A key coastal wetland property, part of the Thousand Acre Marsh near Port Penn, will be conserved thanks to a $829,400 federal grant awarded to DNREC's Division of Fish and Wildlife through the U.S. Department of the Interior's 2012 National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grant Program. The grant will be used, along with matching funds from the state Open Space Program and private contributions, to acquire a 194-acre property, bringing a total of 388 acres of the Thousand Acre Marsh under permanent protection. The conservation of the property protects and expands access to the globally significant wildlife habitat within the Delaware Bayshore and supports President Obama's America's Great Outdoors Initiative by providing new recreational opportunities to enjoy the outdoors and learn about nature.
"Conserving and protecting this unique coastal wetland enhances the state's natural resources and boosts our economy by encouraging more Delawareans and visitors to enjoy our state as a world-class birding and wildlife-watching destination," said Governor Jack Markell. "This project ensures a diverse natural legacy for future generations."
Acquisition of this property was a key priority of DNREC's new Delaware Bayshore Initiative, which builds on the state's long-term commitment to conserving our coastal zone and on the Delaware Bay shoreline's reputation as a unique and beautiful natural resource. The Bayshore Initiative's goals also include helping the local economy by encouraging Delawareans and visitors to enjoy the area through low-impact activities, such as birding, fishing, hunting, boating and ecotourism. The addition of this property enhances the management of the Augustine Wildlife Management Area, which is located at the northern end of the Delaware Bay. The Delaware Bayshore, extending from Delaware City to Lewes, is widely recognized for its expansive coastal marshes, bay beaches, agricultural lands and forests which provide diverse habitat to many species.
The new property includes approximately 145 acres of wetlands and 40 acres of forested uplands. With this property, the Augustine Wildlife Management Area, including the Thousand Acre Marsh, will total 2,770 protected acres. The Thousand Acre Marsh provides habitat for thousands of breeding and wintering waterfowl, serving as a stopover for migratory birds during spring and fall and as breeding grounds for waterbirds, as well as habitat for fish and muskrats. Protection of the property will help safeguard habitat for 10 species listed as State Endangered, as well as protecting foraging habitat for one of the largest and most diverse heronries on the east coast and critical wintering habitat for the bald eagle.
The new property also will provide public access to the southern portion of the Thousand Acre Marsh for wildlife-related recreation and viewing. Plans include building a platform for bird watching with interpretive signage, blinds for duck hunters and enhancing an existing walking path along the edge of the woodland and fields.
"For a small state like Delaware, it is vital that we work to conserve our precious lands and natural resources, including our wetlands and coastal areas. Preserving Delaware's lands and natural habitat has been something that I have been committed to since I was Governor, including my work to help establish the Delaware Agricultural Lands Preservation Program, and preservation remains an issue that I am committed to today," said U.S. Senator Tom Carper. "This grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services will enable Delaware not only to safeguard critical fish and wildlife habitat along the Thousand Acre Marsh in New Castle County, but also to provide Delawareans and Americans of all ages the opportunity to explore the treasured landscapes, ecosystems and wildlife of the First State."
"The Thousand Acre Marsh is a treasured resource for Delaware's natural environment and has been a source of great pride for the First State," U.S. Senator Chris Coons said. "By expanding this area, we will work to further preserve this richly diverse habitat for future generations to enjoy. I look forward to continuing my work with the Department of the Interior and with President Obama to ensure the conservation of Delaware's wildlife."
"Delaware is blessed to have a beautiful natural habitat for both residents and visitors to enjoy," said U.S. Congressman John Carney. "It is our responsibility to care for these resources and ensure that future generations have the same opportunity. The coastal wetland property that will be preserved through this federal grant is home to many species of fish, waterfowl, and birds, including the bald eagle. I'm excited that DNREC will now be able to undertake this project, and look forward to the improvements that will make it easier to enjoy this beautiful part of our state."
"This National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grant builds on public-private partnerships and will help transform Delaware's Bayshore into a world-class conservation and recreational area," said DNREC Secretary Collin O'Mara. "By leveraging federal, state and private resources to meet the goals of our Delaware Bayshore Initiative, we are connecting wildlife areas to urban centers and enhancing public recreational access to our precious natural resources."
The Delaware grant was part of $20.5 million in grants announced by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar to support 24 projects in 13 states to conserve and restore coastal wetlands and their fish and wildlife habitat. The grants will be matched by nearly $21 million in partner contributions from state and local governments, private landowners and conservation groups. The grants will be used to acquire, restore or enhance coastal wetlands and adjacent uplands to provide long-term conservation benefits to fish, wildlife and their habitat. States receiving funds include Alaska, California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Texas, Virginia and Washington.
"Coastal wetlands serve as some of nature's most productive fish and wildlife habitat while providing storm protection, improved water quality, and abundant recreational opportunities for local communities," Salazar said. "I am pleased that with these grants we are able to help our state partners implement some of their high-priority projects that support both conservation and recreation along their coasts."
Delaware's matching cost share for the grant is anticipated to be approximately $500,000 in state Open Space Program funds and partner contributions. Two conservation partner groups that plan to support the project are the Delmarva Ornithological Society and the Delaware Chapter of the Nature Conservancy.
"The Delmarva Ornithological Society is honored to partner with DNREC in the acquisition of this property within the Thousand Acre Marsh, a historically vibrant environment for migratory and breeding birds and a Top Ten birder's hotspot within Delaware. The DOS funding comes from monies raised through the 4th Annual Delaware Bird-A-Thon in 2010, an event that involves numerous Delawareans and others throughout the United States in an effort to raise funds to protect vital migratory bird habitat. This wonderful acquisition matches the mission and the efforts of the Bird-A-Thon organizers and participants," said Bill Stewart, DOS Conservation Committee Chair.
"The Delaware Chapter of the Nature Conservancy, along with other partners, recently completed a Delaware Basin-wide conservation framework with funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to identify the best places for the protection and restoration of aquatic biodiversity within the watershed. As part of this initiative the protection of wetland complexes including those at Thousand Acre Marsh were identified as priority places for protection and restoration. A big tip of the hat to the Delaware Fish and Wildlife professionals for reaching out to partners on this project and for successfully competing at the national level to secure this grant. It will be money well spent and conservation will be well served," said Andrew Manus, Acting State Director and Director of Conservation Programs for The Nature Conservancy in Delaware.
The National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grant Program is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and funded under provisions of the 1990 Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act. Funding is provided by Sport Fish Restoration Act revenue -- money generated from an excise tax on fishing equipment, motorboat and small engine fuels.
The grants support President Obama's America's Great Outdoors Initiative for conservation, recreation and reconnecting people to the outdoors. A recent 50-State Report from the U.S. Department of the Interior lists 100 of the country's most promising projects -- a result of 50 meetings with governors and stakeholders held by Salazar and other senior Interior officials to solicit ideas on how to best implement America's Great Outdoors Initiative in their states -- including the Delaware Bayshore Initiative.