USDA, Interior and Defense Departments Partner with Chesapeake Conservancy to Benefit Agricultural Lands, Wildlife Habitat and Military Readiness
Naval Air Station Patuxent River – Atlantic Test Ranges Selected as Designated Sentinel Landscape
Annapolis, MD – Today, the Chesapeake Conservancy applauds the designation of the Nanticoke River and its surrounding areas as a Sentinel Landscape by the Departments of Agriculture, Defense, and the Interior. Partnering with each agency, the Chesapeake Conservancy anticipates the designation to result in significant land conservation along the Nanticoke River, the primary flight path for aircraft out of the Naval Air Station-Patuxent River.
The Sentinel Landscapes Partnership was launched by the Administration to preserve agricultural lands, assist with military readiness, and restore and protect wildlife habitat. Sentinel Landscapes are primarily working or natural lands where preserving the working and rural character of key landscapes strengthens the economies of farms, ranches, and forests; conserves habitat and natural resources; and protects vital test and training missions conducted by adjacent military installations.
“The Sentinel Landscapes program provides an important way to engage partners in proactive conservation while helping ensure the preservation of working landscapes and our military readiness,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. “Military lands are often home to some of our nation’s best remaining habitat for wildlife, and provide an excellent opportunity to conserve species that are threatened or endangered. We congratulate Fort Huachuca and NAS Patuxent River and look forward to further collaborative efforts like these across the country.”
Over the past several years, the Chesapeake Conservancy has partnered with NAS Patuxent River, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, The Conservation Fund, The Nature Conservancy, and private foundations such as the Mt. Cuba Center to work with landowners interested in conserving their lands. The Sentinel Landscapes Partnership will strengthen these efforts.
“This partnership is a great example of coordination and collaboration across the federal government and with private partners, demonstrating that we can have an impact well beyond what a single partner or agency can accomplish on its own,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “By connecting local citizens and organizations with our shared resources that best address their priorities, we are able to protect working lands, improve our military readiness and propel rural economic growth.”
“What excites me the most about this announcement,” said John Conger, performing the duties of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Energy, Installations and Environment, “is how this partnership will protect the test missions at Pax River and Fort Huachuca. The Sentinel Landscapes will be a magnet for conservation activities, but the real motivation at DoD is creating the buffer we need to protect these critical missions.”
The Sentinel Landscapes designation further enhances the Chesapeake Conservancy’s goal of creating a conserved and connected corridor of lands along the Nanticoke that support the region’s incredible biodiversity, working lands culture, and integrity of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, the nation’s first historic water trail.
“The Nanticoke is a key component of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, and one of the few regions that Captain John Smith could still recognize today. We’re very proud that the Nanticoke was selected as one of the very first Sentinel Landscapes in the country. The Conservancy applauds the Administration for their leadership in developing collaborative programs to address the needs of large landscape conservation,” Joel Dunn, executive director of the Chesapeake Conservancy, said. “Defending the country and defending the environment go hand in hand.”
As part of the new designation, the Sentinel Landscapes Partnership agencies will support the NAS Patuxent River Sentinel Landscape with ongoing technical assistance and funding for agricultural easements, buffer lands through DoD’s Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration (REPI) Program, wetlands enhancement and restoration, and treatment of invasive species.
“This is a win-win for both the Atlantic Test Ranges at NAS Patuxent River and the surrounding environment,” said Capt. Heidi Fleming, commanding officer of Naval Air Station Patuxent River. “Designating the Nanticoke Corridor as a Sentinel Landscape maintains our unique flight test and evaluation capabilities at the Atlantic Test Ranges while protecting important habitats for imperiled wildlife species and preserving agricultural land in the area.”
“The partnership we’ve developed between federal and state agencies, nonprofits and local citizens, has made great strides towards protecting this incredible landscape. The recent designation will greatly enhance these efforts by helping us connect previously protected areas and conserve this mosaic of farms and forests,” Joanna Ogburn, director of programs for the Chesapeake Conservancy, said.
The Nanticoke has long been regarded as one of the most pristine and ecologically significant watersheds in the mid-Atlantic region. With ecosystems ranging from upland forest to the rare Atlantic white cedar wetland, the landscape provides habitat for a diverse community of plants and animals. The area is home to 180 state or globally rare plant species and more than 70 animal species considered rare or uncommon. It has its own Nanticoke Important Bird Area designated by Audubon, and is a large component of the internationally important Chesapeake Bay Estuarine Ramsar Site, serving large concentrations of migratory waterfowl and Neotropical migratory birds. The importance of the area is further evidenced by the location of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, which recently expanded its boundaries to create the Nanticoke Unit.
The Nanticoke also forms one of the primary branches of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, the nation’s first historic water trail, and remains culturally significant to three American Indian tribes.
This Sentinel Landscape designation compliments other recent developments involving the Chesapeake Conservancy
In 2008, on the heels of the establishment of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, the U.S. Department of the Interior, states of Delaware and Maryland, and the Chesapeake Conservancy signed an agreement to work together to protect the Nanticoke River. The USFWS, and several other conservation organizations subsequently joined this effort.and conservation in the Nanticoke Corridor:
- In 2013, Chesapeake Conservancy raised $1.5 million to protect key properties along the Nanticoke River
- In 2014, Chesapeake Conservancy processed 1 m x 1 m, high resolution land use land cover data for the Nanticoke River watershed, enhancing decision making options for all of our partners
- In 2014, the Chesapeake Conservancy’s Nanticoke River proposal was awarded $1 million through the Department of Defense’s nationally competitive REPI Challenge to protect property along the Nanticoke to protect Naval Air Station Patuxent River readiness. DOD subsequently allocated $2 million additional dollars for this effort, for a total of $3 million.