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Information icon Morning glory at the beach. Photo by USFWS.

Next Steps for a Healthy Gulf of Mexico Watershed


Adaptive Management is a process that promotes flexible decision-making that can be adjusted in the face of uncertainties as outcomes from management actions and other events become better understood. Careful monitoring of these outcomes both advances scientific understanding, and helps adjust policies or operations as part of an iterative learning process. Adaptive management also recognizes the importance of natural variability in contributing to ecological resilience and productivity. It is not a ‘trial and error’ process; it emphasizes learning while doing, and adapting based on what’s learned.

Anadromous Fish are born in fresh water, spend most of their life in the sea, and return to freshwater to spawn. Gulf Coast striped bass and Gulf sturgeon are examples of anadromous fish found in the Gulf watershed.

At-risk Species includes species that are proposed for listing, candidates for listing and petitioned for listing. At-risk species are under the authority of state wildlife agencies and conservation of these species is led by the states. Many of the at-risk species share habitat with currently listed species and will benefit from conservation of those species. Other at-risk species may require new conservation approaches and actions. The Service’s ongoing collaboration with SEAFWA’s Wildlife Diversity Committee is one way we consider at-risk species in the development of conservation plans and actions; as needs are identified they will be incorporated into plans for focal areas.

Base Flow is the portion of stream flow that is not runoff and results from seepage of water from the ground into a channel slowly over time. This is the primary source of running water in a stream during dry weather.

Beneficial Use (of dredged material) is a way of utilizing sediment resources from dredging to accomplish restoration initiatives by keeping dredged sediments within the natural system. Using dredged materials in the construction of restoration projects can improve environmental conditions, provide storm damage protection, and contribute to habitat creation and restoration.

Beneficial Uses Groups are made up of federal, state and private partners that promote the use of the material dredged from ports, harbors and waterways in a beneficial manner rather than being disposed of as waste. Dredged material such as sand, silt and soft clay can be used beneficially to create topsoil, nourish beaches, and create or restore habitat.

Best Management Practices (BMPs) include soil and water conservation practices, other management techniques and social actions that are developed for a particular region as effective and practical tools for environmental protection. (Source: USDA 2006 Best Management Practices To Minimize Agricultural Phosphorus Impacts on Water Quality).

Connectivity involves the protection, retention and rehabilitation of natural connections among habitats within ecosystems at the landscape level. The goal is interconnected habitat that allows for the movement of wildlife. See “Wildlife Corridors.”

Conservation Easements are voluntary legal agreements between landowners and a land trust or government agency that limits uses of a piece of land in order to protect its conservation values (e.g., water quality, migration routes). Landowners retain many of their rights, including the right to use the land in other ways, sell it and pass it on to heirs. Each easement is individually tailored to meet conservation objectives and the needs of the landowner. Thus the terms of conservation easements can vary greatly: one could forbid or substantially constrain subdivision and other real estate development, while another might allow continued farming and the building of additional agricultural structures. Conservation easements are almost always permanent, designed to protect natural resources in perpetuity.

Critical Habitat is a term defined and used in relation to Endangered Species Act. It refers to a specific geographic area that contains features essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species, and that may require special management and protection. Critical habitat may include an area that is not currently occupied by the species but that will be needed for its recovery.

Diadromous Fish spend portions of their life cycles partially in fresh water and partially in salt water. This category covers both anadromous and catadromous fish. Anadromous fishes spend most of their adult lives at sea, but return to fresh water to spawn; catadromous is a term used for a special category of marine fishes who spend most of their adult lives in fresh water, but must return to the sea to spawn.

Diversions are temporary ridges or excavated channels (or combinations of ridges and channels) constructed to divert water from or around one area to another. River diversions offer a mechanism by which sediment-laden waters can be introduced into basins and bays to build new land that provides a substrate for wetland growth.

Fee Acquisitions are transactions that transfer full ownership of property, including the underlying title, to another party. A fee acquisition may be a purchase or the result of a donation.

Fish Habitat Partnerships are modeled after Migratory Bird Joint Ventures. These partnerships are formed around important aquatic habitats and distinct geographic areas (e.g., Southeast Aquatic Resources Partnership) “keystone” fish species (e.g., alligator gar), or system types (e.g., large-river floodplain habitat).

Flagship Species are iconic species that provide a focus for raising awareness and action to fund broader conservation efforts.

Greentree Reservoirs are stands of bottomland hardwood forest that are equipped with water-control structures (e.g., a levee system, wells and/or pumps) so that they can be flooded in late fall, when oaks and other trees are dormant, to provide crucial wintering habitat for waterfowl.

Gulf Coast Vulnerability Assessment is a project initiated by the four Landscape Conservation Cooperatives along the Gulf, in partnership with the Service and others, which used an expert opinion approach to evaluate the effects of climate change, sea level rise, and urbanization on four Gulf of Mexico coastal ecosystems and 11 species that depend on them. The document can be found here.

