The National Fish Habitat Action Plan is one of the best efforts to address the challenges of conserving important aquatic habitat.
Protecting, enhancing and restoring aquatic habitat is important because it not only helps protect drinking water supplies that are essential for human health, it is the foundation for water-based recreation.
Those of us who hunt and fish know how important clean water, wetlands and the areas along our favorite rivers and streams are. We know firsthand that healthy aquatic habitat is a key factor in our hunting and fishing success.
Last month, I participated in a conference to review the status of the National Fish Habitat Action Plan. The conference, held in Leesburg, gave federal agency representatives, members of the various fish habitat partnerships and other stakeholders a chance to review what was working, to learn how to improve the effectiveness of the partnerships and to plan for the first major report to Congress.
The NFHAP has some important goals to achieve in the next year, including completing an analysis of the nation’s fish habitats; identifying the priority fish habitats; establishing at least twelve Fish Habitat Partnerships in those priority areas; and preparing a “Status of Fish Habitats in the United States” report.
All this needs to been completed by the end of 2010. The good news is it looks like the NFHAP is on track to complete these tasks.
The National Fish Habitat Action Plan’s mission is “to protect, restore and enhance the nation’s fish and aquatic communities through partnerships that foster fish habitat conservation and improve the quality of life for the American people.”
The NFHAP grew out of an initiative championed by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies in September 2003. They took on the task of developing a national strategy and coordinating existing efforts into a cohesive initiative. The resulting National Fish Habitat Initiative became “a science-based, voluntary and non-regulatory, nationwide strategy.”
The initiative was endorsed by a variety of stakeholders, many State fish and wildlife agency leaders, national conservation organizations and Federal agencies such as the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.
In April of 2006 the National Fish Habitat Action Plan was established by agreement with the Departments of Interior and Commerce and Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. A governing board was set up and guidelines for the establishment of recognized partnerships were created. Projects from the various partnerships are reviewed by the NFHAP board who then make funding recommendations to the federal agencies.
Legislation, know as the National Fish Habitat Conservation Act, to codify the NFHAP and authorize project funding – at $75 million annually – was introduced in Congress this spring.
Here in the Valley the Fish Habitat Partnership you are most likely to hear about is the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture. I am pleased to serve as the vice-chairman for the joint venture and am proud of the work that has been accomplished since it began.
Recently, the EBTJV recommended funding for a project here on the North River above Elkhorn Reservoir. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved that funding and the money should be available to the state soon.
Historically, sections of the North River were among the best and largest native brook trout water in Virginia. Back in the 1950s and 60s the North River was “straightened” so floodwaters could be quickly removed from a road that had been built in the flood plain. The U.S. Forest Service has since relocated the road and the channels no longer are needed.
The state, working with the U.S. Forest Service and local conservation groups like Trout Unlimited are restoring sections of the river to the natural pool and riffle configuration and provide summer refuge for the brook trout. When the project is complete, several native brook trout tributaries will also have been connected.
We are fortunate here in the Valley to have an abundance of hunting and fishing opportunities. Because of the hard work of your friends and neighbors who support local hunting, fishing and conservation groups those opportunities will continue to improve.
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