Last week I completed three weeks working at the Deepwater Horizon Unified Area Command (UAC) in New Orleans. The UAC is a command center made up of Coast Guard, BP, Federal and State employees working together to address the environmental-, public health- and wildlife-related concerns associated with the massive Deepwater clean-up effort in the Gulf of Mexico. At the UAC, hundreds of staff members work nearly 12 hours each day, seven days a week.
I requested an assignment at the UAC because I really wanted to lend a hand in any way possible to the Deepwater Horizon response. My family was supportive of my being there, and I have to give my wife credit for doing everything at home in my absence. I was so thrilled to see my kids when I got home.
I was the third USDA representative to the Environmental Unit at the UAC, which is responsible for planning and reviewing all activities and programs that may have a negative impact on the local ecosystem and communities. Our group of two dozen staff members met every day to review wildlife project proposals, make decisions on the handling and transportation of impacted wildlife and recommend practices to UAC leadership that would provide the greatest benefit to local and migratory wildlife.
It felt good to directly help wildlife impacted by this very sad situation. In my regular job as a wetland specialist for NRCS Texas, I administer the swampbuster provisions of the 2008 Farm Bill. I serve farmers and ranchers by making wetland determinations and delineations on their land to help them remain eligible to receive benefits such as cost-sharing, technical assistance and loans. I also conduct functional assessments on wetland impacts, which is a way to evaluate wetlands by their habitat function and value.
My UAC experience increased my understanding and appreciation of how partnerships work. With the Deepwater Horizon response, partners included environmental groups, governmental entities and the public, and it was critical to get buy-in from all parties to not only protect local residents, but also the entire Gulf ecosystem.