Gulf of Mexico Alliance (GOMA) is a nonprofit organization led by the five Gulf states with a mission to collaboratively enhance the ecological and economic health of the region through six priority issues: Water Resources, Habitat Resources, Community Resilience, Data & Monitoring, Wildlife & Fisheries, and Education & Engagement. GOMA’s members make up a broad partner network that includes state and federal agencies, academic organizations, businesses, and other nonprofits in the region.

Hypoxia, or oxygen depletion, is an environmental phenomenon where the concentration of dissolved oxygen in the water decreases to a level that can no longer support living aquatic organisms. Hypoxia can be caused by a variety of factors, including excess nutrients (primarily nitrogen and phosphorus), and waterbody stratification (layering) due to saline or temperature gradients. With excess nutrients, the problem begins when they overstimulate algal growth. As the algae die, they decompose, and oxygen is consumed in the process. This results in the low levels of oxygen in the water; hypoxia in the northern Gulf of Mexico is defined as a concentration of dissolved oxygen less than 2 mg/L (2 ppm). The nutrients can come from many sources, including fertilizers from agriculture, golf courses and suburban lawns; erosion of soil full of nutrients; discharges from sewage treatment plants; and the deposition of atmospheric nitrogen.

Interjurisdictional Fish are fish populations whose management and allocation of use are the collective responsibility of two or more states, tribes and/or other nations. The Gulf menhaden (Brevoortia patronus) is an example of an interjurisdictional fish species, as these fish range during their lifetimes from the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, across the western and northern Gulf to Tampa Bay, Florida.

Indicator Species are species whose presence, absence or abundance reflect a specific environmental condition. An indicator species can signal a change in the biological condition of a particular ecosystem, and thus may be used as a proxy to diagnose the health of an ecosystem.

Invasive Species are not native to an ecosystem and cause, or are likely to cause, harm to the economy, environment and/or human health. An invasive species can originate in a foreign country, or be native and benign in one part of the country but invasive in another part.

Keystone Species are species that play unique and crucial roles in the way an ecosystem functions. Without this species, an ecosystem would be dramatically different.

Landcover is commonly defined as the vegetation (natural or planted) or man-made constructions (buildings, etc.) which occur on the earth surface. Water, ice, bare rock, sand, asphalt and similar surfaces also count as land cover.

Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs) are self-directed partnerships between federal agencies, states, tribes, non-governmental organizations, universities and other entities that collaboratively define science needs and jointly address broad-scale conservation issues (e.g., sea-level rise) in a defined geographic area.

Landscape Conservation Design involves combining geospatial data with biological information and models to create tools (e.g., maps) that evaluate the potential of every acre of habitat of a landscape to support a species’ population. Using these tools, one can determine what the current habitat-acre capability of the landscape is — and what it needs to be – to achieve specific biological objectives or outcomes.

Living Shorelines are stabilization projects constructed along estuarine shorelines designed to minimize erosion and maximize habitat for plants and animals by maintaining natural coastal processes through strategic placement of natural components along the shoreline profile from uplands to wetlands. Living shorelines represent a greener, more environmentally friendly alternative to traditional shoreline hardening techniques (e.g., bulkheads and seawalls) by using native plants (e.g., marsh grasses, mangroves, seagrasses, and upland, salt-tolerant species), oysters, coir fiber logs, and other natural materials (with limited use of rock only when necessary). They can provide a host of ecological benefits by trapping sediment, filtering runoff, providing habitat for aquatic and terrestrial species, buffering storms, improving water quality, allowing for tidal exchange, preserving coastal resiliency, mitigating sea level rise, as well as increasing aesthetic and recreational values. Living shorelines allow for natural coastal processes to remain through the strategic placement of plants, stone, sand fill, coir fiber logs, oyster reefs and other structural and organic materials. Options also include hybrids of traditional shoreline armoring and softer, more natural stabilization techniques. Living shorelines not only can reduce wave energy, but also trap sediment, filter runoff and maintain (or increase) habitat for aquatic and terrestrial species.

Migratory Bird Joint Ventures (JVs) are collaborative, regional partnerships of government agencies, non-profit organizations, corporations, tribes and individuals that conserve habitat for the benefit of priority bird species, other wildlife and people. Migratory Bird Joint Ventures bring these diverse partners together to design and implement landscape-scale conservation efforts in support of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan and other bird management plans.

National Estuary Programs (NEPs) were established by Congress in 1987 under the auspices of the Environmental Protection Agency as non-regulatory programs that bring together citizens, scientists, businesses and government entities to develop and implement science-based action plans that enhance estuaries as vital environmental and economic resources benefiting local communities and the entire nation. Seven NEPs have been established in the Gulf Coast region.

Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration (NRDAR) relates to a natural resource damage assessment (NRDA), which is the process that federal, state and tribal governments use in their role as “trustees” to determine the injury that an oil spill has caused to natural resources. A natural resource damage assessment and restoration (NRDAR) process adds restoration planning to the NRDA. The goal of the NRDA/NRDAR processes is to develop an injury assessment-based claim that supports restoration which will return injured natural resources to the condition they would have been in had the oil spill not occurred.

Partnership for Gulf Coast Land Conservation is a coalition of 34 local, regional and national conservation organizations that work in the Gulf Coast region within the five states bordering the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf Partnership’s mission is to increase the pace, quality and permanence of voluntary land and water conservation within the Gulf Coast region.

Prescribed Fire is a fire that is intentionally set under controlled conditions to achieve specific management objectives such as the suppression of invasive plant species, or to reduce dangerously overgrown vegetation that could lead to a devastating wildfire that could threaten people, fish, wildlife and plants.

Recovery is an improvement in the status of a listed species to the point at which listing is no longer appropriate under the criteria set out in section 4(a)(1) of the Endangered Species Act.

Recovery Plan is a “road map” drafted by the Service, NOAA Fisheries, or other knowledgeable individuals or groups that serve as a guide for activities to be undertaken to recover and conserve endangered or threatened species. A recovery plan includes a description of the needed management actions; objective, measurable criteria which when met would lead to the species being removed from Federal protection; and an estimate of the time required and cost to carry out those measures. Recovery plans may include brief discussions of the species’ biology, life history and threats to it.

Recovery Team is a group of people appointed by the lead Service Regional Director or NOAA Assistant Administrator to guide the recovery of a listed species through such actions as developing a recovery plan or providing guidance on recovery implementation. Members of the recovery team generally include species experts from the Service, NOAA, state governments, conservation organizations and the private sector, as well as stakeholders.

Southeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (SEAFWA) is an organization whose members are the state agencies with primary responsibility for management and protection of the fish and wildlife resources in 15 states, Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands. Member states are Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. SEAFWA members are working towards developing a more comprehensive and collective vision for conservation in the southeast United States by, among other things, identifying the most important lands and waters that will meet the needs of fish and wildlife for future generations.

Southeastern Conservation Adaptation Strategy (SECAS) is a regional, multi-partner initiative led by members of the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, supported by federal leaders in the Southeast Natural Resources Leadership Group, and developed through partners comprising the southeastern network of Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (South Atlantic, Peninsular Florida, Appalachians, Gulf Coastal Plains & Ozarks, Caribbean and Gulf Coast Prairies LCCs). These existing forums bring together landowners, businesses, and governmental and conservation organizations to collectively develop and implement a compelling conservation strategy for each Landscape Conservation Cooperative region. The goal of SECAS is to collaboratively define the conservation landscape of the Southeast United States of the future.

Species of Greatest Conservation Need is a category identified in state Wildlife Action Plans that includes animal species whose populations are rare, declining or vulnerable. This set is dynamic and can change over time as new information becomes available or the status of a species changes.

State Wildlife Action Plans (SWAP) guide proactive conservation planning in each state by assessing the health of wildlife and habitats, identifying problems they face, and outlining actions needed to conserve them long-term. In order to receive funds through the Wildlife Conservation and Restoration Program and the State Wildlife Grants Program, a state must develop a SWAP, technically known as “comprehensive wildlife conservation strategies.”

Surrogate Species are species that can be used as proxies to represent a broader set of species to support conservation or management strategies when the objective is to provide appropriate ecological conditions for the full set of species characteristic of a defined landscape or geographic area.

Download the Service’s 2015 Technical Reference on Using Surrogate Species for Landscape Conservation

Tailwater Recovery and reuse systems (tailwater systems) are applicable to any irrigated agricultural system in which significant quantity of irrigation water, as a result of the irrigation method, runs off the end of the irrigated field. A tailwater system consists of ditches or pipelines that collect tailwater and deliver it to a storage reservoir, and includes a pumping and pipeline system that conveys the water to irrigated fields for reuse. Most tailwater systems also collect rainfall that may run off of the irrigated field. Capture and reuse of tailwater can improve the water quality of downstream reaches of rivers, streams and waterways.

Trust Resources are species and land for which the Service has a legal mandate to protect, conserve and/or enhance on behalf of the American people. These include migratory birds; species listed under the Endangered Species Act; interjurisdictional fishes; specific marine mammals; and National Wildlife Refuge lands.

Wildlife Corridors are tracts of land or habitat that provide linkages which allow wildlife to travel from one location to another to find food, shelter, a mate and/or a place to raise their young. They are especially important because they ensure genetic exchange between wildlife populations.

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