A DRIER COASTLINE
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a report on Nov. 21 announcing that the U.S. lost more than 80,160 acres of coastal wetlands each year between 2004 and 2009. These numbers represent a 25 percent increase in the rate of loss reported in a previous study.
“When a study shows that an area four times the size of Miami is disappearing every year, it underscores the importance of strengthening our collective efforts to improve wetlands management, to reduce losses and to ensure coastal infrastructure and resources are protected,” Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said in a press release.
Wetlands habitats support fish, shellfish and wildlife and support the nation’s commercial and recreational fishing industries.
The Gulf Coast lost 257,150 acres over the course of the study — 71 percent of the wetland losses for coastal watershed, according to the report. Those areas support 75 percent of migratory birds, 80 percent of fish and shellfish and almost half of the nation’s threatened and endangered species, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe.
“In coastal Louisiana, we’ve lost so much coastal marsh since the 1970s that today’s available habitat supports an estimated 3 million fewer ducks,” Tom Moorman, Ducks Unlimited director of the Southern Region, said in a press release. “We have to stabilize and ultimately reverse the rate of loss of these critical wetlands.”
Forested wetlands make up half of the remaining freshwater wetlands in the lower 48 states, and the Clean Water Act protections for wetlands were withdrawn in 2001 and 2006, according to Ducks Unlimited, an international nonprofit that focuses on conserving habitat for waterfowl.
Wetland loss was attributed to coastal storms, urban and rural development and some forestry practices, as well as rising ocean levels encroaching on coastal wetlands while development squeezes those habitats from the other side.
CONSERVATION, FISHING GROUPS COMMEND HERMOSA CREEK BILL
On Nov. 20, a Senate subcommittee considered legislation introduced by Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) that would protect more than 100,000 acres in the San Juan National Forest’s Hermosa Creek Watershed, including wilderness protections for 37,000 acres.
The legislation has been celebrated by conservation advocates as well as hunters and anglers.
“It’s astonishing to have a completely intact, undeveloped watershed of such great size available for multi-use recreation within minutes of Durango,” Ty Churchwell, backcountry coordinator with Trout Unlimited, said in a press release. “Hunters and anglers cherish this place and stand united in support of permanent protections. There’s something for everyone in Hermosa.”
The area is home to a Colorado River cutthroat trout reintroduction program.
“Hermosa Creek is an exceptional natural area known for its recreation opportunities for every outdoor enthusiast, and is home to the Hermosa Creek trail, a top destination for mountain bikers,” Scott Braden, wilderness advocate for Conservation Colorado, said in a statement issued by the organization.
The legislation stemmed from the recommendations of a stakeholder workgroup that’s drawn local input from business owners, outdoor recreation enthusiasts, ranchers and neighboring landowners. The protections allow for some off-road vehicle access as well as grazing and logging.
A companion bill has also been introduced in the House by Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Grand Junction), who testified in support of the Bennet bill at the Nov. 20 hearing.
More information on the area is available at www.hermosacreek.org.