Decades ago, few would have predicted that bald eagles would be a common sight over the Potomac River in the 21st Century. But as The Nature Conservancy celebrates its 60th anniversary this month, eagles are among the great success stories of modern conservation.
“Nature is resilient,” says M. Sanjayan, lead scientist for The Nature Conservancy. “With a little help, animals, landscapes and even the air that we breathe can come back from the brink of disaster. These amazing comeback stories give me hope for the future of our world.”
Welcome Back to Delaware
In Delaware, the Conservancy works in places like its Milford Neck Preserve to bring the landscape back to the way it functioned before urbanization, large-scale agriculture, and paved roads and highways. Once much greener, Delaware’s dense forests and sprawling wetlands did a much better job at standing up to high winds and absorbing rainfall before gradually releasing it to streams or groundwater.
It’s a natural infrastructure the Conservancy is working to rebuild in Delaware. This work has become increasingly important in light of scientific evidence revealing that rising greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere are causing temperature increases and significant changes to the natural environment by way of sea level rise, species declines, shifting weather patterns and more intense storms.
“This is a big reason why we’ve stepped up forest restoration at Milford Neck,” says John Graham, the Conservancy’s land steward in Delaware.
Graham may want to add “detective” to his land steward job title because that’s what he has to do to determine restoration strategies for the Conservancy’s nature preserves.
“Talking to farmers or other landowners who have lived here for several generations usually provides a glimpse of how things used to be,” says Graham.
Like any detective, Graham also finds clues throughout the landscapes he knows so well. For example, seasonal flooding on agricultural lands may indicate that small wetlands once dotted a large interior forest.
Once the mystery is solved, Graham gets to work bringing back native habitats that can function as nature intended, providing services such as air and water filters, storm buffers, flood control and habitat for the state’s diverse array of resident and visiting wildlife. One method of achieving this is through the creation of habitat islands, small groupings of native trees and shrubs which, when planted as part of a reforestation project, accelerate the natural process of succession by attracting birds that transport and deposit seeds that eventually become a new forest.
Help Nature Come Back in Delaware
John Graham hopes that someday, the Conservancy will be talking about the miraculous return of species making a comeback similar to what the nation witnessed with the bald eagle. In Delaware, this might mean welcoming back Swainson’s Warbler. Once common in Delaware, these birds were extirpated from much of its historical range when human settlers drained vital wooded wetland nesting habitat. American Redstarts may also make a comeback since evidence indicates that these birds once nested at Milford Neck. They might return if Milford Neck offers large tracts of contiguous forest required by American Redstarts for breeding.
In the meantime, there are things you can do to advance this important work:
Nature comes back to Delaware.
A winter view of restored freshwater wetlands at the Milford Neck Preserve.
A springtime view of restored freshwater wetlands at the Milford Neck Preserve.