V. Future Directions

 Although there has been much progress from 1991 through 1993, much remains to be done. The loss of near shore ocean and estuarine fishery habitat is one of the greatest long-term threats to the productivity of U.S. marine fisheries. These losses and degradation of the remaining habitat are major factors contributing to poor harvests, depletion, endangerment, and extinction of living marine resources. Managing the stocks and promoting the recovery of endangered or depleted stocks is no longer sufficient. We must find additional ways to protect the habitat of these marine resources more aggressively if they are to survive.

 Based on the findings of recent reports from the Department of Commerce's Office of the Inspector General (OIG), William Chandler Associates, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, OHP has undertaken the following actions.

 A. Programmatic Alignment

 In October 1992, NMFS created OHP. This office will achieve program recognition by filling the Director's position at the Senior Executive Service level. The Director will exercise greater authority over the development of national habitat protection policy and setting priorities over NMFS' headquarters and regional program management activities. The NMFS Restoration Center will be transferred into OHP to ensure full integration of habitat protection and restoration activities. In addition, a new Anadromous Fish Habitat Division has been created. The purpose of this Division is to position NMFS as a lead Federal agency for protecting, restoring, and enhancing the Nation's anadromous fish habitat. The Division staff is also involved in rulemaking, developing an NMFS anadromous fish habitat policy, interacting with officials of the Departments of Agriculture and Interior, and activities with Treaty tribes, states and private interest groups.

 Efforts are underway to improve OHP's interaction with FERC. Meetings in 1993 have signaled the beginning of a new, improved relationship with this agency. FERC Commissioners have supported increasing public and resource management agencies' involvement in their activities. FERC also has solicited public comment on decommissioning old projects and the mitigation of cumulative adverse impacts. OHP and NMFS field offices will actively work with FERC on these issues.

 Another important program area will be increased application of habitat management by ecosystem (watershed). The health of coastal wetlands and oceans, as well as their biota, depends on the water quality of the watersheds that feed them. The entire water system surrounding the site of possible or actual damage must be considered because the cause of damage may be located some distance away. In coming years Habitat Protection field staff and OHP will continue the development of protocols and fine tune procedures to improve the techniques of ecosystem management. The Chesapeake Bay Program is essentially an ongoing experiment in ecosystem management. The Chesapeake Bay Office successfully integrates NOAA's capabilities in a manner that efforts can be transferred elsewhere.

 B. New National Direction

 To establish a new national direction to the field offices, the 1983 Habitat Conservation Policy is being revised. Development of the new policy will involve NMFS headquarters, field offices, other NOAA offices, MAFAC and other constituents. Elements of the policy will include: strong mandates to protect habitats of living marine resources through active and effective fishery habitat consultation; coordination between NMFS habitat research and management activities; alliances with NMFS and the Regional Fishery Management Councils; and encouragement for NMFS to meet with permit applicants before they submit Federal license or permit applications. When completed, the policy will be published in the Federal Register.

 C. Habitat Protection Legislative Initiatives

 While the above-mentioned actions planned in the administrative, policy and budget areas will greatly improve OHP activities related to our ongoing mission and responsibilities, over the long term a stronger NMFS habitat program will require changes in our statutory mandates. OHP has become involved in several Administration initiatives seeking to improve existing legislative authorities to address current and future environmental issues. OHP will build upon the following activities to strengthen the legal basis for protecting living marine resource habitats.

 Increase Habitat Protection Responsibilities and Authorities in NMFS-Specific Legislation:

 Under the reauthorization of the Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act, OHP is seeking changes to emphasize the importance of marine, estuarine and aquatic habitats to commercial and recreational fisheries. This includes proposed amendments requiring the formal identification of marine and estuarine fish habitats that are essential to obtaining optimum fishery yields. OHP will continue to seek amendments to the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act that will augment the NMFS' existing consultative role in the review of Federal actions.

 Broaden Habitat Protection Provisions in Other Key Environmental Laws:

 OHP will continue direct involvement with the reauthorization of the Clean Water Act (CWA) through its Chesapeake Bay Office, which represents NMFS on the Interagency CWA Working Group. OHP's headquarter's Habitat Policy and Management Division represents the Department of Commerce on the White House's Interagency Working Group on Federal Wetlands Policy and NMFS on the Interagency Working Group on the Dredging Process. This latter group will also examine the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act, the River and Harbor Act, and the Water Resources Development Act in terms of enhancing its habitat protection provisions.

