Meagan Racey, Meagan_racey@fws.gov, 413-658-4386
Federal and state agencies are investing $6 million in an Atlantic coastwide initiative to strengthen and restore 1,667 acres of salt marshes across five states by 2025, with the latest $1 million awarded this week by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. The award is shared with the states of Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Virginia.
The restoration effort will have far-reaching benefits for coastal communities, as healthy coastal marshes support clean water, storm and flood protection, and multi-billion dollar fishery, recreation and tourism industries. These vital benefits are at risk, with more than half of the original salt marsh habitat in the U.S. already lost, and the sea level on the North Atlantic Coast expected to rise between 13 to 19 inches by 2050.
Scientists point to the disappearing saltmarsh sparrow as a warning sign of these changes and a call to action for restoration. A network of wildlife biologists, salt marsh ecologists, engineers, academic researchers, and non-governmental partners spanning 14 states are working together to restore tidal salt marshes for the wildlife that call them home and the communities that rely on them.
“The next decade is a critical window for shoring up our salt marshes against rising seas,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regional director Wendi Weber. “We will continue to work with our many partners across the saltmarsh sparrow’s range to find holistic solutions that turn the tide for saltmarsh sparrow and help coastal communities maintain natural defenses in a changing climate.”
The $1 million Competitive State Wildlife Grant awarded this week will fund the implementation and testing of new management practices for restoring salt marsh across the six states. The grant is matched by $379,000 from these states, and adds to $4 million previously awarded from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other federal funds for a total of $6,009,777. State wildlife agencies will manage projects in each of the six states in collaboration with many partners, including the Audubon Maryland-DC, The Trustees of Reservations, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Salt Marsh Habitat and Avian Research Program.
“Saltmarsh sparrows are declining at an alarming rate across our region. This project will test five of the most promising management techniques for retaining saltmarsh resilience, reducing high-marsh flooding, and increasing nesting success,” said Connecticut Chief of Fisheries, Forestry and Wildlife Rick Jacobson. “This funding will support regional collaboration, an integral element of our State Wildlife Action Plans and will build on the conservation success of the State and Tribal Wildlife Program in protecting the saltmarsh sparrow and many other at-risk high marsh species.”
More than 4 out of every 5 saltmarsh sparrows have already disappeared since 1998 -- an estimated population decline of 87 percent. The species is the only bird that breeds solely in the salt marshes of the Northeast, and rising sea levels and more frequent storms are increasingly flooding its nests. When nests flood, eggs float away, or chicks drown. Under historic conditions, sparrows had just enough time between spring high tide events to raise their chicks. Sea level rise has exacerbated the effects of historical stressors, such as ditching or draining marshes for development or agriculture.
The short-term goal of the Atlantic Coast Joint Venture (ACJV), the Service, and partners is to halt the decline of the sparrow by 2030 by providing 23,000 acres of high-quality breeding habitat. The long-term goal is to restore 80,000 acres of high-quality breeding habitat by 2069, which would support a population of 25,000 birds. Conservation recommendations are outlined in the ACJV’s landmark Saltmarsh Sparrow Conservation Plan. This work will be guided by a joint federal/state executive committee, which includes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers North Atlantic Division is proud to join this tremendous partnership,” said Karen Baker, programs director for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers North Atlantic Division. “We believe we are uniquely positioned to support marsh restoration and sparrow conservation, and look forward to working with the Service and the Saltmarsh Sparrow Conservation Executive Committee to apply our engineering expertise. This initiative demonstrates our responsibility for maintaining waterways and our commitment to forging economic and environmentally sustainable solutions with our regional partners.”
The Service plans to assess the saltmarsh sparrow’s status in 2023 to determine whether or not it warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act.
More Funding Information
The Competitive State Wildlife Grant Program awards grants through a nationally competitive process for projects that implement strategies to conserve species in approved State Wildlife Action Plans. The complete list of this year’s 17 projects spanning 28 states, which were awarded $7.4 million, is available on the Wildlife Sport Fish Restoration Program website.
Research has found that coastal wetlands provide $23.2 billion a year in storm protection services by reducing the impacts of hurricanes in the U.S. The Service has invested millions from the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act and other sources to restore tens of thousands of acres of wetlands, beaches and other coastal habitats across the Northeast, and is increasing its efforts specifically to protect and restore the high-elevation salt marshes that saltmarsh sparrows depend on.
For more information visit the ACJV or U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service saltmarsh sparrow pages.
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