GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced $31 million in funding to advance restoration work and improve water quality in the Gulf Coast states impacted by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The funds will support three priority programs and related project work approved by the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration (RESTORE) Council as part of a multi-year process of collaborative planning and public engagement throughout the Gulf.
USDA’s Forest Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), along with state forestry agencies in Alabama, Florida and Mississippi will leverage the funds to restore forest health, improve coastal ecosystems and provide technical and financial assistance to private landowners.
“Most of the land in the Gulf Coast is privately owned, so working lands are pivotal to restoring habitat and improving water quality,” said Florida State Conservationist Juan Hernandez. “Working side-by-side with farmers, ranchers and forest landowners to improve their operations enables us to take better care of our natural resources, including our coastal ecosystems.”
The investment in these priority projects is part of the Funded Priorities List (FPL) #3b announced today by the RESTORE Council. These USDA funded activities include:
- The Gulf Coast Conservation Reserve Program (GCCRP), led by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, will receive $3 million to continue planning and executing conservation and restoration activities for critical wildlife habitat and water quality. USDA and state partners established the current GCCRP in 2015 to protect and restore wildlife habitat and improve water quality through restoration and conservation best management practices. The initial funding included $6 million for project work in Texas, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.
- The Enhancing Gulf Waters through Forested Watershed Restoration Program, led by state forestry agencies in Alabama, Florida and Mississippi, will receive $23 million to protect, manage and restore forests in priority watersheds where states and partners have identified the greatest need. Project work will be delivered through a scalable, science-based approach, and can be applied on public and private lands along the Gulf Coast. Activities include social marketing techniques to effectively reach landowners, apply best management practices, and use of science-based decision support tools to inform forest restoration investments and quantify outcomes.
- The Apalachicola Regional Restoration Initiative, led by the Forest Service, will receive $5 million for collaborative, landscape-scale projects focused on restoring longleaf pine, coastal ecosystems and waters in the of Florida’s Apalachicola region. The funding continues the Apalachicola Regional Restoration Initiative proposal, which is employing a range of ecological restoration activities to address critical wildlife habitat and improve water quality on private and public lands around the Apalachicola River and the Apalachicola Bay.
The RESTORE Council was established in 2012 by the RESTORE Act, a federal law enacted in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The RESTORE Council consists of the governors of five Gulf Coast states (Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas) and the cabinet heads of six federal agencies (the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, the Army, Commerce, Homeland Security, Interior, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency). Additional information on the projects and programs included in FPL 3b as well as prior FPL activities can be found on the RESTORE Council’s website.