 Seek Greater Habitat Protection Emphasis in NOAA-Specific Legislation:

 OHP will continue to work with other NOAA elements in the creation of legislation to protect coral reefs and associated ecosystems, in both this country and internationally, under the Department of State's U.S. Coral Reef Initiative. The l995 reauthorization of the Coastal Zone Management Act will also provide opportunities to expand Federal/state partnerships and improve the national mandates in a number of areas including preserving important coastal habitats and developing non-point source pollution control plans.

 D. Habitat Protection Budget Initiative

 A multi-year budget plan for the Habitat Protection Program has been developed in direct response to the OIG January 1994 Report on the Office of Habitat Protection. This budget initiative is designed to meet the Administration's "no net loss" of wetlands policy and mandated NMFS mission to provide more protection for living marine resources. This plan is being fully integrated into NOAA's Strategic Plan. The plan identifies five specific areas that require enhancement of funding for NMFS to address the declines in living marine resource habitats.

Basic Habitat Protection Program:

 Resources are being sought to augment Habitat Protection Program activities aimed at an integrated approach to managing and protecting the marine resources, watershed management and human impacts. NMFS will work to secure resources to support four essential Habitat Protection Program activities. Funds will be provided for increases in quantity and quality of consultations on Federal projects, permits and licenses with significant detrimental effects on coastal ecosystems and biodiversity. Increased identification of habitat in Magnuson Act Fishery Management Plans will be strongly encouraged. Proactive participation in Coastal America, the National Estuary Program and any new Clean Water Act watershed planning will be considered part of the base program rather than added responsibilities. NMFS will significantly increase technical-scientific support for regional habitat staff in developing sound agency positions on critically important projects.

 Magnuson Act Amendment Requiring Identification of Essential Habitat:

 Passage of proposed fishery habitat amendments to the Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act under the 1994 re-authorization will require additional resources. Upon passage of these amendments, there will be an urgent need to identify essential fish habitats in the fishery management plans. Designation of essential habitats will identify key geographic areas of concern for Federal and state agencies and the public. Support will be needed to assist the eight Fisheries Management Councils to identify essential habitats and incorporate them as amendments to their plans.

 Anadromous Fishery Habitat Improvements:

 Anadromous fish stocks are imperiled in all regions of the United States, primarily due to loss of habitat and impacts of hydropower dams. Because licenses for dams are issued for a period of up to 50 years, NMFS fishery consultations with FERC represent a major opportunity to overcome adverse effects caused by past and future licensing. Over 200 major hydroelectric dams are to be licensed or re-licensed during the next 10 years. This offers NMFS a major challenge to recommend and participate in improvements in anadromous fishery resources. Priority will be placed on activities designed to protect anadromous fishery habitats both as part of license consultation and participation in development of new national policies or processes such as developing regulations for fishway design.

 Activities to Avoid Endangered Species Act Listings:

 Funds will be requested to improve existing programs aimed at reducing the need for listings of endangered species (i.e., pre-listing processes associated with the identification of essential habitats for candidate species, participation in the assessment and determination of essential habitats and ecosystem health for candidate species, collection of information regarding potential threats and impacts in designated areas, and advance planning and permit reviews to avoid irrecoverable losses of habitats and ecosystem health). Habitat Protection Program activities which link closely to NMFS' Protected Resources initiatives outlined in the NOAA Strategic Plan to take a proactive approach to species and habitat protection will receive special emphasis.

 Habitat Restoration & Mitigation Technology Development:

 Restoration has not been attempted for many NOAA trust habitats because of a lack of appropriate methodologies and funding. Most of the methods for restoring habitats that have been adversely affected or altered have not been rigorously tested under controlled conditions or in a range of geographic areas. As a consequence, a significant proportion of restoration actions have been viewed with skepticism relative to their success. New funds will be sought for watershed restoration plans developed by Federal, state, and nongovernmental partners and program development plans for Habitat Restoration Research Programs are emphasized. The improvements of science in the mitigation of developmental activities to avoid the need for later restoration of degraded resources are to be given the highest priority. Research on innovative techniques developed for restoration and clean-up approaches will have special preference. Plans to provide databases for protocols will be essential. In addition, mitigation techniques research dealing with such continually controversial issues such as beach nourishment, marsh management and use of contaminated dredged material will receive strong encouragement. Funds will be set aside for the creation of habitat evaluation teams which will serve to increase the access of NMFS regulatory staff to scientific and technical support.

 E. New National Tracking System

 The current lack of an adequate performance tracking system is a major obstacle in evaluating program effectiveness and communicating program accomplishments. To correct this problem, OHP will fund a contract to create a tracking system. It will use regionally-generated data fed into an integrated national database to generate information on permits and construction programs and project accomplishments. When in place, the system should provide consistent, accurate and timely data on the status of all national and regional OHP habitat projects.