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Today, one of America’s leading wildlife conservation groups released a report outlining 47 projects that would improve the health of the Gulf of Mexico in the wake of the 2010 oil spillDSCN2879

“We can’t undo the oil spill, but we can take concrete steps to make the Gulf of Mexico a better place for fish and wildlife,” said Steve Bender, director of National Wildlife Federation’s Vanishing Paradise campaign. “This type of comprehensive habitat restoration will measurably boost populations of fish and waterfowl.”

Restoring the Gulf of Mexico for People and Wildlife: Recommended Projects and Priorities takes a broad look at restoration efforts that would benefit all five Gulf Coast states—Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. The recommendations emphasize restoring the areas where rivers flow into the Gulf of Mexico, such as the Mississippi River Delta. These places are important nurseries for marine life and provide wintering habitat for waterfowl.

Money for restoration projects could come from the billions that BP and the other companies responsible for the 2010 spill will pay in fines and penalties. Much of this money will ultimately be distributed to the Gulf states for restoration.

“Over the past hundred years, we’ve made major changes to the way our rivers flow into the Gulf of Mexico,” added Bender. “The results have not been pretty for fish and wildlife. Restoring degraded coastal habitats will help numerous species of fish and these habitats are also critical for the millions of waterfowl that winter or stopover on the Gulf Coast.”

The report’s 47 proposals can be grouped into these five general categories:

1. Restoring Wetlands: Wetlands play a critical role in the Gulf ecosystem—creating habitat for fish and wildlife, filtering pollutants, stabilizing shorelines and providing protection from storms. Over the past eight decades, the Gulf Coast has lost an area of wetlands larger than the state of state of Delaware, largely in the area of Louisiana known as the Mississippi River Delta.

2. Restoring Sediment: The Mississippi River is hemmed in by man-made levees; the river sediment that once nourished the delta’s wetlands is now propelled deep into the Gulf. If all of the 19 recommended projects in Louisiana were built, together they would sustain, restore and rebuild as many as 300 square miles of wetlands that would otherwise be lost by 2060.

3. Restoring the Balance between Fresh and Saltwater: Estuaries are created where fresh water from rivers mixes with saltwater from the Gulf. In most of the Gulf’s estuaries the natural balance of fresh and salt water has been dramatically altered. The report recommends fixes for many of the Gulf’s major estuaries, including the Everglades and Apalachicola Bay in Florida as well as five systems in Texas.

4. Restoring Oyster Reefs: An adult oyster can filter as much as 50 gallons of water per day, and oyster reefs provide important habitat for many economically important species of fish, such as redfish, shrimp, and blue crabs. Oyster reefs also create physical structures that can protect coastal communities from storms. Restoring oyster reefs is a key element in several of the recommended projects in the report, for example in Mississippi’s Biloxi Bay and Bay St. Louis.

5. Protecting Critical Landscapes: In a few select places, the report recommends purchasing key parcels of coastal lands to protect them in perpetuity. For example, the report recommends adding lands to Alabama’s Grand Bay and Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuges.

The report is aimed at informing a series of decisions that will be ultimately made for funds flowing from the Gulf oil disaster, including those to be made by Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council. The federal-state council is tasked with implementing a comprehensive restoration plan to include a list of projects prioritized for their impact on the Gulf ecosystem. The council recently released a list of projects and programs proposed for funding with oil spill penalty money.

“America’s hunters and anglers want to enjoy a restored Gulf of Mexico,” said Bender. “We owe it to future generations to make sure the oil spill dollars are spent on projects that will really make a difference.”

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Group sends letter saying protecting wildlife and habitat will yield economic recovery for the Gulf

(New Orleans – May 22, 2013) Today, more than 350 hunting and fishing businesses and organizations sent a letter to the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, asking that the Council prioritize restoration of the Gulf ecosystem in order to also achieve economic restoration in the region.

The Restoration Council is a multi-state, multi-agency group that has been tasked with developing a comprehensive ecosystem restoration plan for the Gulf. The Council is currently developing the plan, with a draft due for public comment this spring.

