The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation has awarded The Nature Conservancy a $450,000 grant to fund a comprehensive conservation project in the Delaware River Basin. The project is a joint effort involving The Nature Conservancy’s Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Eastern New York chapters, the Natural Lands Trust, and the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary.
The project will use digital mapping technology to identify priority conservation areas for a wide range of river and estuarine habitats in the Delaware Basin and Bay, including tidal marshes, floodplains and headwater streams, in addition to the river and its tributaries.
“This project takes whole-basin perspective,” said Michele DePhilip, Director of Freshwater Conservation for The Nature Conservancy in Pennsylvania. “Knowing exactly where certain natural systems exist, and accurately describing their current conditions and threats, will guide more effective conservation of biodiversity within the basin, and could help direct limited conservation dollars toward the most critical work.”
This comprehensive effort will draw upon previous individual efforts by government and nonprofit scientists, but will be built on a policy of communicating and sharing data across state and organizational lines. Never before has the Delaware Basin conservation community come together to prioritize and coordinate its conservation work. A recent similar project in the Great Lakes has successfully consolidated knowledge about shared resources, leading to a blueprint for where to invest conservation money and significant increases in federal investment through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
The Delaware River Basin and its surrounding watershed represent one of the most intact freshwater systems in the region, as the Delaware’s 300-plus miles represent is the longest stretch of undammed river in the East. The Basin drains over 13,000 square miles and supports almost 15 million people, many of whom depend on its resources for clean drinking water and recreational opportunity.
All freshwater systems are inextricably linked to the lands that surround them, and the adverse impacts of threats including development, pollution, and climate change have taken a toll on the health of the basin. Within the greater northeastern United States, there is a history of habitat loss and degradation, with many river systems being altered and polluted. The Delaware River watershed, in the heart of this region, overlaps with one of the most highly developed urban corridors in the country.
Yet, opportunities still exist to conserve high-quality habitats, as well as restoring those that have been degraded, DePhilip said. The Delaware Basin Restoration Initiative will identify opportunities to protect and improve water quality and habitat, as well as provide a blueprint for the region’s conservation organizations and agencies to implement components of the plan.
“With looming threats like climate change and energy development, a coordinated approach to protecting freshwater systems like the Delaware River Basin is critical,” said Peter Williamson, the Vice President of Conservation Services for Natural Lands Trust.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.