By Kate Miley
Under the diligent eye of the midday sun, we stand at the edge of a farm field. An endless expanse of young corn seems to be waving to us through a thick screen of haze.
This would appear to be the middle of nowhere, but my Nature Conservancy colleagues, along with representatives from the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), are standing at the intersection of agricultural policy, clean-water issues and habitat protection.
This 700-acre Wicomico County tract was owned for generations by the Taylor family. Steve Bunker, the Conservancy’s director of conservation programs in Maryland, points out its particular importance from a conservation perspective.
The Taylor farm is situated where Nassawango Creek originates as a series of smaller streams and wetlands flowing from its headwaters. Nassawango flows into the Pocomoke River, which then feeds into the Chesapeake Bay.
By restoring this land — particularly these headwater wetlands — the Conservancy and partners will provide new forested wetlands where agricultural fields now exist. That habitat will, in turn, improve water quality in Nassawango Creek and ultimately the bay.
“Productive wetlands at the headwaters, or beginning, of the Chesapeake Bay eventually translate to cleaner water in the bay itself,” explains Amy Jacobs, the Conservancy’s watershed restoration director. “That means healthier and more abundant fish, oysters and seafood in addition to a healthier economy.”
Evidence from surrounding land features, prevalence of ditching, and soil analysis indicate that natural wetlands once covered the property. While providing habitat for multiple species, wetlands also serve to filter out excess nutrients and sediments as waters flow from this area to the larger watershed.
Managing this property and attempting to return it to a natural state, then, is a Conservancy priority for multiple distinct reasons. Making a few changes to the agricultural ditches on this property can potentially enhance water quality elsewhere in the area.
We're meeting the representatives from NRCS and USFWS to discuss our respective visions for the wetland restoration, which essentially involves planting trees and plugging ditches.
Agricultural ditches are common on the Eastern Shore. They drain land to promote agricultural use, but also allow rapid runoff, flushing nutrients and sediment into waterways like Nassawango.
As our agreement currently stands, the Conservancy, NRCS and USFWS will work in conjunction to restore the property and place it under Conservancy ownership. The deals are expected to close in the coming year, culminating a process that started about two years ago when the Taylor family put the property on the market.
The Nature Conservancy’s involvement in this restoration project remains timely. Congress is working on the 2012 Farm Bill, a key piece of legislation for the agriculture and conservation communities.
In recent decades, a portion of the Farm Bill has addressed conservation efforts on farms and ranches. Funds dedicated to conservation can and will be used to promote environmentally friendly land management on farms just like the one where we’re standing.
With support from Farm Bill funds, the Conservancy and our partners can carry out targeted restoration efforts at this site. These actions have the power to offer cleaner water, more habitat and a more robust seafood economy downstream.August 08, 2012