15 CFR § 921.1 - Mission, goals and general provisions.
(a) The mission of the National Estuarine Research Reserve Program is the establishment and management, through Federal-state cooperation, of a national system (National Estuarine Research Reserve System or System) of estuarine research reserves (National Estuarine Research Reserves or Reserves) representative of the various regions and estuarine types in the United States. National Estuarine Research Reserves are established to provide opportunities for long-term research, education, and interpretation.
(b) The goals of the Program are to:
(1) Ensure a stable environment for research through long-term protection of National Estuarine Research Reserve resources;
(2) Address coastal management issues identified as significant through coordinated estuarine research within the System;
(3) Enhance public awareness and understanding of estuarine areas and provide suitable opportunities for public education and interpretation;
(4) Promote Federal, state, public and private use of one or more Reserves within the System when such entities conduct estuarine research; and
(5) Conduct and coordinate estuarine research within the System, gathering and making available information necessary for improved understanding and management of estuarine areas.
(c) National Estuarine Research Reserves shall be open to the public to the extent permitted under state and Federal law. Multiple uses are allowed to the degree compatible with each Reserve's overall purpose as provided in the management plan (see § 921.13) and consistent with paragraphs (a) and (b) of this section. Use levels are set by the state where the Reserve is located and analyzed in the management plan. The Reserve management plan shall describe the uses and establish priorities among these uses. The plan shall identify uses requiring a state permit, as well as areas where uses are encouraged or prohibited. Consistent with resource protection and research objectives, public access and use may be restricted to certain areas or components within a Reserve.
(d) Habitat manipulation for research purposes is allowed consistent with the following limitations. Manipulative research activities must be specified in the management plan, be consistent with the mission and goals of the program (see paragraphs (a) and (b) of this section) and the goals and objectives set forth in the Reserve's management plan, and be limited in nature and extent to the minimum manipulative activity necessary to accomplish the stated research objective. Manipulative research activities with a significant or long-term impact on Reserve resources require the prior approval of the state and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Manipulative research activities which can reasonably be expected to have a significant adverse impact on the estuarine resources and habitat of a Reserve, such that the activities themselves or their resulting short- and long-term consequences compromise the representative character and integrity of a Reserve, are prohibited. Habitat manipulation for resource management purposes is prohibited except as specifically approved by NOAA as: (1) A restoration activity consistent with paragraph (e) of this section; or (2) an activity necessary for the protection of public health or the preservation of other sensitive resources which have been listed or are eligible for protection under relevant Federal or state authority (e.g., threatened/endangered species or significant historical or cultural resources) or if the manipulative activity is a long-term pre-existing use (i.e., has occurred prior to designation) occurring in a buffer area. If habitat manipulation is determined to be necessary for the protection of public health, the preservation of sensitive resources, or if the manipulation is a long-term pre-existing use in a buffer area, then these activities shall be specified in the Reserve management plan in accordance with § 921.13(a)(10) and shall be limited to the reasonable alternative which has the least adverse and shortest term impact on the representative and ecological integrity of the Reserve.
(e) Under the Act an area may be designated as an estuarine Reserve only if the area is a representative estuarine ecosystem that is suitable for long-term research. Many estuarine areas have undergone some ecological change as a result of human activities (e.g., hydrological changes, intentional/unintentional species composition changes - introduced and exotic species). In those areas proposed or designated as National Estuarine Research Reserves, such changes may have diminished the representative character and integrity of the site. Although restoration of degraded areas is not a primary purpose of the System, such activities may be permitted to improve the representative character and integrity of a Reserve. Restoration activities must be carefully planned and approved by NOAA through the Reserve management plan. Historical research may be necessary to determine the “natural” representative state of an estuarine area (i.e., an estuarine ecosystem minimally affected by human activity or influence). Frequently, restoration of a degraded estuarine area will provide an excellent opportunity for management oriented research.
(f) NOAA may provide financial assistance to coastal states, not to exceed, per Reserve, 50 percent of all actual costs or $5 million whichever amount is less, to assist in the acquisition of land and waters, or interests therein. NOAA may provide financial assistance to coastal states not to exceed 70 percent of all actual costs for the management and operation of, the development and construction of facilities, and the conduct of educational or interpretive activities concerning Reserves (see subpart I). NOAA may provide financial assistance to any coastal state or public or private person, not to exceed 70 percent of all actual costs, to support research and monitoring within a Reserve. Notwithstanding any financial assistance limits established by this Part, when financial assistance is provided from amounts recovered as a result of damage to natural resources located in the coastal zone, such assistance may be used to pay 100 percent of all actual costs of activities carrier out with this assistance, as long as such funds are available. Predesignation, acquisition and development, operation and management, special research and monitoring, and special education and interpretation awards are available under the National Estuarine Reserve Program. Predesignation awards are for site selection/feasibility, draft management plan preparation and conduct of basic characterization studies. Acquisition and development awards are intended primarily for acquisition of interests in land, facility construction and to develop and/or upgrade research, monitoring and education programs. Operation and management awards provide funds to assist in implementing, operating and managing the administrative, and basic research, monitoring and education programs, outlined in the Reserve management plan. Special research and monitoring awards provide funds to conduct estuarine research and monitoring projects with the System. Special educational and interpretive awards provide funds to conduct estuarine educational and interpretive projects within the System.
(g) Lands already in protected status managed by other Federal agencies, state or local governments, or private organizations may be included within National Estuarine Research Reserves only if the managing entity commits to long-term management consistent with paragraphs (d) and (e) of this section in the Reserve management plan. Federal lands already in protected status may not comprise a majority of the key land and water areas of a Reserve (see § 921.11(c)(3)).
(h) To assist the states in carrying out the Program's goals in an effective manner, NOAA will coordinate a research and education information exchange throughout the National Estuarine Research Reserve System. As part of this role, NOAA will ensure that information and ideas from one Reserve are made available to others in the System. The network will enable Reserves to exchange information and research data with each other, with universities engaged in estuarine research, and with Federal, state, and local agencies. NOAA's objective is a system-wide program of research and monitoring capable of addressing the management issues that affect long-term productivity of our Nation's estuaries.