Blackwater Refuge Acquires 410 Acres to Protect Bird Species Against Sea-Level Rise

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced it has acquired 410 acres of new land for the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge from The Nature Conservancy to provide more habitat for bird species and strengthen natural areas to better withstand the effects of sea-level rise.

The expansion was paid for through funding from the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission, which last fall granted the USFWS and its partners $2.2 million to acquire 758 acres for the refuge.

The two properties included in the deal adjoin the Nanticoke River in Wicomico and Dorchester county and are primarily made up of forested freshwater tidal wetlands. These lands are recognized as Important Bird Areas by the National Audubon Society as they provide valuable habitat for breeding prothonotary warblers, black ducks and other species. They may also provide future recreation and hunting opportunities.

The purchase of the land will also help create a more sustainable natural environment in the face of change, as one property features wetlands that are currently building elevation at pace with the local rate of sea-level rise, while the other features crucial upland buffers and space to accommodate eventual marsh migration.

“This newly added land is strategically important to both wildlife and people,” said Chesapeake Marshlands National Wildlife Refuge Complex Manager Marcia Pradines. “The land conserves valuable forested wetland for many important species from waterfowl to migratory songbirds. At the same time, the acquisition also provides a natural buffer against flooding and sea-level rise and helps maintain the region’s character as development pressure builds. The acquisitions contribute to the mosaic of lands already protected by other partners, ensuring that landscapes are connected and functional.”

The Nanticoke River is part of the Captain John Smith National Historic Trail and is widely recognized as one of the most pristine rivers in the Chesapeake Bay, thanks in part to the protected wetlands and forests that surround it. The river also provides recreational opportunities for canoeing, kayaking, fishing and duck hunting. The 27,000-acre Blackwater Refuge lies just to the west of the Nanticoke, and includes a third of Maryland’s tidal wetlands.

The Nature Conservancy originally purchased the northernmost property back in 1993 to protect local biodiversity in what remains pristine forested wetland and marsh habitat. Sitting further south across the river is the second property, which is largely farmland that was purchased in 2007 after several local neighbors concerned about development in the area approached the Conservancy, and that presented an opportunity to protect both biodiversity and water quality.

“The Nature Conservancy is thrilled to see these critical pieces of land become part of the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge,” said Allison Vogt, Deputy Director of the Conservancy in Maryland and Washington, DC. “Not only will they provide crucial habitat for native species and help protect an important source of clean water for the Chesapeake Bay, protecting this land is investment in the future of the refuge and the region as we look for new opportunities to improve Maryland’s resiliency in the face of sea level rise.”

The acquisition of these tracts was made possible through funding from the Migratory Bird Conservation Act, and with the support of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Funding was raised through the sale of Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamps, or “Duck Stamps,” and was part of $2.2 million approved for the refuge by the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission to protect habitat for waterfowl and other bird species.

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