Vanishing Paradise drafted the letter, which illustrated that hunting and fishing are major economic drivers in the Gulf and are supported by habitat restoration and wildlife conservation. In 2011, in the five Gulf states alone, nearly 8.5 million hunters and anglers spent $15.7 billion on their outdoor pursuits. This spending supports more than 255,000 jobs and generates $3.3 billion in federal, state and local taxes.

The letter to the Restoration Council united thousands of sportsmen and women in their commitment to protect wildlife and habitat.

“If the wild spaces of the Gulf region aren’t protected and restored, sportsmen and women will lose the return on their long-standing investment, and the region will lose its rich hunting and angling heritage,” the letter stated. “A restored and productive Gulf ecosystem is essential for both regional and national economic recovery and growth. Every dollar spent on ecosystem restoration helps the recovery of the Gulf’s natural resource-based economy.”

“The Gulf Coast is a national treasure that is near and dear to the hearts of sportsmen and women across the country,” Ben Weber, national sportsman’s coordinator for National Wildlife Federation said. “Millions of Americans enjoy the productive Gulf landscape for its fisheries and waterfowl hunting every year, but without substantial investments in projects that create, enhance or protect essential wildlife habitat, the world-class hunting and fishing opportunities that make the Gulf such a special place for the nation’s hunters and anglers will suffer, leading to the loss of billions of dollars in generated revenue for the Gulf states.”

For more information, please visit www.vanishingparadise.org.

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As efforts to restore the Mississippi River Delta roll forward, sportsmen from across the nation continue to lend a hand – offering voice and influence to rebuild this special place. The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) along with other important partners has been at the forefront of these efforts – nationally and regionally – for decades.

With the creation of the Vanishing Paradise campaign in 2009, NWF began to nationalize efforts to restore the delta by educating hunters and anglers about the issue, as well as engaging and mobilizing them to action.

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The Vanishing Paradise Advisory Council and staff at Ryan Lambert’s Cajun Fishing Adventures lodge in Buras, Louisiana. Front, from left: Land Tawney, Eric Cosby, Teeg Stouffer and David Dellucci. Row 2, from left: Ben Weber, Ryan Lambert, Andy McDaniels, Gabe Galster, Tim Kizer, Hal Herring and Jared Mott. Rear, from left: Noel Vick and Lew Carpenter.

Vanishing Paradise has had many successes to date culminating in the securing of funds from the BP oil spill back to restoration in late June through the RESTORE Act. Now, NWF has formed a Vanishing Paradise Sportsmen’s Advisory Council (VPSAC) to enhance and expand its relationships with our nation’s sportsmen and women who have a passion to carry on our collective conservation legacy. Council members were asked to join the council because of their passion for passing on a conservation legacy, knowledge within the sportsmen community and capacity (in the form of volunteer time, relationships and expertise). Members include representatives from the hunting and fishing industry, conservation community and media who have a keen interest in the Mississippi River Delta.

“As a resident of Louisiana, some of my fondest childhood memories in the outdoors are of my trips to the Louisiana marshes duck hunting and red fishing with my dad and grandfather,” said VPSAC member David Dellucci, Baton Rouge native and former World Series professional outfielder. “I have personally seen the rapidly eroding coastline through the years, and as a father myself I want to make sure my child has the same opportunities enjoying our “Sportsman’s Paradise” that I had. I am proud to be with such a motivated group who is not interested in blaming the possible causes but determined to fix the problem.”

In addition to providing a diverse perspective to the Vanishing Paradise staff, the Advisory Council will focus its attention on a three-part mission of enhancing the organization’s political strength, strengthening its financial condition for the future and engaging the sporting community through public relations, media and personal contact.

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VPSAC members (from left) Gabe Galster and Tim Kizer along with fishing guide Joe Dimarco and what turned out to be a chaotic triple hook-up and even more chaotic choreographed netting. Photo by Lew Carpenter

In mid-March, the VPSAC held its first of many meetings, starting with a day in the marsh – a place held sacred to each member.

