Maryland Landowner Creates Wildlife Haven and Ensures Enjoyment for Generations to Come
Forested wetland. USFWS photo.
The Wells family story is familiar to many other families on the Delmarva Peninsula. In 1941 Kirby Wells' grandfather purchased 1700 acres, which frequently flooded. so he drained them the land, planted them and sent up a sawmill business. But with the recent decline in the housing market the land began to lose its value. In 2006, the family’s sawmill business, and the pressure to sell to developers was on.
Mr Wells however wanted future generations of his family to continue to live on and enjoy this land on Maryland’s lower Eastern Shore. Searching for a way to keep their property in the Wells Family Ltd. Partnership, Kirby and his brothers learned about the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP).
The program offers financial and technical assistance to landowners to remove their marginal land from production, restore the land back to its original wetland functions, and protect the land from future development. The program offers a permanent easement, 30-year easement, and a restoration cost-share agreement.
Kirby and his brothers took their time coming to an agreement on the terms of the easement. They began by entering three-quarters of their land into a 30-year easement.
After the brothers learned more about the restoration process and conservation benefits, they decided to protect all 1700 acres with a permanent easement. Biologists with The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service help them develop a long term plan to restore a mature and diverse forest.
Black and white warbler. Photo by Bill Hubrick.
The first phase of wetland restoration began in September 2010, and the Wells are currently working to harvest the mature pine to chip for fuel. Other stands will be allowed to grow to market size before harvesting. The monoculture of pines will be replaced by a variety of native trees and shrubs that will provide habitat for a wide diversity of species such as pileated woodpeckers, black and white warblers, and wild turkey.
The return of these creatures is a welcome sight for the Wells family. “Our purpose for this particular property is to use it for recreation purposes such as hunting and observation of non-game wildlife,” Kirby said. Since habitat loss and fragmentation are causing the decline of many species, only through habitat restoration can many of them be restored to viable populations.
Wild turkey. Photo by Greg Thompson.
Kirby says he is also looking forward to seeing the forest restored to healthy balance once more. Using the latest wetlands restoration science, a plan was developed to plug the network of ditches originally installed to drain the land for agricultural purposes. Wetlands have been ditched with the best intentions but not always the best results. Ditches promote the establishment of invasive plant species like Phragmites, increase soil loss and erosion; degrade water quality, increase flood risks, and degrade habitat.”
In the first phase of restoration, a plug was installed in a large ditch that drained about 100 acres. Part of an access road was also removed to allow surface water to flow more naturally over the land. After snow melts and heavy rain, runoff in the area slowly drains through the restored wetlands, giving time for plants to naturally uptake nutrients and the sediment to settle before the water joins Kings Creek and flows to the Manokin River. The slowly draining water creates a shallowly inundated surface that attracts waterfowl and other aquatic dependent species.
A ditch plug has ben installed to prevent drainage, allowing natural water flow. USFWS photo.
The restoration efforts on the Wells property will be monitored through on-ground data collection and remote sensing. Groundwater levels and surface flows are being monitored to assess the effects of the restoration for this and future projects. The Maryland-DC Audubon Society, in partnership with FWS and NRCS, is conducting bird surveys to provide baseline data for bird use. This data will be used in future years to evaluate changes in wildlife use.
The Wells have been very pleased with the program, and have enrolled an additional 700 acre parcel in WRP. “My parents and grandparents would be very happy we found a way to keep this land in the family,” Kirby said. “We’ve cut enough trees in our life; it will be interesting to see something continue to grow forever.”
By participating in this program, the family can protect the property from future development while preserving wildlife and improving water quality.
For More information on the Wetlands Reserve Program, contact: