Maryland Coastal Wetlands Prepare for More Water

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is the battle front of bird habitat, human activity and rising sea levels

Photo © Michael Furtman

Maryland’s Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is the battle front of migratory bird habitat, human activity and rising sea levels.

Nestled on the western side of the heavily developed Chesapeake Bay, wetlands in this 28,000-acre refuge are in danger of being drowned out by the Atlantic Ocean. But a Ducks Unlimited restoration project in 2018 expanded the resting and feeding opportunities for migrating ducks.

Blackwater is one of the most biodiverse and ecologically valuable areas in the state. The refuge’s importance to migratory birds is immense. It’s a Ramsar Convention Wetland of International Importance, North American Waterfowl Management Plan Priority Wetland and Audubon Internationally Important Bird Area.

DU helped restore a 60-acre former agriculture field at Blackwater NWR.

The refuge has 400 acres of freshwater impoundments managed to benefit waterfowl and other migratory birds. Despite their importance, many of these freshwater impoundments are located where land and sea meet and are at risk of being lost to rising sea levels.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and their partners are exploring opportunities to construct and restore these impoundments to offset future losses and ensure these important habitats exist in the face global climate change. As part of that effort, DU and the USFWS restored a 60-acre former agriculture field that will give refuge managers the infrastructure to keep this rejuvenated land healthy for birds each spring and fall.

“Adding 60 acres of freshwater impoundments to the 400 already at the refuge is huge,” said Jake McPherson, Ducks Unlimited regional biologist in Maryland. “This land was a forested wetland before people ditched and drained it for agriculture. We are restoring it to an impoundment which is a high-functioning habitat for birds.”

Funding was contributed through a North American Wetlands Conservation Act grant. This was the latest in several projects Ducks Unlimited has completed at Blackwater. Three similar restorations are also planned in 2019 and beyond.