Service seeks to bring coastal barrier resources system maps into digital age

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today released to the public its Report to Congress: John H. Chafee Coastal Barrier Resources System Digital Mapping Pilot Project and announced the start of a 90-day public comment period.  The report, which was directed by the Coastal Barrier Resources Reauthorization Act of 2000 (P.L. 106-514), highlights the benefits of updating Coastal Barrier Resources System (System) maps with more accurate and precise digital maps to better protect people, coastal areas and natural resources.

The Coastal Barrier Resources Act (Act) established the System in 1982.  The Act removes the federal incentive to build on the coastal barriers designated within the System by prohibiting most federal expenditures that promote development, including federal flood insurance.  The location and dynamic nature of coastal barriers makes building on them risky because they are susceptible to storm surge and erosion - issues of increasing concern in the wake of global climate change and associated sea-level rise.  By removing federal incentives to develop, the Act seeks to minimize unnecessary expenditure of taxpayer dollars and decrease problematic coastal development that can put human life at risk, decrease the ability of coastal barriers to protect inland areas from flooding by acting as storm surge buffers, and threaten natural resources.  The Act does not restrict or regulate any non-federal activity.   The System is comprised of 857 geographic units totaling 3.1 million acres of relatively undeveloped coastal barriers located along the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and Great Lakes coasts, as well as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.   The report provides a background of the System, presents the challenges associated with the existing maps and the benefits of digital maps, explains digital mapping data needs, outlines the digital mapping protocols and methodology, presents the results of the pilot project including the draft digital maps, and identifies the next steps for comprehensive map modernization.  The report includes draft revised maps for 70 units, or approximately 10 percent of the entire System, and a framework for modernizing the remainder of the maps.  The 70 pilot project units are located in Delaware, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida and Louisiana.   The report concludes that existing System maps are outdated technologically and identified several key issues:

  • The lines on the current maps seldom align precisely with the underlying features they were intended to follow on the ground, resulting in some properties and projects intended to be eligible for Federal subsidies not being eligible, and vice-versa.
  • Modernizing the System maps using digital technology would correct errors that adversely affect private property owners, improve customer service and government efficiency, conserve natural resources, and secure the future integrity of the System by limiting the need for future legislative action to modify boundaries.
  • Comprehensive modernization of the System maps will cost up to $17 million.

The draft maps presented in the report will not become effective until they are legislatively enacted by Congress.  If enacted, the revised maps will result in a net addition of approximately 23,840 acres to the System (mainly associated aquatic habitat); removal of 363 acres of upland from the System (including about 300 private structures); and addition of 1,625 acres of undeveloped uplands to the System.   The Service will conduct a public review and finalize the pilot project maps as directed by the Coastal Barrier Resources Reauthorization Act of 2005 (P.L. 109-226).  Comments on the report and draft maps can be submitted until July 6, 2009, by mail to the Coastal Barriers Coordinator, Division of Habitat and Resource Conservation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 North Fairfax Drive, Room 860A, Arlington, VA 22203 or electronically to

.   For more information about the pilot project, including a downloadable version of the report and draft maps, visit