August 21, 2017

Marsh Resilience Tour Held at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Md. (August 21, 2017) – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, as well as staff representatives for U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen and U.S. Representative Andy Harris, joined the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Conservation Fund and the National Audubon Society over the weekend to examine new projects that are increasing wildlife habitat protection at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. The projects also benefit Eastern Shore tourism and mitigate climate effects on nearby communities.

The ambitious project is the largest wetland restoration project ever undertaken in the Refuge and the first “thin-layer” project in the Chesapeake watershed. More than 26,000 cubic feet of sediment was taken from the Blackwater River and spread over 40 acres to elevate the marsh surface. The attendees toured the site that was recently replanted with native marsh grasses in the bare, restored areas. The combination of the higher surface, more plants, and fresh sediment is building the marsh’s ability to adapt to the changing climate. The marsh also has renewed value as habitat for at-risk species of salt marsh birds.

Superstorm Sandy relief funding appropriated by the U.S. Congress and awarded through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation's (NFWF) Hurricane Sandy Coastal Resiliency Competitive Grants Program enabled this innovative effort. 

“The health of the Chesapeake Bay and our watershed communities relies on an extensive network of active stewards and caretakers. I thank the Conservation Fund and the Audubon Society, in partnership with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, for playing such a critical role in restoring marsh and tidal wetland habitat at the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge,” said Senator Cardin, a senior member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “The importance of this work is hard to overstate considering the innumerable benefits this habitat provides to both humans and the broader Chesapeake Bay ecology—combating sea level rise, mitigating climate change by sequestering carbon, and providing food and shelter for nearly a hundred different species of birds are just a few.”

“The Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is a Maryland treasure and an example of the extraordinary wildlife and plant diversity in the Chesapeake Bay watershed,” said Senator Van Hollen. “Bolstering the resiliency of these wetlands will protect Maryland’s wildlife for decades to come, and will help the refuge continue to support tourism and economic development in Dorchester County and the entire state.”

“A healthy Chesapeake Bay is a critical component of the economy of Maryland’s First Congressional District,” said Representative Harris. “I applaud the work being done at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, and encourage other states along the Chesapeake Bay Watershed to participate in efforts to preserve the Bay, the rivers that flow into it, and the surrounding wetlands. Since water flows from several states into the Chesapeake Bay, keeping the whole watershed healthy needs to be a multi-state effort.”

The restoration efforts will benefit the wetland ecology at the Refuge by allowing oxygen to reach plants’ roots and improving the health and resilience of marsh vegetation, which provides critical habitat for migrating birds and waterfowl as well as storm surge buffer for surrounding communities. Scientists predict that, if no action is taken, virtually all of today’s tidal wetlands in this area of the Chesapeake Bay will erode to open water by the end of the 21st century. The sea level is rising and its pace is increasing due to a combination of factors, including warming ocean waters.

“The marshes at Blackwater have survived for thousands of years” said Marcia Pradines of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who is the Project Leader for the Chesapeake Marshlands Complex. “But they could disappear in the next few decades because of accelerating sea level rise. If we lose these marshes we also lose the unique wildlife that call the salt marsh home, thousands of acres of nursery habitat for juvenile fish, and a buffer for local communities against storm surges during hurricanes.”

“The response of native marsh grasses has been exciting to see,” said Erik Meyers, Vice President for Climate and Water Sustainability at The Conservation Fund and the Project’s Director. “We are seeing vigorous growth across the entire treated area. Results to date bode well for the long-term stabilization and sustainability of this portion of Blackwater’s extraordinary salt marsh complex.”    

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is home to two bird species that are declining rapidly because of sea level rise. The Black Rail was recently listed as endangered in the state of Maryland because a 2006 survey found a population decline of over 85 percent since the early 1990s. The Saltmarsh Sparrow lives only in tidal salt marshes in the eastern United States and its population, estimated at just 53,000, is declining at an alarming nine percent per year.

“We’re catching this area of marsh in the nick of time,” said David Curson, Audubon Maryland-DC’s Director of Bird Conservation. “Between 2015 and 2016, the marsh surface fragmented significantly. If we can extend the life of this marsh and demonstrate a technique that could help save the large wetland complex at Blackwater then the project will be a success. If we can also bring Saltmarsh Sparrows or Black Rails back here, that would be the icing on the cake.”

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals, and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit

At The Conservation Fund, we make conservation work for America. By creating solutions that make environmental and economic sense, we are redefining conservation to demonstrate its essential role in our future prosperity. Top-ranked for efficiency and effectiveness, we have worked in all 50 states since 1985 to protect more than 7.8 million acres of land. 

The National Audubon Society saves birds and their habitats throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education and on-the-ground conservation. Audubon's state programs, nature centers, chapters and partners have an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire and unite diverse communities in conservation action. Since 1905, Audubon's vision has been a world in which people and wildlife thrive. Audubon is a nonprofit conservation organization. Learn more at and follow @audubonsociety.

Erik Meyers | The Conservation Fund | 703-908-5801 | 
Marcia Pradines | U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service | 410-221-1045 | 
David Curson | National Audobon Society | 410-558-2473 |