Policy News

NOAA’s National Habitat Policy

In August 2015, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) codified efforts to promote a healthy coastal habitat with the release of its first ever National Habitat Policy.

 

This article provides a brief look at some of the key areas under the new policy via six questions answered by Holly Bamford, Assistant Administrator for NOAA’s National Ocean Service. Currently, Ms. Bamford performs the duties of the Assistant Secretary for Conservation and Management for the U.S. Department of Commerce, NOAA.

1. How does the concept of ecosystem goods and services apply to NOAA’s mission? What are some examples?

The interaction between humans and the natural environment is at the heart of NOAA’s mission of science, service, and stewardship. We strive to evaluate and understand how our management decisions affect the health and function of coastal species, habitats, and ecosystems, and how those ecosystems in turn provide goods and services to the nation. For many coastal communities, the economic vitality of the community relies upon healthy ecosystems. NOAA is working to show the direct evidence of the link between healthy ecosystems and resilient coastal communities and collect information needed to show these relationships (Valuing the Societal Impacts of NOAA) (Valuing Coastal and Ocean Ecosystems).

2. How is NOAA increasing the resilience of coastal communities?

As stated in the NOAA National Habitat Policy, resilience is defined as the ability to adapt to changing conditions and withstand and rapidly recover from disruption due to emergencies. Climate preparedness and resilience is a key priority of the Obama Administration, the Department of Commerce, and NOAA. NOAA’s priority is to build the nation’s resilience to changing climate and other stressors to coastal ecosystems and communities. We work with many partners, particularly state and local governments, to advance the resiliency of coastal communities. Well informed planning, development, emergency management, and other critical functions within coastal states and communities can contribute to resilience. Natural infrastructure, including healthy coastal habitats, provides flood protection as a service—but part of the larger resiliency picture is the economic value related to additional services provided by these ecosystems (Jobs & Dollars: Big Returns from Coastal Habitat Restoration).

National Coastal Zone Management (CZM) Program: Through the National CZM Program, the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) supports state coastal management programs to address a variety of coastal issues, including coastal resilience, by providing technical assistance to meet needs identified at the state and local levels. The new Section 309 guidance asks states to consider climate change and develop multi-year strategies to address the highest priority needs. CZMA State Grants provide annual funding to states that have developed and adopted a state coastal management program.

Two coastal resilience grant opportunities were funded in 2015 include the Regional Coastal Resilience Grant Program to support regional approaches that build resilience of coastal regions, communities, and economic sectors and the Coastal Ecosystem Resiliency Grants program to restore habitat and strengthen the resiliency of coastal ecosystems, fisheries, and protected species.

The NOAA Restoration Center’s Community-based Restoration Program (CRP) provides technical and financial assistance to support locally driven habitat restoration that often has the mutual benefit of reducing flood risks and increasing coastal resilience. For example, see Tillamook Southern Flow Corridor Project and Moving Fish: Fishways Connect Habitats and Support Coastal Communities.

The NOAA Sentinel Site Program is designed to apply the full force of NOAA-wide resources to help local areas prepare for sea level rise and inundation (Chesapeake Bay, North Carolina, Northern Gulf of Mexico, San Francisco Bay and Outer Coast, and Hawaiian Islands).

NOAA’s resilience and planning tools include Coastal Flood Exposure Mapper, Sea Level Rise Viewer, Can Vis, and Digital Coast. NOAA also offers Coastal Climate Adaptation Training and lessons learned information (Coastal Community Resilience: Lessons Still to Learn) to guide the challenging management decisions that face coastal communities.

3. What are some of the economic/community indicators of sustainability?

A 2011 National Academies study found that the critical dimensions of a resilience measurement system include “indicators of the ability of critical infrastructure to recover rapidly from impacts; social factors that enhance or limit a community’s ability to recover, including social capital language barriers, health, and socioeconomic status; indicators of the ability of buildings and other structures to withstand earthquakes, floods, severe storms, and other disasters, and factors that capture the special needs of individuals and groups, related to minority status, mobility, or health status.” Communities depend on a number of interrelated systems for economic stability and growth, commerce, communication and public education, energy, and transportation. The relative health of those systems in advance of an event will drive how well a community can withstand or rebound from its impacts. The Coastal Resilience Index, cosponsored by the Louisiana Sea Grant, Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, and NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management, is an example of a community-based approach to self-assess resilience to coastal hazards. NOAA also uses the Coastal Community Resilience Indicators and Rating Systems, which is a report to help choose indicators.

4. How can NOAA’s Habitat Blueprint ensure the U.S. has a strong foundation and network of healthy habitats?

The Habitat Blueprint was developed to increase the effectiveness of NOAA's efforts to improve habitat conditions for fisheries and marine life as well as community well-being. The Blueprint facilitates regional partnerships for collaborative actions that anticipate and address changes to coastal and ocean habitats due to development, climate, and other pressures. NOAA has established ten Habitat Focus Areas across the country to demonstrate on-the-ground conservation benefits.

5. What can NOAA do to enhance coastal and ocean tourism, access, and recreation?

NOAA has developed tools and provided data to increase the valuable ocean tourism, access, and recreation industry. NOAA encourages states to continually update their Coastal Zone Management Plans’ public access plans, and it can provide funding for land protection/acquisition or for small-scale construction of public access improvements. State-run components of the National Estuarine Research Reserve System also provide public access, education, and training. NOAA issued the National Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Policy in 2015 to foster, support, and enhance a broadly accessible and diverse array of sustainable saltwater recreational fisheries through ecosystem conservation, public access improvements, monitoring and research, and engagement with anglers.

6. What are some of the key areas where NOAA’s mission and programs has been reinforced and strengthened via the statutory mandates and executive orders listed in Section 6 of the NOAA National Habitat Policy?

The purpose of the NOAA National Habitat Policy is to apply the agency’s full array of mission interests, mandates, and resources to protect, maintain, and restore habitats that support resilient and thriving marine and coastal resources, communities, and economies. The statutory mandates and executive orders listed in Section 6 provide the specific authorities for NOAA to carry out habitat-related programs and activities. Many of these authorities promote a "multiple use" approach, with habitat being one component. Other mandates provide the authority for scientific activities that contribute to NOAA's understanding of habitats, such as mapping or surveying that identifies the location, extent, and changes in key coastal habitats. The Habitat Policy is intended to harness the capabilities of the programs and activities authorized by these mandates so that they reinforce each other and maximize the use of existing tools and information across programs and mandates. A new initiative supported by these mandates is the interagency 2014 Priority Agenda: Enhancing the Climate Resilience of America’s Natural Resources, which has included 1) establishing a set of Resilient Lands and Waters partnerships for ecosystem and community resilience; 2) developing Climate-smart Habitat Conservation techniques to enhance ecosystem and community resilience, including Coastal Blue Carbon (sequestering carbon by restoring tidal wetlands, mangroves, and seagrass beds); and 3) a Living Shorelines approach to controlling shoreline erosion by incorporating tidal wetlands, seagrass, oyster reefs, and/or nearshore stone sills for protection from waves. 

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