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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A United Way participant, the DNC is funded largely through gifts from corporations, foundations and local governments. Sussex County Council has been especially generous. In August 2009, at the recommendation of the non-profit Sussex County Land Trust, which advises the county on preservation efforts, the council contributed $58,325 toward the purchase of 25 acres in the Nanticoke River Watershed. The farmland and forest is adjacent to the conservancy’s 440-acre Middleford North Preserve. The county’s contribution will pay for half of the purchase. And in April the DNC purchased a conservation easement on 507 acres adjacent to 9,000-acre Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, protecting even more marsh, woods and ag lands—one of the most important waterfowl habitats in the world.
The DNC also receives support from its 3,100 members, whose dues start at $25 per year. Jones likes to point out that DNC’s administrative costs are minimal: 91 percent of all the contributions received in Delaware for the past 10 years have been used either for the purchase of land or for conservation programs.
The DNC concentrates on three areas: the coastal shoreline, especially the Delaware Bay, an area that includes Milford Neck; the Nanticoke River, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay and Delaware’s “last wild” river, whose waters teem with wildlife; and the Blackbird-Millington Corridor, a forested area that stretches between Smyrna and Middletown, which is home to a diversity of plants, animals and rare ecological systems.
The DNC preserves these lands in two ways. First, as a straightforward acquisition through purchase or gift. Landowners, especially farmers who donate property deemed conservation land, receive major tax incentives. They can deduct the sale price from their adjusted gross income.
The second method is to partner with state and federal natural resource agencies, such as the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control or the U. S. Fish and Wildlife service, to help the chapter acquire or add properties to its holdings.
Essentially, says Jones, the DNC acquires the land, then resells it to a state or federal agency “at our cost.” The conservancy is able to do this because it’s “lean and mean,” says Mike Parkowski, an attorney with offices in Dover and Wilmington, who is chairman of the DNC board of trustees.
“The wheels of government turn slowly,” says Parkowski, who also represents DuPont and other large Delaware entities. “That couldn’t be more true than when the government decides it wants to acquire interest in property, especially the federal government, and the state government to a lesser extent.” By contrast, he says, “The Nature Conservancy can go in, get the property under contract, and actually go to closing.”
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