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America’s Conservation Enhancement Act Prioritizes Fisheries Conservation and Community Involvement

By Ben Kayser, Digital Media and Communications Intern
November 25, 2020

J ust before the election, Congress came together to enact a landmark piece of environmental legislation. With overwhelming support from both sides of the aisle, the America’s Conservation Enhancement Act (ACE) passed, ensuring hundreds of millions of dollars will be used for specific and actionable conservation goals in collaboration with key stakeholders in the years to come.

The ACE Act is broad in scope to address a wide array of different conservation goals and is especially important for fisheries-related conservation. Title 2 renews funding for the National Fish Habitat Conservation Through Partnership Act (NFHP), established in 2006, which aims to encourage collaboration between public agencies and fisheries stakeholders to promote fish conservation. For far too long, recreational anglers, Indigenous peoples, and other key stakeholders haven’t been able to meaningfully engage in fish conservation decision making. Hopefully, with renewed funding for this type of engagement, our fishing community will be heard.

The NFHP calls for “measurable habitat conservation results through strategic actions of Fish Habitat Partnerships that lead to better fish habitat conditions and increased fishing opportunities by— (A) improving ecological conditions; (B) restoring natural processes; or (C) preventing the decline of intact and healthy systems.” There are also explicit calls to broaden community support of, and involvement in, fish habitat conservation by “increasing fishing opportunities” and “fostering the participation of local communities, especially young people in local communities.”

In 2019, the recreational fishing industry in Oregon is estimated to have generated $1.4 billion in economic benefits. The economic importance of recreational fishing is not lost on our legislators, and the law specifically acknowledges the need to raise “public awareness of the role healthy fish habitat play in the quality of life and economic well-being of local communities.”

The ACE Act also reauthorizes the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA), which has helped protect nearly 30 million acres of wetlands over the last 30 years. Healthy wetlands are crucial ecosystems that support juvenile salmon and steelhead. To date, the NAWCA has funded over 110 wetland protection projects in Oregon and Washington using over $268 million to conserve 238,313 acres of wetlands. NAWCA funding is matched by state-level partners, doubling or sometimes tripling the impact of each project.

The spirit of collaboration that flows through this momentous piece of legislation is nothing short of a triumph for our threatened fish populations. In Oregon and Washington, we will advocate for funding to be allocated to essential habitat restoration projects, including salmon and steelhead spawning grounds, estuaries, and critical points in the Columbia River Basin. The legislation also provides enhanced opportunities for ODFW and other state agencies to apply for grants that support fish conservation and partner with interested private organizations.