The state’s wetlands, important for the protection of all life, have been severely degraded over the years. Can they recover? New partnerships may slow their decline—if Mother Nature doesn’t do them in first
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So Sommerfield has turned his attention from the shoreline to the upland side of the marsh. That’s where he and Kreeger find common ground.
“The upland migration of marsh due to the natural forces of erosion is being hampered by commercial development, which has erected a kind of fence preventing the marsh from moving farther inland to restore what is lost to erosion,” Sommerfield says.
Where that fence can be built in a way that balances the need for development and wetlands preservation is the issue.
“About 20 to 40 percent of our total wetlands are not regulated at all,” says Jacobs. “These are areas at the drier end of wetlands, and because they are drier, they’re easier to drain and develop.”
DNREC tried about 10 years ago to gain regulatory control over these upland wetlands, “but lost out to the agriculture lobby,” Jacobs says. “Surrounding states are currently doing a much better job of regulating these areas under their jurisdiction.”
So DNREC, along with private, non-profit organizations, is purchasing tracts of wetlands for protection. Similarly, the Delaware chapter of Ducks Unlimited has acquired almost 13,000 acres of wetland areas since its program began in 1937.
“We’re losing land and gaining people,” says Ducks Unlimited state chairman Howard Wilkins. His group, with various partner organizations, committed $1 million in 2008 for maintenance and rehabilitation efforts, water control and scientific services.
The Nature Conservancy, a national organization that has preserved almost 120 million acres of land worldwide, has spent $70 million since 1991 to purchase land for protection in Delaware. It now holds 30,000 acres of land necessary for wetland preservation. “Our plans are to expand our conservation acreage over the next 15 to 20 years to include an additional 90,000 acres that will include wetland areas,” Jones says.
He believes Delaware needs to strengthen its three major land preservation programs: open space, agricultural land preservation and the state forest land program.
“Funding for those programs comes from the state’s real estate transfer tax,” Jones says. “Until about two years ago, that tax was providing about $10 million for land preservation. In 2008 the transfer tax funding for land preservation fell to $6 million.”
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