“Vanishing Paradise is championing a cause that I feel could be the greatest conservation project in my lifetime,” said Gabe Galster of Arkansas.  “Not only is the focus of this project dear to my heart, but there is a clear pathway to achieving success.  In the end, I want to be able to have a part in saving one of the most environmentally and culturally rich regions of our great country.  I want it here for my children, grandchildren and great grandchildren to enjoy much as I have over the last 20 years, but  without swift action we may reach a point of no return.  VP offers the platform from which this message can be spread and action initiated.”Council members and Vanishing Paradise staff connected with each other

Cajun Fishing Adventure’s guide Joe Dimarco (left) and VPSAC member from Arkansas, Gabe Galster working a canal near Quarantine Bay for redfish. Photo by Lew Carpenter

Cajun Fishing Adventure’s guide Joe Dimarco (left) and VPSAC member from Arkansas, Gabe Galster working a canal near Quarantine Bay for redfish. Photo by Lew Carpenter

– and the magnificent resource they are entrusted to restore – while fishing for bull redfish, a trophy species of the marsh that annually draws thousands of anglers to the region.

The group also got down to business on a strategy for moving forward with Vanishing Paradise’s overarching goal of reconnecting the Mississippi River to its wetlands.”

“We want to open up the Mississippi River to the marshlands by creating diversions in strategic locations in the levee and marsh canal system,” said Arkansas native and VPSAC chair Tim Kizer. “By doing so we will allow the river system to naturally distribute sediment that will rebuild critical wetlands that provide nutrient filtration, physical tidal buffers for hurricane protection and erosion control along the Louisiana Gulf Coast.”

The council, as a group and as individual sportsmen, agreed to the following three- to five-year milestone objectives:

  • Develop and implement an internal and external hunter/angler conservation communication strategy;
  • Advocate for responsible, strategic implementation of BP oil spill fine funds;
  • Secure an additional $5 billion for Mississippi River Delta restoration;
  • Secure sustainable funding for the Vanishing Paradise campaign;
  • Prioritize additional conservation issues and develop strategies to address them.

As with any large-scale habitat restoration project, these tasks won’t be easy. But with the passionate, motivated and diverse group of new VPSAC members, the path forward is in play, and a nation of hunters and anglers will both engage and benefit in the restoration of America’s world-class habitat for fish and wildlife.

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Vanishing Paradise campaign director Land Tawney with a 34-inch bull redfish. Photo by Noel Vick

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Louisiana Sportsman magazine owner Tony Taylor and a thick flounder. Photo: Lew Carpenter

Venice, LA – The incredible value of the Louisiana wetlands spans economic, cultural and environmental functions too great to be lost by any one generation. And as the rapid loss of wetlands continues it is important to note that we can fix this problem. We must. It’s a responsibility we have to be sure future generations can enjoy one of the world’s great ecosystems.

Just how important this resource is to sportsmen was never more evident than this past week when a hearty group of anglers descended upon the marsh to chase bull redfish as they have each year for well beyond a decade. This group of more than 50 anglers engage in a self-titled “Marsh Madness” event that brings together boaters from Louisiana and Mississippi with hunting and fishing industry representatives, outdoor writers and Vanishing Paradise. Many proclaimed the fishing has never been more dynamic – a galvanizing statement that places the value of this resource in the crosshairs of the importance of restoration. We simply cannot afford to lose this sportsman’s paradise.

Heading into a violent batch of thunderstorms that seemed to camp directly on the marsh it was tough to determine how the three days of fishing would unfold. Day one we waited out the torrential morning rains and headed out around lunch into strong winds and dark skies.

Tony Taylor, owner of Louisiana Sportsman magazine remarked on the damage of Hurricane Isaac as he made his first dive into the marsh since the devastation.  “It’s hammered, it’s blown out,” he remarked, as we pushed through the marsh looking for clean water and cover from the wind. The roseau cane was battered and flattened everywhere we looked and it was obvious the hurricane had compounded the rapid loss of wetlands in the area. Without a good source of incoming freshwater sediment the marshes ability to recover is severely compromised.

