There are many reasons why the marshes have been disappearing. Nature has had a hand, including erosion from wind and waves, more frequent powerful storm surges, land subsidence and – now we know-- sea level rise. Photo: USFWS.
It takes less than three hours to drive from the nation’s capital to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. But the bald eagles, abundant waterfowl and fish that are a world away from Capitol Hill are losing ground to the widening Blackwater River and rising sea level in the Chesapeake Bay.
People have been partly responsible for the marshes’ disappearance: by introducing nutria, voracious grass-eating rodents; and by building roads, bridges, canals and ditches that have affected water flow over time.
Nature has had a hand, including erosion from wind and waves, more frequent powerful storm surges, land subsidence and – now we know – sea level rise.
Blackwater Refuge Manager Suzanne Baird has an arsenal of tools that she and her staff, along with conservation partners, may use to protect refuge lands as a coastal haven for fish and wildlife along the Chesapeake Bay. Some measures to counteract marsh loss include creating new marsh, controlling invasive species, and pumping in soil to bolster marsh areas.
The simple act of planting trees creates wooded areas or corridors for animals to roam as the marshes continue to shrink. Blackwater Refuge has lost about 5,000 acres of marshland since the 1940s. Moreover, tree-planting also fights a central cause of climate change: the build-up of greenhouse gases.
More than 5,000 acres of wetlands have been lost within the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge boundary since the late 1930s. Photo: USFWS
The Conservation Fund is one of many organizations working alongside the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the bay. Since 1985, the Fund has protected more than 7,500 acres at Blackwater Refuge, 150,000 acres in Maryland and more than 315,000 acres across the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
In partnership with the Fund, CSX Corporation, one of the nation’s leading transportation companies, recently donated 10,000 oak and sycamore seedlings to complete a 40-acre restoration project on Blackwater Refuge. The corporation donated the trees on Earth Day as part of its “Trees for Tracks” program in which it has promised to have one tree planted for every mile of track in its 21,000-mile network.
“While it’s difficult to slow sea level rise, it’s much easier to restore native forest habitat and reap its ancillary benefits in upland areas. The trees will help clean our air, filter our water and provide valuable habitat for wildlife,” says Baird.
Nutria, voracious plant-eating rodents introduced from South America, have contributed to marsh loss at Blackwater. The refuge is working with multiple organizations to remove the animals from the Delmarva Peninsula to help ensure the success of marsh restoration efforts. Photo: USFWS.
CSX Corporation’s “Trees for Tracks” program has donated 10,000 seedlings to complete a restoration project on refuge land. Tree-planting creates new wildlife habitat to mitigate the loss of marsh areas. Photo: USFWS.
Restoring the Chesapeake Bay
The largest estuary in North America, the Chesapeake Bay provides food and habitat for an abundance of fish and wildlife. The vast watershed that feeds the bay is also an economic and recreational lynchpin for the 16 million people who live within it.
But the bay is in trouble. Increasing amounts of nutrients, sediments and toxic substances are causing serious ecological problems. In recent years, the bay has become less able to support fish and wildlife.
The bay’s coastline also faces the prospect of rising sea levels due to climate change, which might transform both coastal and inland habitats. Moreover, some local areas, like Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, are experiencing land subsidence – the slow sinking of coastal land thought to be related to the geological history of the area.
On May 12, 2009, President Barack Obama signed the Chesapeake Bay Protection and Restoration Executive Order, calling the bay a national treasure and directing the federal government to lead a renewed effort to restore and protect the bay and its watershed. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is one of several federal agencies leading this endeavor.
“The executive order underscores the importance of the bay,” said Blackwater Refuge Manager Suzanne Baird. “We’re committed to long-term solutions that produce a healthy, vibrant ecosystem for both wildlife and people.”
Climate Change Focus: Mitigation
Author: Frank Wolff
- Suzanne Baird, USFWS, 410-228-2692, Suzanne_baird@fws.gov
- Jena Thompson Meredith, The Conservation Fund, 512-423-5086, firstname.lastname@example.org