January 2, 2019

Mississippi Acquires Land In Grand Bay With Deepwater Horizon Settlement Funds

JACKSON COUNTY, Miss. — After the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the largest marine oil spill in U.S. history, the first land acquisition in the Grand Bay Land Acquisition and Habitat Management Project (Project) has occurred. Funded through the Mississippi Trustee Implementation Group’s (MS TIG) Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) monies, the Project expands the permanent protection of critical ecosystems along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, helping to partially restore injuries caused by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Over 1,500 acres of essential coastal wildlife habitat at the Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR), and the Grand Bay Savanna Coastal Preserve in Jackson County was acquired under the authority of the Mississippi Secretary of State with assistance from The Conservation Fund and will be managed by the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources (DMR) in accordance with the Project. The protection of these lands improves management and public access of both coastal wetlands and adjacent upland areas and secures habitat for threatened and endangered species.

“A key component of our overall restoration planning after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill has included the conservation of habitat for the benefit of the people who recreate there and the wildlife that live there,” said Governor Phil Bryant. “I’m pleased we have been able to secure this area that will expand the lands that are already being conserved.”

The trustees for the MS TIG allocated $6 million for the acquisition of up to 8,000 acres and for habitat management up to 17,500 acres in the Grand Bay Land Acquisition and Habitat Management Project. The U.S. Department of the Interior and Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) are co-implementing trustees of the project.

“We are pleased that the State of Mississippi and The Conservation Fund have completed this important acquisition,” said Mary Josie Blanchard, Director of Gulf of Mexico Restoration for the Department of the Interior. “The addition of the 1,500 acres allows for restoring injuries to natural resources, as well as boosting the ecological benefits to the Gulf.  Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge and the surrounding areas, including the Savanna Coastal Preserve and Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, represent one of the few locations along the Gulf Coast where a transition from upland to open water provides a connection of freshwater, estuarine and marine habitats. This acquisition by Mississippi and The Conservation Fund will enhance the economic health and resiliency of surrounding coastal communities.”

This conservation acquisition is a top priority for the MS TIG and benefits birds and wetlands, coastal, and nearshore habitats, which includes wet pine savanna, maritime forest, emergent wetlands, salt marshes, bays and bayous. The Grand Bay NERR and NWR host over 200 migratory bird species during the annual cycle, including magnificent frigate bird, brown pelican, red knot, semipalmated plover, Wilson’s plover, yellow rail, pine warbler, mottled duck, teal, reddish egret, and others. The newly conserved lands have the potential to provide secondary benefits such as supporting recreational and commercial fisheries, through the permanent protection of nursery areas for blue crab, shrimp, trout and drum, and improved water quality to the Gulf of Mexico.

In addition to partially restoring injuries to birds and wetlands, coastal and nearshore habitats, this acreage will also provide expanded access for hunting, fishing, paddling, wildlife watching, and other important coastal recreation-related tourism opportunities, while increasing the contiguous protected landscape to approximately 25,000 acres across Mississippi and Alabama.

“Our restoration efforts are integrated for the overall improvement of our natural resources just as the natural resources are dependent on one another,” said Gary Rikard, Executive Director, Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality. “Land acquisition and conservation of habitat to improve the Gulf Coast’s ecosystem has long been integral to the state’s restoration efforts, and this land acquisition will complement many of our other projects.”

The Mississippi Congressional delegation representing Jackson County, including U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith and U.S. Representative Steven Palazzo (MS-4) have supported long-term restoration and conservation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in response to the historic Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

“The protection of Mississippi’s natural resources is key to promoting not just our state’s beauty, but tourism and economic growth,” said Senator Hyde-Smith. “It is also especially important for hunters, fishermen, and others who enjoy and depend on our natural resources. This conservation milestone is one positive resulting from a very tragic event.”

“I am pleased these Deepwater Horizon settlement funds are being used to conserve more than 1,500 acres of coastal habitat in Jackson County that is home to many threatened and endangered species,” Senator Wicker said. “I hope this project is just the first in a series of efforts to preserve and protect our Gulf Coast’s natural abundance, which supports tourism, fishing, and a vibrant local economy.”

“Victories such as this are the exact reason we worked so hard to get the RESTORE Act passed and to ensure Natural Resource Damage Assessment funds are spent appropriately.  On the Mississippi Gulf Coast we’ve seen and felt the long-term impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and this NRDA funding should be used in the devastated areas to sustain and contribute to our state’s natural attractions,” said Representative Palazzo.

The Conservation Fund, a national nonprofit organization that provides environmental and economic solutions, facilitated the acquisition.

“We understand now, more than ever, the importance of ensuring a healthier Gulf Coast for both communities and wildlife,” said Ray Herndon, Director of the Central Gulf & Lower Mississippi Region for The Conservation Fund“Through strategic private-public partnerships, we can enhance protection for the sensitive natural resources that are the backbone of the local economies. We look forward to coordinating with the State and Service to secure priority habitat for improved management and public access.”

About The Conservation Fund
At The Conservation Fund, we make conservation work for America. By creating solutions that make environmental and economic sense, we are redefining conservation to demonstrate its essential role in our future prosperity. Top-ranked for efficiency and effectiveness, we have worked in all 50 states since 1985 to protect more than eight million acres of land, including more than 230,000 acres in the Central Gulf Region.

Ann Simonelli | The Conservation Fund | 703-908-5809 | asimonelli@conservationfund.org