Author Lew Carpenter with an 18-pound bull redfish. Photo: Land Tawney

We picked away at the rat reds until we moved into the river and Taylor’s rod bent further than one could imagine. The fight went on for 15 minutes before a fat jack crevalle came to boat. From that point on we were into decent reds and big flounder – all on the great jigs provided by Top Brass Tackle, the organizer of the event and ZMan plastic baits.

Day two, the weather began to subside, though it was cool by Louisiana standards. The red were increasing in size as we pitched along the rip rocks, points and cuts of the marsh edge.

Day three, the magic revealed itself. The class size of the reds increased. I landed an 18 pounder and followed it with a 16 before we headed to South Pass and nearly every fish was between 12 and 30 pounds! If this wasn’t a testament for saving the marsh, nothing would be. One fish after another came to boat all afternoon, mixed in with powerful jack crevalle, sharks and speckled trout to 8 pounds. It was a remarkable sight, and an unforgettable experience.

The Marsh Madness team truly understands the value of this special place, and some, like Eric Cosby of Top Brass have traveled in

Eric Cosby of Top Brass Tackle and a nice jack crevalle. Photo: Lew Carpenter

the recent past to Washington DC to speak to their senators about passing the Restore Act. With the help of sportsmen, the Act was passed this summer, directing 80 percent of the BP oil spill fines under the Clean Water Act to go back into restoring the wetlands. A great victory for sportsmen and the ecosystem.

And it’s not just these sportsmen of Marsh Madness who care, Field and Stream and other media outlets are reporting on a recent poll by GOP-aligned polling firm Chesapeake Beach Consulting on key conservation issues among 800 hunters and anglers conducted for the National Wildlife Federation. The poll shows this fairly conservative set of voters wants more action on a range of conservation issues that remain inadequately address in this election cycle. The composition of respondents was 55% both anglers and hunters; 33% anglers only; and 12% hunters only. NWF and its local affiliates, field and supporters are urging candidates for office around the nation to pay more attention to critical conservation issues.

The political preferences of those polled was:

• 42%, Republican; 32%, Independent; 18% Democrat;

• 27% indicated they split their ticket;

• 50% consider themselves conservative, including 22% who consider themselves to be very conservative;

• 60% said that they vote in every election and additional 21% said they vote in almost all elections.

The sample was randomly drawn from a list of self-identified hunters and anglers (sources included magazine subscribers, hunting and fishing license holders, and members of sporting groups). To qualify, a respondent had to indicate that he/she is a hunter, an angler or both and a registered voter. All interviews were conducted by telephone, including 15% of the interviews by cell phone. The margin of error for this study is plus or minus 3.2% at the 95% confidence level.

The poll offers some insights for the Louisiana wetlands and the region as it continues to recover from the BP disaster.

Among respondents in the national poll:

• 81% believe that BP should be held accountable and fined the maximum amount allowed for the 2010 oil spill and required to restore the Gulf to ensure the recovery of fish and wildlife populations.

  • 87% of hunters and anglers want BP fines and penalties to be used exclusively to restore fish and wildlife habitat and not for infrastructure such as roads, bridges, ports and convention centers.  For those who identify with a political party, 81% of Democrats and 88% of Republicans agree.

Many of the sponsors for Marsh Madness signed on to NWF’s letter to Congress on the Restore Act, and we’d like to thank Top Brass Tackle, Plano Molding, BASS, Louisiana Sportsman magazine, Seaguar Line, WileyX sunglasses, ZMan baits, RealTree Camo, Skeeter Boats, and Under Armor clothing for their support of this event and its ability to highlight the tremendous value these wetlands provide to the American sportsman and the wildlife within.

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20120811-073411.jpgThe sun was high overhead as our Skeeter center console shot through the narrow canals of the marsh. Pushing out into open water a spoonbill crane launched skyward, its pink wings stretching out into graceful flight.

