Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge on the Eastern Shore is growing by more than 400 acres with the federal government's purchase of two pieces of land along the Nanticoke River.
The land, purchased from the Nature Conservancy, is considered an important and diverse habitat for songbirds such as prothonotary warblers and waterfowl such as black ducks. It's also at a high enough elevation to protect it from the effects of sea-level rise, said Matt Whitbeck, a wildlife biologist at the refuge.
"It's a spectacular area. The natural resources are incredible," Whitbeck said. "From a sea-level-rise standpoint, it's likely to persist for a long time."
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service paid the conservancy $275,000 for 229 acres known as the Giordano tract, an area of freshwater wetlands, and $899,000 for 179 acres known as the Ruff tract, which contains wetlands but also land at higher elevations that will allow for migration of the marsh as sea levels rise. The land parcels are not connected to the main refuge area, sitting several miles to its east.
The agency purchased the land using a $2.2 million grant awarded last year by the agency's Migratory Bird Conservation Commission, which raised some of the money through the sale of postage stamps bearing the images of birds.
The Nature Conservancy acquired the two pieces of land in Wicomico and Dorchester counties in 1993 and 2007 in an effort to protect biodiversity and prevent development in the area.
The commission grant authorized the purchase of 758 acres for Blackwater. The agency purchased more than 300 acres last year from a private landowner, a piece of land known as the Spicer Phillips tract in the Golden Hill area of Dorchester County on the west side of the refuge.
Blackwater was established in 1933 as a refuge for migrating waterfowl and now stretches across 27,000 acres to the west of the Nanticoke.