recreation opportunities and access at Gulf Islands National Seashore.
The Service participates broadly
We also participate in Gulf of Mexico restoration through membership in the RESTORE Council, a state-federal entity established in 2012 by the RESTORE Act. The Council’s 11 members include the Secretary of the Interior, as well as the Secretaries of the Army, Commerce, Agriculture, and Homeland Security; the Administrator of the U.S. EPA; and the governors of the five Gulf states. The RESTORE Council is developing its first list of restoration projects to be funded by a portion of a $1 billion settlement collected from Transocean, the company that owns the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that was used by BP.
On another front, criminal settlements with Transocean and BP provided the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation with $2.544 billion to establish a Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund. The foundation is required to consult with us and others as it identifies and prioritizes appropriate restoration projects to make use of this money. To date, we have worked closely with NOAA, NFWF and the five Gulf states to identify 50 projects that are being supported with nearly $390 million from the Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund.
We know that in order to achieve a healthy Gulf of Mexico, conservation must occur throughout the greater Gulf watershed. More than half the continental United States drains to the Gulf of Mexico, as do parts of Mexico and Canada. To address these broader watershed needs and to facilitate coordination across the multiple Gulf funding efforts, we recently established the Gulf Restoration Program (GRP). The GRP is comprised of employees from across five geographic regions representing all the Service programs. Staff members associated with the GRP work with our partners at the field and regional level on Gulf restoration activities such as: habitat conservation, restoration, science, environmental compliance and communications. By investing in dedicated staff, we can actively engage in the many DWH-related efforts, thus maximizing benefits to the wildlife we care for throughout the Gulf of Mexico watershed.
|The overall damage is still not known. Photo by USFWS|
We are at the five-year mark, and while no one knows how much more time it will take to restore the Gulf of Mexico. We do know that the Service will remain steadfast in its commitment to restoring this precious water body and its watershed, and ensuring their survival well into and beyond the 21st century.