The Vanishing Paradise team was holding court for 3 days out of Ryan Lambert’s Cajun Adventures lodge in Buras, Louisiana with the editorial teams from Field and Stream and Outdoor Life. The event was generously sponsored by Vanishing Paradise/National Wildlife Federation, Top Brass Tackle, Bomber/Heddon Lures, HuntDucks.com, Frabil, Wiley X, Berkley Pro Fishing, Fowl Play Game Calls, and Marsh Works

We spent three days of fishing and three days of educating America’s premier sportsmen’s publications on the threats to wildlife and habitat facing Louisiana’s coastline. But it didn’t take much to educate this knowledgeable group – in fact many here were already acutely aware of the challenges the area is experiencing. America’s sportsmen’s paradise is in severe decline – and it amounts to a crisis for hunters and anglers across the country.

“If we let these wetlands fall, what’s next,” proclaimed Vanishing Paradise’s Land Tawney. “This ecosystem is directly connected to the Prairie Potholes along the U.S./Canada border as well as the entire Mississippi flyway – the cost to American waterfowlers alone is too great to comprehend.”

Anglers, too, have much to be concerned with. “This is one of the best places to fish on the planet,” said Eric Cosby of Top Brass Tackle. “There are many great places to fish, but the Louisiana wetlands represent the best there is – from 200-pound-class offshore tuna to the magnificent bull reds inshore and within the marsh itself – pound-for-pound the action is unbeatable.”

The good news is that shortly after our trip with Field and Stream and Outdoor Life the U.S. Congress passed a troubled Transportation bill. Contained within was the Restore Act – a piece of legislation that sends 80 percent of BP oil spill fines under the Clean Water At directly into coastal restoration. This will be an estimated $3-$18 billion just for restoring this sportsmen’s paradise.

“This has the potential to be the greatest influx of conservation dollars in history,” Tawney said. “It took 75 years for Pittman-Robertson, Dingell-Johnson and Wallop-Breaux to put $14 billion into the system. We may bypass that amount in one fell swoop.”

So what’s next? Each gulf state must put together a plan for this funding, and Louisiana has already approved a robust state master plan to use these dollars efficiently.

As for Field and Stream and Outdoor Life – the fight to educate Americans on the value, wealth of habitat and wildlife continues. Sportsmen across this nation continue to work hard to ensure our legacy survives and that those who come after us have the same opportunities we did to hunt and fish.

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More than 650 outdoors companies and organizations sign on to letters calling for Gulf restoration

Washington, D.C., February 16, 2012—A group of more than 650 hunting, fishing and outdoor sporting businesses and organizations are sending two sign-on letters to Congress today with a clear message—restore the Mississippi River Delta and the Gulf Coast, a vast complex of wildlife habitat that has faced high rates of landloss and suffered further degradation after the unprecedented 2010 oil spill. The letter comes at a critical time for Gulf restoration, as news reports indicate that BP is attempting this month to pay $20-$25 billion to settle with the Justice Department on all charges related to the spill.

The letters’ release was announced today, as outdoor equipment CEO’s and other representatives from the outdoor communities convened in the nation’s capital to urge members of Congress to move forward on the RESTORE Gulf Coast Act, a bipartisan piece of legislation that ensures that fines from last year’s oil spill are used to help restore the Gulf ecosystem.

The first letter was authored by Vanishing Paradise, a project of National Wildlife Federation (NWF) to unite sportsmen and women to restore Louisiana’s waterfowl and fishing habitats by reconnecting the Mississippi River with its wetlands. The letter asks Congress to secure significant investments for coastal restoration over the next five years, establish a new, dedicated funding stream for delta restoration and create a comprehensive restoration plan overseen by federal and state representatives with authority to implement the plan.

“In the spirit of Ding Darling, more than 650 hunting and fishing organizations and businesses from across the country are speaking out for the restoration of the Mississippi River Delta,” said Land Tawney, NWF’s senior manager for sportsmen leadership. “This collaboration ranges from local rod and gun clubs and mom and pop bait shops, to household names of national fishing and hunting manufacturers and sporting conservation organizations. We at Vanishing Paradise are truly humbled by the outpouring of nationwide support. Now it is time for Congress to take action and make the Gulf whole.”

