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The 2009 Tampa Bay Habitat Master Plan Update built upon a previously published document entitled Setting Priorities for Tampa Bay Habitat Protection and Restoration: Restoring the Balance (Lewis Environmental Services, Inc. and Coastal Environmental, Inc., 1996). Since its publication, this report has locally been referred to as the “Restoring the Balance” document.

Prior to the publication of the “Restoring the Balance” document, there had been only one previous effort to prepare a baywide habitat restoration plan. In response to previous reports of substantial loss of marine and estuarine habitats by Lewis (1977), and the associated declines in commercial fisheries harvests (Lombardo and Lewis, 1985), the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council (TBRPC, 1986) conducted a wetland trend analysis using historic aerial photointerpretation and GIS overlay analysis, and reported a substantial differential loss of emergent tidal wetlands in Tampa Bay between 1957 and 1982, with mangroves declining 4 percent and tidal marshes declining 56 percent during this time period. Based on these findings, as well as site specific information, TBRPC recommended a restoration plan that included 39 specific emergent tidal wetland and seagrass restoration sites.

The “Restoring the Balance” report included important new information not previously documented or established for Tampa Bay, including the following:

  • Documented quantitative changes in the acreage of emergent tidal wetlands between the periods circa 1950 and 1990.
  • Established a management paradigm referred to as “restoring the balance” based on the restoration of habitat ratios, or the relative proportion of the different types of emergent tidal wetland types, that occurred during a benchmark time period representative of less impacted conditions.
  • Defined quantitative restoration target acreages for the three primary types of emergent tidal wetlands: mangroves, tidal marshes, and salt barrens.
  • Recognized low salinity or oligohaline tidal stream habitats as the top priority for future restoration plans.
  • Developed a site evaluation matrix for assessing and prioritizing potential sites for public acquisition and/or habitat restoration.
  • Identified 28 specific sites for public acquisition, protection, and/or restoration, including critical areas of existing or potentially restorable freshwater marshes essential for the continued existence of healthy white ibis populations and other bay wildlife species.

Elements of the “Restoring the Balance” document were subsequently incorporated into the original Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP) for Tampa Bay, entitled Charting the Course. The CCMP, formally adopted by the Tampa Bay National Estuary Program in 1996, set forth specific measurable goals for bay improvement in five areas: Water and Sediment Quality; Bay Habitats; Fish and Wildlife; Dredging and Dredged Material Management; and, Spill Prevention and Response. In the CCMP, the “Restoring the Balance” document was referred to as the Tampa Bay Master Plan for habitat restoration and protection, and several conclusions and recommendations included in the “Restoring the Balance” document were organized into a series of eight actions which comprised the Bay Habitats (BH) Action Plan of the CCMP. The Charting the Course CCMP was subsequently updated in 2006, and this document included seven actions under the Bay Habitats Action Plan.

The purpose of the 2009 Tampa Bay Habitat Master Plan Update was to implement the strategic steps identified in the 2006 CCMP. These included: 1) identifying and describing critical habitats for estuarine dependent species in Tampa Bay; 2) identifying the current and future threats to habitat health and integrity in Tampa Bay; 3) updating the quantitative status and trends assessment of critical habitats in Tampa Bay; 4) comparing and contrasting various habitat restoration paradigms, conceptual models, and decision tools; 5) establishing quantitative restoration and protection targets for critical habitats in Tampa Bay; 6) assessing progress towards acquiring and/or restoring priority habitat protection and restoration sites identified in the original “Restoring the Balance” document and updating with new priority habitat restoration and protection sites; 7) presenting new strategies for increasing progress toward established habitat restoration and protection targets; and 8) developing a comprehensive monitoring program for assessing both large-scale and small-changes in critical habitats in Tampa Bay.

A significant recommendation stemming from this update was for the Tampa Bay Estuary Program to pursue a unique federal-state-local-private partnership that will provide the framework for the development of a coordinated approach to linking regulatory, resource management, and habitat restoration programs in the Tampa Bay watershed. The partnership could include the following entities:

  • Tampa Bay Estuary Program
  • NOAA Restoration Center
  • Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Tampa Regulatory Branch
  • Florida Department of Environmental Protection
  • Southwest Florida Water Management District
  • Environmental Protection Commission of Hillsborough County
  • Pinellas County Department of Environmental Management
  • Manatee County Natural Resources Department
  • Hillsborough County Environmental Lands Acquisition & Protection Program
  • Manatee County Environmental Land Management & Acquisition Advisory Committee
  • EPA Region IV
  • Tampa Bay Nature Conservancy
  • Tampa Bay Watch
  • Private mitigation banks and land owners/managers

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