Thursday, March 24, 2011

Wildlife foundation says initial spill-related projects produced substantial results

The Recovered Oil Fund for Wildlife established by BP and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill enabled NFWF and its partners to put several conservation projects on the ground and realize substantial benefits for wildlife - all within six months, according to a new report by NFWF.

NFWF’s “Progress Report” discusses the benefits of wetlands projects designed to enhance the survival of thousands of migratory birds, and explains that the benefits were even greater than expected, as they offset significant drought conditions in the region in 2010. The report also estimates that the sea turtle projects implemented by NFWF will likely save 800-900 sea turtles annually, and increase the number of sea turtle hatchlings by a minimum of 50,000 per year.

NFWF Executive Director Jeff Trandahl says that when NFWF launched its efforts, “we recognized that time was of the essence if we wanted to minimize the effect of the spill on vulnerable species.” The Deepwater Horizon oil spill came at a critical time for wildlife: only weeks before the sea turtle nesting season, and just prior to the seasonal migrations of many species of birds.

“Our strategy targeted species most likely to be affected and stressed the need to direct resources to the Gulf as quickly as possible. Our goal was to minimize the effect of the spill on vulnerable species and boost populations of those species outside of the direct spill area, promoting their long-term survival,” says Trandahl.

“There is still more that can be done but we are encouraged by results of the initial projects and the strong stewardship that NFWF has demonstrated in working with a variety of partners to implement projects to help protect and restore wildlife along the Gulf Coast,” says Dave Rainey, Vice President for Science, Technology, Environment and Regulatory Affairs for BP’s Gulf Coast Restoration Organization.

Within days of the Deepwater Horizon incident, NFWF immediately convened its own experts, federal and state agencies and regional conservation partners to assemble a portfolio of projects to protect imperiled wildlife. On June 22, 2010, BP announced that it would donate the net revenue it received from the sale of oil recovered from the spill to NFWF, and provided $10 million in initial funding to NFWF. As of February 17, 2011, BP has contributed $22 million to the fund.

Plans for future projects
In the fall, NFWF worked with a technical advisory committee to shape a competitive Request for Proposals to direct remaining funds to similarly important projects that will help bolster fish and wildlife populations impacted by the spill.

In addition to continuing investments to benefit the Gulf’s migratory birds and sea turtles, NFWF anticipates making investments to build new oyster reef habitat, conserve important commercial and recreational fish populations through innovative management strategies and gear improvements, and add capacity to treat injured marine mammals.

By the deadline for proposals, NFWF had received 120 applications requesting approximately $41 million. Final grant decisions are expected to be announced in early April following review by the technical advisory committee and approval by the NFWF Board of Directors.

Significance of Recovered Oil Fund for Wildlife
Trandahl also noted that the wildlife fund established by BP’s contribution is significant in two areas.
First, the fund was created as a voluntary contribution by BP that could not be used to meet mitigation requirements. This meant that NFWF has complete discretion over the funds and how they could be used to bolster wildlife populations, Trandahl says. In addition, it means the funds and resulting projects will not be used to offset any liability that BP may have for natural resource damages resulting from the Deepwater Horizon incident.

Second, he notes that BP made the funds available to NFWF as quickly as possible. “Timing was of the essence and NFWF would only be able to achieve its results if we could act quickly to get our projects up and running,” says Trandahl. “Normally, it would be several months before proceeds from a sale would be available but BP made a commitment to advance $10 million to NFWF immediately in order to launch our first phase of projects.

This was critical to the success of the initial programs, since the sea turtle nesting season had just begun, and millions of migratory birds were about to descend on the Gulf region.

Trandahl notes that there is a link between the natural resources and the people who live throughout the Gulf. “While these are very diverse communities, there is still a strong link to natural resources in general and fish and wildlife in particular. BP understood the importance of that connection and the broader impact this incident would have on these communities.”

To read the NFWF report, click here.

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