Restoring habitat for wildlife and improving water quality in the Chesapeake Bay watershed
Waterfowl are an important component of our wildlife heritage and wetland science owes a debt of gratitude to these migratory birds and the interest their preservation sparked in restoring wetland habitat many years ago. Many of the region’s wetlands host species other than waterfowl, such as quail, turkeys, warblers and endangered Delmarva Fox Squirrels. Unfortunately, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, natural wetlands have decreased in Maryland by over 70% in the past 350 years. CWH’s Chesapeake Care Program works with landowners on private and public property to restore some of these lost wetlands. All wetlands benefit water quality as they slow runoff and allow plants and affiliated bacteria to interact with nutrients in the water. Shallow emergent wetlands and wet meadows can benefit wildlife, such as ducks, geese, shorebirds, dragonflies and amphibians, by providing valuable habitat. Wooded wetlands and shrub swamps benefit wildlife species, such as warblers, woodcock, amphibians and bats.
In 2008, CWH restored more than 60 acres of wetlands and installed more than 375 acres of native grass meadows. CWH staff also planted more than 21 acres of trees and shrubs to create riparian buffers.
The Chesapeake Care program utilizes landowner incentives offered through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). Wildlife habitat restoration would be almost nonexistent in the watershed were it not for the leadership provided by the federal government through these programs. Unfortunately the State of Maryland cut back on the width of ditch buffer strips allowed in the CREP program to 35 feet, despite the fact that most agricultural runoff enters the watershed through ditches.
CWH will continue using the CRP and CREP programs to restore vanishing wildlife habitat in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. This is becoming increasingly difficult due to skyrocketing grain prices and the “all you need to do is cover crops” message that landowners are receiving from some government institutions. CWH believes that we need to do all we can (significant acreage of habitat restoration, cover crops, real nutrient management) if we are going to clean up the bay, which agribusiness has been over-enriching with nutrients. In 2008, funding by the Biophilia Foundation, Healy Foundation, John Ben Snow Memorial Trust, Maryland Eastern Shore RC&D Council, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Waterfowl Festival, and the Zuckerman Fund enabled CWH to build valuable habitat on the lands of those interested in helping wildlife resources.
Ned Gerber, Director/Wildlife Habitat Ecologist