By focusing on the goal at hand we successfully worked together with key environmental NGOs, the state of Louisiana, and other stakeholders to form a tailored solution to a seemingly intractable problem.
Due to degradation and loss of freshwater coastal wetlands, and the consequent shift from freshwater to saltwater habitat, dolphins have been able to occupy areas further inland along the Louisiana coast. In response to man-made changes to the management of the Mississippi River and climate-change-driven sea-level rise, the state of Louisiana has planned projects to rebuild the natural protective resources along the Louisiana coast and re-freshen those same areas, potentially impacting these new dolphin populations.
The trade-off was this: The best solution to combat climate impacts to this fragile ecosystem and to insure the long-term health of dolphin populations—rebuilding freshwater wetlands by reestablishing the deltaic process that connects the river to its natural wetlands—might harm dolphins living in artificially created habitats today.
The Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) limited activity in dolphin habitat that may negatively affect dolphins, even though that activity was designed to restore the wetlands and ultimately improve and sustain the habitat over time.
Mindset worked on behalf of a coalition of environmental NGOs committed to coastal wetland restoration. But technical regulatory provisions developed decades earlier under the MMPA threatened to stall key ecosystem restoration projects, which they supported. We petitioned Congress to grant the Department of Commerce the authority to waive MMPA rules under this specific and narrow circumstance: namely, when the prohibitions would otherwise thwart projects designed to restore the original ecosystem and promote resilience to climate change. In this instance, because of systemic changes due to climate-change-driven sea-level rise, protecting individual dolphins would jeopardize the long-term health of broader populations.
Climate change creates complex challenges to traditional approaches to environmental advocacy—we are no longer only faced with simple black and white scenarios. Climate change introduces dynamic choices not envisaged 40 or 50 years ago, and Mindset helped us navigate through this difficult minefield, without requiring us to advocate for changes to bedrock environmental laws.
David Muth, Gulf Program Director, National Wildlife Federation
Ultimately, our efforts enabled critical coastal wetland restoration projects to proceed without compromising vulnerable wildlife populations. The narrow amendment received the support of both Republican and Democratic Congressional leaders and was included in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018.