The Call of the Wild
The local chapter of The Nature Conservancy has helped protect and preserve thousands of acres of wild lands in Delaware. And its mission continues.
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Adds Manus, “If you give nature half a chance, she is pretty resilient.”
That’s what the Delaware chapter of The Nature Conservancy has been doing since 1991—giving nature half a chance, sometimes more. With a staff of just six and a charmingly small operating budget of $660,000, this nonprofit has acquired seven nature preserves totaling 5,344 acres and holds easements on seven properties totaling 995 acres. In addition, working with state and federal government agencies and other partners, the Delaware chapter has managed to protect 30,000 acres of forests, beaches, farmlands and wetlands.
In fact, through the Delaware Agricultural Lands Preservation Program, also established in 1991, almost one-third of Delaware’s available farmland has been preserved. That’s more per capita than in any other state. This is especially remarkable considering that participation in the program is voluntary and that development pressure is tremendous in Delaware, which is the sixth most densely populated state.
“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,” says Roger Jones, who has been state director of the conservancy since 1994. He explains the chapter has a three-pronged mission: protecting the land through purchase and gifts, restoring natural habitats and, largely through lobbying, supporting good conservation policies at the state and federal levels.
There is plenty worth protecting among the state’s 1.25 million acres. Natural wonders abound here, with hundreds of miles of coastline on both the Delaware Bay and Atlantic Ocean, as well as myriad marshes, beaches, dunes, rivers and forests. One of the world’s great natural phenomena occurs each spring on the Delaware Bay, as millions of horseshoe crabs emerge from the bay to spawn on the beaches. The event coincides with the arrival of thousands of shorebirds migrating north from South and Central America. This may be the only feeding stop for a number of shorebirds such as the Red Knot on their 10,000-mile journey to breeding grounds in the Canadian Arctic.
Perhaps as a result of these advantages of land and sea, the state is chockablock with nature organizations. They include the Delaware Nature Society, Delaware Wild Lands, Brandywine Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited and Trout Unlimited. In addition, there are environmental groups such as Green Delaware that focus on protecting the environment.
The existence of these organizations may be one reason Delaware was the last state to form a Nature Conservancy, according to Jones. “There were two other nonprofits in existence, the Delaware Nature Society and Delaware Wild Lands,” he says. “We wanted to establish the chapter in the right way and make sure toes didn’t get stepped on.”
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