Huffman-sponsored bill seeks grant funding to restore kelp forests

A bill sponsored by U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman to protect marine ecosystems in northern California recently got its first hearing in a subcommittee he chairs.

The California Democrat included H.R. 4458, the Keeping Ecosystems Living and Productive (KELP) Act, before the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife during a 29 July hearing. The bill calls for creating a new grant program within NOAA to fund projects to restore kelp forests. It calls for USD 50 million (EUR 42.6 million) in funding annually from the 2022 fiscal year, which starts on 1 October, 2021, through fiscal year 2026.

A report from the University of California at Santa Cruz earlier this year reported that kelp forests in northern California have been depleted by more than 95 percent thanks in part to the spread of purple sea urchins covering the sea floor. The report said that the depletion has happened rapidly over the past seven years.

In a statement issued when he filed the bill, Huffman said vibrant kelp forests are essential to maintaining the area’s ecosystem and to the people who depend on it to make their living. The grants would be made available to states, tribal nations, non-profit organizations, universities as well as commercial and recreational fishermen to prevent further losses.

“Local communities are working hard to restore these vital ecosystems, and the KELP Act will direct the necessary federal resources to support these important recovery efforts,” he said.

In written testimony for the hearing, NOAA Fisheries Assistant Administrator Janet Coit said NOAA currently works with a broad set of partners to learn more about the forests. The work also includes examining how the urchins grazing could be reduced, she added.

“NOAA would implement the bill, if enacted, by building on our existing expertise and partnerships,” she said.

In testifying before the subcommittee, National Wildlife Federation President and CEO Collin O’Mara said bills like the KELP Act offer cost-effective ways to protect the environment and ecosystems. The subcommittee reviewed 15 bills during the hearing, and O’Mara said those bills equal less than one-third of 1 percent of the USD 1 trillion (EUR 851.2 million) infrastructure bill Congress is currently considering.

“It's not too late to save America's wildlife, although there is not a moment to waste,” he said.  

Photo courtesy of Pete Niesen/Shutterstock


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