The Center for the Inland Bays has partnered with the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control to permanently protect and restore 52 acres of valuable forests and wetlands bordering the Indian River on Piney Neck.
In 2019, center representatives found out the parcel of land adjacent to the Piney Point Tract of the Assawoman Wildlife Area was for sale. Realizing the high conservation value of the ecologically diverse parcel on the river, the center team worked with DNREC to leverage its funds with those from the Delaware Open Space Program. In December 2019, the property was purchased by the department for inclusion in the Assawoman Wildlife Area owned and managed by the DNREC Division of Fish and Wildlife.
In February, Fish and Wildlife and the CIB jointly funded and planted 16,600 tree seedlings to reforest 16 acres of the parcel. They also purchased and installed 925 tree tubes to protect seedlings from deer damage. This and a cool, wet spring have made the planting an early success.
“While valuable habitats have been damaged by human activities over time, this latest project represents what can be done when we identify a need, leverage grant support and get to work,” said DNREC Secretary Shawn Garvin. “We have been able to preserve wildlife habitat, restore critical wetland, and improve water quality for this Indian River community and for generations to come.”
The reforestation adds to the Indian River’s natural buffer and prevents more than 250 pounds of excess nutrients from polluting the water each year. The project will help reduce high levels of pollution currently entering one of Delaware’s most ecologically and recreationally important water bodies. For decades, excess nutrients have caused algal blooms that have killed off the river’s underwater bay grasses and led to dissolved oxygen levels unhealthy for fish and crabs. Forested buffers like the one enhanced through this project are an important tool to provide clean water to the river while conserving wildlife on the land.
The property purchase expands the Assawoman Wildlife Area on Piney Point by 11 percent, while the larger forest tract will benefit wildlife. Many animal species need large, contiguous blocks of forest for shelter, food and breeding habitat. However, forests in Sussex County are rapidly disappearing and/or becoming fragmented due to development. The reforestation effort will support animals like the eastern box turtle and migratory songbirds such as the wood thrush. Since the 1970s, populations of wood thrush have declined by 60 percent in the eastern United States. Projects like this will stem these losses and provide more habitat for this once common bird with an unforgettably beautiful song.
“Partnership projects like this greatly benefit the Inland Bays and its communities,” said CIB Executive Director Chris Bason. “Not only have we together with DNREC protected wildlife habitat and reduced water pollution, we have secured additional outdoor recreation opportunities for a rapidly growing local population.”