Top Wins in 2016: A Year in Review
1. New and Expanded National Monuments Protect Birds’ Ocean Habitat
President Obama established the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, which will provide permanent protection for Atlantic Puffins’ winter habitat. Designating this nearly 5,000 square mile-region as a national monument will limit the pressures to expand fishing, drilling, and mining in this fragile habitat. Obama also significantly expanded the Papahanaumokuakea National Monument in the waters surrounding the northwestern Hawaiian Islands. This region is critical for birds such as albatross and petrels, along with numerous other marine species. The expansion of the Monument brings the total area under permanent protection to nearly 583,000 square miles – an area twice the size of Texas.
2. Endangered Species Act Protections Upheld for Gnatcatcher and Warbler
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) upheld Endangered Species Act protections for the Coastal California Gnatcatcher and Golden-Cheeked Warbler, rejecting attempts to remove federal protections from these vulnerable species. Southern California developers petitioned to remove the Gnatcatcher from the Endangered Species list, but Audubon asserted that this claim was based on deeply flawed science. Coastal California Gnatcatchers populations have declined dramatically as their sage scrub habitat has disappeared. FWS also announced it would keep the Golden-cheeked Warbler on the endangered species list, rejecting petitions from Texas officials to delist the bird. The bird has been protected since 1990 due to the rapid disappearance of its breeding grounds from development.
3. Restoration Plan for the Gulf of Mexico Approved
The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration (RESTORE) Council approved its updated Comprehensive Plan to restore Gulf Coast ecosystems and their natural resource dependent economies following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. The plan will serve as the guide for spending more than three billion dollars in restoration and recovery funds—an integral component of one of the largest ecosystem restoration programs in U.S. history -- putting the Gulf environment and economies on a solid path toward restoration.
4. Arctic and Atlantic Oceans Get Reprieve from Offshore Drilling
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) removed the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans from the offshore leasing program for the next five years. This move protects areas containing crucial wildlife habitat from new leasing activities. This week, President Obama announced additional protections in the Arctic and Atlantic by permanently withdrawing sensitive areas from leasing. There are ten globally-significant Important Bird Areas supporting millions of birds in the Arctic Ocean and along its shoreline. The Chukchi and Beaufort seas are also home to polar bears, walrus, and several species of whales. The Atlantic coast's Outer Continental Shelf Region is also rich in marine life. The region off of North Carolina's coast has been characterized as having the greatest diversity of seabirds in this area of the Atlantic and is vital for Red Knots and Piping Plovers.
5. New Wildlife Refuge in New England Helps Shrubland Birds
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service established the Great Thicket National Wildlife Refuge. America’s newest National Wildlife Refuge will be dedicated to conserving and managing shrubland and young forests for wildlife in New England and eastern New York, helping to stem alarming declines among shrubland birds. Over the past century, many shrublands and young forests across the Northeast have been cleared for development or have grown into mature forests. As this habitat has disappeared, populations of songbirds, mammals, reptiles, pollinators, and other wildlife that depend on it have plummeted. More permanently protected and managed land is needed to restore wildlife populations and return balance to Northeast woodlands, and Great Thicket NWR responds to this need.