ANNAPOLIS, Md. — With its approval of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ acquisition of nearly 20 acres of forested land in Wicomico County Wednesday, the Maryland Board of Public Works supported preserving the Nanticoke River watershed and the many animals and birds that live in the forested area around it.
The board approved the Department of Natural Resources’ acquisition of 19 acres of land for $49,000. The new plot will help maintain the water quality of the Nanticoke River watershed and preserve the habitat of species endemic to forest interiors. The state spending board, which consists of Gov. Wes Moore, Comptroller Brooke Lierman and Treasurer Dereck Davis, approved the acquisition without discussion.
The department plans to acquire the land in the coming months, according to Emily Wilson, the program manager for the Department of Natural Resources’ Land Acquisition and Planning office.
“Our contract gives us a little flexibility after the funds are approved to then wrap up the due diligence to do with closing it,” Wilson said. “It could be anywhere from a month to several months.”
The acquisition is by Program Open Space, a program from the Department of Natural Resources that preserves local wildlife and watersheds while also providing recreational opportunities through land acquisitions.
“These blocks of forest that we’re acquiring and preserving will provide substantial habitat for forest interior dwelling species,” said Program Open Space Stateside Eastern Region Administrator Bryan Wieland. “This is in the Nanticoke River watershed, so it protects water quality as well.”
The acreage, located off Athol Road in western Wicomico County, will be managed by the Maryland Forest Service as part of Chesapeake Forest Lands. Chesapeake Forest includes 75,376 acres of land spanning six counties in the lower part of Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
The land is part of a larger forest considered core habitat for what the DNR calls forest interior dwelling species, including bald eagles, great blue herons and king rails.
“There’s many, many, many species of birds that require this interior forested area for habitat protection,” said Cheryl Wise, Program Open Space Stateside supervisor. “They can’t survive on the edge of forests. They have to be in the deep woods in order to to continue to (repopulate.)”
It is important to have these “larger blocks of contiguous forest available to support that kind of habitat,” Wilson said.
“One of the endangered species success stories involves Chesapeake Parks directly, which is the Delmarva fox squirrel,” Wilson said. “So because of the way that we manage Chesapeake Forest lands, we were able to (recover) our Delmarva fox squirrel population to the point where it’s been delisted.”
By preserving this land, the department also wants to maintain the water quality in the Nanticoke River watershed, a 725,000-acre watershed that feeds into the Chesapeake Bay and supports a variety of fish and shellfish species.
The land acquisition would also create recreational opportunities in Wicomico County, including hiking and birdwatching.
“Chesapeake Forest lands are a little unique in terms of land management plan because we love to combine recreation with rural economic assistance and promotion,” Wilson said. “So we do manage it, we manage it sustainably. So we have dual certification on our state forests, so we do timber harvest.”
However, whether timber will be harvested from this land is to be determined. The department will work with an advisory group to make that determination.
“There’s numerous benefits to acquiring this from a conservation perspective,” Wieland said, “outside of the fact that it very well could potentially even offer some type of wood product for the (Maryland) Forest Service.”