Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
Located in the Chesapeake Bay region, on Maryland’s scenic Eastern Shore, the 27,000-acre Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge contains one-third of Maryland’s tidal wetlands and some of the most important habitat for birds. Photo by Chris Koontz/Flickr
At A Glance
- Often referred to as the "Everglades of the North."
- Blackwater includes 1/3 of Maryland’s tidal wetlands but loses more than 300 acres of marsh each year.
- The refuge is key migratory bird habitat and is home to the largest breeding population of American bald eagles on the East Coast north of Florida.
- The refuge supports more than 600 jobs and provides $6 million in tax revenue.
- To date, we've saved nearly 8,000 acres at the refuge.
- The Fund's conservation approach at Blackwater saves coastal wetlands, restores native forest habitat and adds land to the refuge that will not be impacted by future water rise.
Did You Know?
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, for every $1 Congress provides in funding to run the National Wildlife Refuge System, almost $5 is returned to local communities.
We’ve worked for more than a decade to help the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acquire lands for Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. To date, we’ve saved nearly 8,000 acres at the refuge; but conservation at Blackwater is about more than just protecting land, we’re also helping restore the land to its native, natural state.
Blackwater NWR is often referred to as the “Everglades of the North.” Why? Located in the Chesapeake Bay region, on Maryland’s scenic Eastern Shore, the 27,000-acre wildlife refuge includes one-third of Maryland’s tidal wetlands and some of the most important habitat for birds along the critical migration highway called the Atlantic Flyway.
The rich tidal marshes, freshwater ponds and mixed woodlands are habitat to some of the largest concentrations of canvasback and redhead ducks in the Chesapeake Bay. And they provide winter roosting and feeding habitat for wood ducks, black ducks, mallards, northern pintails and blue-winged teal. Blackwater also contains the largest breeding population of American bald eagles on the East Coast north of Florida and shelters many other species, including Sitka deer and the endangered Delmarva fox squirrel.
Tourists also flock to this wildlife refuge. Each year nearly 180,000 outdoor enthusiasts visit to take advantage of the land and paddling trails, educational programs, birdwatching and hunting, fishing and crabbing opportunities. The refuge supports more than 600 jobs and provides approximately $6 million in state and local tax revenues.
What’s Climate Change Got To Do With It?
Among the many threats to fish and wildlife habitat within the refuge, rising sea levels resulting from climate change is the most profound. According to the USFWS, Blackwater has lost approximately 8,000 acres of wetlands to erosion and sea level rise and loses more than 300 acres of marsh each year. As higher tides push saltwater into the coastal marshes, the natural soils become salty, killing native plants and trees. Habitat loss is not the only problem: This is bad news for the wildlife—and people—that depend on these areas for clean, safe water.
In 2013, The Conservation Fund and Audubon Maryland-DC published the Blackwater 2100 report, an assessment of Dorchester County’s tidal marsh loss due to sea level rise, projected through the end of the century. This collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Maryland Department of Natural Resources and many other agencies and individual experts outlines key strategies for slowing the rate of loss and improving the health of Dorchester’s tidal marshes for the benefit of people and the wildlife that need this habitat for survival.
Our Conservation Efforts At Blackwater
While it’s difficult to slow sea level rise, it’s possible to save coastal wetlands, restore native forest habitat and add land to the refuge that will not be impacted by future water rise. The Fund’s conservation approach at Blackwater accomplishes all these goals.
Adding Land To Blackwater
Our 2011 projects have added more than 1600 acres to the refuge. This includes the purchase of the 825-acre Tideland parcel along the Nanticoke River: the first purchase of land within the Nanticoke Unit of the refuge boundary and conserves two tracts of land, one along a section of the Nanticoke River near Vienna, MD and another to the north on the Marshyhope Creek near Brookview, MD. We also protected more than 400 acres that will support present and future wildlife habitat. On a high ridge near the southern end of the refuge boundary, the land features both wetlands and dry forested habitats perfect for various migratory bird species including bald eagles, osprey, wood and black ducks, marsh birds and water birds. As sea levels rise, this upland property will eventually transition into emergent marsh habitat, enabling the migration and adaption of crucial wetland habitats essential for the seasonal wildfowl.
Restoring Land At Blackwater
In addition to adding land to Blackwater, we’re also restoring lands. In 2011 we helped restore 40 acres of high-priority land for the USFWS by planting 10,000 trees across 7.5 acres within the refuge’s Longfield area. By planting these trees, we’re restoring the land to its native, natural state. We partnered with CSX, a transportation company, which donated willow oak, white oak, pin oak and sycamore trees in celebration of Earth Day 2011. As the trees mature, they will protect the marshes and other wetlands that migratory birds and forest-dwelling wildlife depend on for clean, safe water.
The Fund’s Future At Blackwater
We will continue to partner with the USFWS in order to help the agency meet its conservation goals at Blackwater. There is much to be done to save this landscape, but with smart conservation, we’ll ensure it remains a viable wildlife refuge into the future.