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Council on Environmental Quality
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Members of Congress:

This third annual progress report on President George W. Bush's Wetlands Initiative brings you more good news. The goal President Bush set on Earth Day 2004 to create, improve, and protect at least three million wetland acres by Earth Day 2009 will likely be achieved one year early, by Earth Day 2008.
Since the President set the goal to move beyond "no net loss" of wetlands and attain an overall increase in the amount and quality of wetlands in America, we have restored, protected, or improved 2,769,000 acres of wetlands. We now have 888,000 acres of wetlands that did not exist in 2004, we have improved the quality of 1,029,000 existing wetland acres, and we have protected another 852,000 acres of existing wetlands. These accomplishments were achieved through our proactive conservation programs, such as the Wetlands Reserve Program, National Wildlife Refuge System, North American Wetlands Conservation Act, Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration Program, and the National Estuary Program. These are more substantial and distinct from our regulatory mitigation programs that replace wetlands developed for other uses.

Our successes also reflect the benefits of the Cooperative Conservation Executive Order 13352, which promotes conservation partnerships. The Departments of the Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, and Defense, and the Environmental Protection Agency continue to collaborate on better ways to meet conservation goals by working in partnership with state, local, and tribal governments; private institutions; and other nongovernmental entities and individuals.
Through Coastal America's Corporate Wetlands Restoration Partnership, more than 400 corporations and NGOs contributed to the President's wetlands goal by providing matching funds and in-kind services for wetlands restoration and protection projects. For example, corporations provided matching funds that helped leverage Federal dollars for the Bahia Grande, a 10,000-acre wetlands restoration project in Texas.

Last October, the President signed the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Act. The Partners program is a vanguard for voluntary, citizen and community-based stewardship efforts for fish and wildlife conservation. The program operates on the premise that fish and wildlife conservation is a responsibility shared by citizens and government. In 2008 the President requested a net increase of $5.6 million for the program to expand restoration activities on private lands.
As a result of the devastating hurricanes of 2005, the American public has an increased awareness of the importance of wetlands in sustaining a resilient coast. These massive storms resulted in 217 square miles of wetlands loss on the Louisiana coast and have left the region more vulnerable to future coastal storms. There is now a renewed sense of urgency for restoring, improving, and protecting coastal wetlands that all Americans can appreciate in light of the loss of life and property on the Gulf Coast.

Integrating wetlands restoration into the larger recovery plans for the Gulf region clearly makes good ecological sense, and it also makes good economic sense. But wetlands conservation and restoration is not only critical for recovery efforts on the Gulf Coast. With more than half of the Nation's population living in coastal counties, wetlands conservation and restoration must be included in our approach to community planning and development nationwide.

Congress has been an essential partner in the President's conservation agenda. To ensure that the strides made in the past three years not only continue but increase, we will start today to lay the foundation to ensure that all wetlands decision-makers, inside and outside the Federal Government, have real-time access to the information they need to make enlightened decisions. Our ecology and economy are interdependent; a healthy environment and strong economy must both flourish. I am looking forward to the day we celebrate reaching the President's goal for restoring, improving, and protecting America's wetlands.

James L. Connaughton

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