On June 15, Dr. Elizabeth Gray, CEO of the National Audubon Society, testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. The committee sought input from stakeholders on four important pieces of legislation:
- The Coastal Habitat Conservation Act of 2021, which would authorize technical assistance for grant programs targeted to habitat conservation to improve coastal community and ecosystem protection;
- The Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Reauthorization Act, which authorizes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to continue to work with states and other agencies to develop and execute proposals to conserve, restore, and manage fish and wildlife populations and their habitats;
- The Delaware River Basin Conservation Reauthorization Act, which would reauthorize critical conservation programs throughout the Delaware River Watershed and improve the equitably of federal funding provided through the Act; and
- The Strengthening Coastal Communities Act of 2022, which would expand the bipartisan Coastal Barrier Resources Act and its system of protected areas, protecting vital coastal ecosystems while saving federal tax dollars.
In the hearing, Elizabeth Gray conveyed Audubon's support for all four bills, with particular emphasis on the Strengthening Coastal Communities Act, not yet introduced in Congress. This draft bill would add over 277,000 acres of protected areas to the Coastal Barrier Resources System as recommended by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in response to the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy nearly 10 years ago. It would also expand the definition of a “coastal barrier” to include more undeveloped areas like those on the Pacific Coast in the System in the future, and authorize a pilot project to add marsh migration corridors to the System so that wetlands can naturally "migrate" inland to keep up with sea-level rise.
Dr. Gray told the committee:
"Coastal resources, such as wetlands, beaches, and barrier islands, provide critical services. They serve as recreational spaces, enhance our resilience to climate threats like floods and hurricanes, and provide habitat for birds and other wildlife. Yet climate change and development have diminished bird habitats. The U.S. has lost 3 billion birds since the 1970s, with a 70-percent decline in sea- and shorebird populations over the last 50 years.
"Increasing storms and hurricanes also threaten coastal communities. Hurricanes have killed nearly 6,700 people and caused more than $1.1 trillion in damages from 1980 to 2021. However, the burdens of climate change do not affect all communities equally. Those on the frontlines of climate change—primarily lower-income communities, communities of color, and Tribal Nations and Indigenous communities—are being hit first and worst by its impacts."
You can read Elizabeth Gray's full testimony here.
You can watch the entire hearing, including Elizabeth Gray's testimony, below: