The sun rises over Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. The sun is reflected in the still water.
Sunset over Blackwater River Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge contains one-third of Maryland's tidal wetlands, which provide storm protection to lower Dorchester County. © Ray Paterra / USFWS

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Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge Has Acquired 870 Acres From The Nature Conservancy Since 2016

Land acquisitions will provide room for marshes to migrate as sea-levels continue to rise, critical to protecting bird habitat, water quality and shorelines.

With the recent acquisition of 150 acres this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has acquired a total of 870 acres of land for the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge from The Nature Conservancy as space for local marshes to migrate to as sea-levels rise. Without intervention, Maryland stands to lose 90% of its critical marsh habitats by 2100 under current climate scenarios.

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, in Dorchester County, encompasses nearly 1/3 of Maryland's tidal wetlands, providing critical habitat for birds traveling along the Atlantic Flyway migration route. Since the mid-20th century, roughly 8,000 acres of Blackwater’s wetlands have been lost. Tidal marshes have been migrating to higher ground, but the gain in marsh habitat is less than 3,000 acres since the 1930’s.

“TNC has helped conserve nearly half of the Nanticoke Division of the refuge, which has grown to over 2,000 acres since the first acquisition in 2011,” said Chesapeake Marshlands National Wildlife Refuge Complex Manager Marcia Pradines. “The Nanticoke is a priority area for conservation due to its ability to withstand future sea level rise, and high value for many important species from waterfowl to migratory songbirds. At the same time, the acquisition also provides a natural buffer against flooding and sea-level rise.”

TNC has transferred more than 870 acres to the Blackwater refuge since 2016. The Conservancy’s role in helping the refuge protect Maryland’s marshes goes back almost 50 years and has assisted in the acquisition of nearly 5,000 acres since 1975.

“Maryland’s iconic tidal wetlands are a critical link in the natural systems of the Chesapeake Bay, an indelible part of our region’s landscape and culture,” said Tim Purinton, Executive Director of the Maryland and D.C. chapter of The Nature Conservancy. “For decades The Nature Conservancy has been honored to work alongside the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and our many other partners to protect them. We look forward to continuing those efforts into the future, when Maryland’s tidal wetlands will need our help more than ever.”

Maryland’s Lower Eastern Shore is home to more than 75% of the state’s remaining tidal wetlands. These marshes provide critical protection against shoreline erosion and flooding from storms.  A 2018 study conducted by George Mason University and TNC found that tidal marshes reduced the energy of incoming waves by as much as 90% at a study site on Deal Island.

Tidal wetlands in Maryland provide vital habitat to many species of birds, including black rails, marsh wrens, black ducks and others. These wetlands are also crucial for protecting Chesapeake Bay water quality, sequestering and storing carbon and providing habitat for economical important species like crabs and oysters.

The acquisition of these tracts was made possible through funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is funded by offshore oil and gas royalties, and the Migratory Bird Conservation Act thanks to the purchase of “Duck Stamps” for $25 each by migratory gamebird hunters, bird watchers and others interested in wetland habitat conservation. Learn more about the 2021-2022 Duck Stamps, which are now available to purchase at participating sites.


Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, located on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, protects over 32,000 acres of rich tidal marsh, mixed hardwood and pine forest, managed freshwater wetlands and cropland for a diversity of wildlife. To learn more, visit our website at www.fws.gov/refuge/blackwater or follow us on Facebook @BlackwaterNWR.

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov.

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 72 countries and territories: 38 by direct conservation impact and 34 through partners, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.