“The delta has suffered years of damage and is being lost at an alarming rate—a football field of land disappears every hour,” Tawney continued. “The oil spill added insult to injury for this area and the entire Gulf region. Now is the time for Congress to pass the RESTORE Act, to ensure that oil spill fines reach the Gulf, where the latest round of damage was done.”

The second letter was signed by a group of 30 national conservation and outdoors organizations calling on Congress to move on the RESTORE Act, to move proactively toward using the Clean Water Act penalties assessed against BP and other companies toward comprehensive environmental and economic restoration of the Gulf.

A bipartisan poll this spring showed that 83 percent of voters nationwide support—and 69 percent strongly support—dedicating the Gulf oil spill penalties to restoring the Mississippi River Delta and Gulf Coast. The poll also showed that an overwhelming majority of conservative voters favor this proposal, including 76 percent of Republicans, and 78 percent of voters who agree with the Tea Party movement.

Nearly 500 miles—almost half—of the coastline in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida that was contaminated by the Gulf oil spill remain oiled one year later, according to the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration.

“Sportsmen around the Gulf and all those who call the region home want to see specific steps taken to restore the area’s natural resources,” said Geoff Mullins, senior director at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation partnership and Mobile, AL native. “It is a quality of life issue in numerous respects—from the recreational opportunities these resources offer to the significant dollars and jobs they bring to the local economies.”

“Restoring the Gulf and the Mississippi River Delta is an important issue for all sportsmen,” said Mike Iaconelli, 2003 Bassmasters Classic champion. “Those of us who hunt or fish need to step up and show we care about this issue. The disappearing Mississippi River Delta is not a problem we can’t fix, and Congress has a chance to do what’s right for the Gulf Coast. Now is the time for them to take action.”

“Recreational fishing contributes $41 billion dollars in economic output in the Gulf Coast region annually and supports more than 300,000 jobs. This economic engine will sputter if critical fisheries habitat is not better conserved and managed in the Gulf,” said Gordon Robertson, vice president of the American Sportfishing Association. “We urge Congress to act now to provide a much needed investment in business recovery and fisheries resources for the region.”

“Generations of Louisiana hunters and fishermen have enjoyed the rare bounty that Louisiana has offered from its rich estuary,” said Capt. Ryan Lambert, owner of Cajun Fishing Adventures, a fishing and waterfowl hunting lodge and guide service located near the mouth of the Mississippi River near Venice, Louisiana. “Every old timer has stories to tell of great times spent outdoors back in the day. Those great times are at the brink of being no more. Coastal erosion and saltwater intrusion have attacked our great state for 100 years, costing us 1883 square miles of precious wetlands thus far. Saltwater has intruded inland up to 80 miles killing even more freshwater marshes. If you want to pass on our great way of life to your grandchildren, the time to get involved is now.”

“All sportsmen in Louisiana need to get behind the restore act,” Lambert continued. “Please take the time to call your Senators for support of the RESTORE ACT. Better yet please get everyone you know outside of the state to call their legislatures. The Mississippi River built Louisiana and it is the only thing that can save our wetlands.”

“The Mississippi River Delta provides one of the most significant wintering habitats for waterfowl in North American and plays a starring role in our country’s rich waterfowl tradition,” said Mike Galloway, vice president of sales and marketing at Hard Core Brands International. “Hunting and fishing are also vital revenue streams for the nation’s economy. By passing the RESTORE Act and investing oil spill fines into restoring coastal wetlands, Congress is also investing in our national economy.”

“The comprehensive effects of the oil spill remain to be seen,” Tawney concluded. “Oil seeped into
marshes and wetlands that support many species of fish, waterfowl and other wildlife. We need Congress to act now to ensure that the penalties from the oil spill go toward making the delta and the Gulf region whole again, by restoring one of the most significant wintering areas for waterfowl in North America and an area that provides us with commercial and recreational fishing opportunities unlike any other.”

For more information, please visit http://www.vanishingparadise.org.

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