We have a lot to learn from nature about teamwork. In fact, natural systems prove time and again that the intricate partnerships between air, water, soil, nutrients and plant and animal species breed success. So why, whether a singular agency, organization or landowner, would we ever think that we could “fix” a problem like fish habitat degradation alone?
Well, we’re not trying to do it alone anymore. Just this week, I was able to represent USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and speak to a nationwide group of conservation partners about how we follow nature’s lead and partner for impact.
We were gathered at The Nature Conservancy headquarters to celebrate the Memorandum of Understanding between the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce and Interior to implement the National Fish Habitat Action Plan (NFHAP). This is a plan that leverages partnerships for collaborative, science-based conservation that yields results for species recovery and sustainability—a priority for NRCS.
NFHAP steers federal resources towards voluntary conservation strategies developed by grassroots fish habitat partnerships. The plan works by combining federal, state and private funding sources to achieve the greatest impact on fish populations through priority conservation projects.
Last spring in Long Island Sound, we and our partners restored tidal flow to a 78-acre tidal marsh by removing metal culverts—barriers to fish passage—and reconnecting 3 miles of stream to Bride Lake, a lake that now provides spawning habitat for river herring. In the second operating season, an electric fish counter recorded almost 197,000 river herring passing through the newly opened channel.
This project was a huge success thanks to the partnership efforts of the Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Connecticut Fund for the Environment: Save the Sound.
This is only one example of the hundreds of ongoing projects fostered through the National Fish Habitat Partnership action plan. And NRCS is pursuing many exciting opportunities like this every day. The partnership approach stretches public dollars further because it engages the private sector in helping tackle shared priorities while connecting local conservation partnerships to achieve the best possible results. By combining resources we are increasing “boots on the ground” in priority areas to make a measurable impact.
Today, I followed up with our partners to outline the upcoming actions NRCS is taking on both the east and west coasts in support of the partnership. In Puget Sound, on Washington’s coast, we are making additional commitments to protect and build habitat for the Pacific salmon. In Long Island Sound, we are making resources available for efforts to restore shellfish habitat and oyster populations decimated during hurricane Irene.
At NRCS we are about not just the health of soil, air and water, but also the living ecosystems that make our natural resources so significant. Working lands and living waters create natural partnerships between the communities of sportsmen, agriculturists, environmentalists and wildlife enthusiasts. There is a place in nature for all of us to come together—starting with conservation partnerships!
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At the regional level, NRCS has been working with National Fish Habitat Partnerships to develop strategic plans and leverage technical and financial resources to improve habitat for fish and other aquatic species. In the West, NTSC, UT, AZ, NV, and CA NRCS staff are engaged with the Desert Fish Habitat Partnership. Staff in CO, WY, MT, ID, UT, NM, and AZ are working with the Western Nativbe Trout Initiative. HI NRCS serves on the Steering Committee of the Hawaii Fish Habitat Partnership. And this is only a partial account of the partnering that is emerging thanks to the the National Fish Habitat Partnership.