Birds

$3 million in wetland funding to protect Delmarva’s bird habitat

$3 million in wetland funding to protect Delmarva's bird habitat

It is learned that the Chesapeake Bay region will receive a share of the $78 million
approved through a federal grant program called North American Wetlands Conservation
Act (NAWCA).

Of that, $1 million is for the Delmarva Peninsula, an area on the mid-Atlantic coast encompassing most of Delaware and parts of Maryland and Virginia. Titled “Delmarva Oasis I,” this proposal was submitted by Ducks Unlimited in partnership with nonprofit organizations and private landowners who are providing $2 million in matching funds. The money will be used to permanently protect more than a thousand acres of wetlands.

The Delmarva Peninsula is in a densely populated area: 1.5 million people live on the peninsula,
and Philadelphia, Wilmington, Baltimore and Washington, DC surround it. Despite development, the peninsula has seven National Wildlife Refuges and 12 Audubon-identified Globally Significant Bird Areas. These are critical habitats for species like the Black Duck that use the Atlantic Flyway, a migratory route from Canada to the Caribbean.

For this grant, Ducks Unlimited works with land trusts like Delaware Wild Lands to purchase title or place land under conservation easements. A parcel they are buying is a 225 acre property on the northern end of Delaware. It’s “particularly good habitat for waterfowl and migratory birds,” said Kate Hackett, executive director of Delaware Wild Lands. It also borders a state wildlife area and conserved private property, creating “23,000 acres of continuous protected land,” Hackett said.

When Hackett first heard about this property, she knew that Delaware Wild Lands alone wouldn’t be able to buy it, so she turned to Jake McPherson, the director of development at Ducks Unlimited, who incorporated this purchase into the NAWCA grant. With this money, Delaware Wild Lands will protect and restore a mix of tidal and freshwater wetlands and coastal areas vulnerable to storm surges, erosion and sea level rise. They have already began removing invasive species and creating buffer habitats around agricultural fields.

This purchase is part of a larger conservation effort – “Delmarva Oasis” refers to a goal set by the Delmarva Restoration and Conservation Network, a partnership of dozens of local, state and federal actors, to protect 50% of the peninsula by 2030.

“This is the first attempt to have peninsula-wide coordination so that we’re all walking at the same pace,” said Dan Murphy, director of the Chesapeake Bay field office of the US Fish and Wildlife. Service. “When you have a problem at the landscape scale, you also need to plan and implement at the landscape scale.”

While the $1 million grant is a start, more money is needed to reach the 2030 goal, McPherson says. An additional source of funding is the Chesapeake WILD Act, which became law in 2020 and allocates $15 million annually for bay restoration. The Network had presented its work to Maryland Senator Chris Van Hollen, who then introduced the bill. This money can fund projects in the Delmarva Bay area.

For Delmarva’s conservation organizations, this work is only accelerating. “This grant represents the first step in our tri-state partnership,” Hackett said, “as we protect land across the Delmarva Peninsula.”

-Emma Johnson