The Nanticoke River is getting a new ally in efforts to protect its shorelines from development — the military.
The Department of Defense in August announced that it was awarding $1 million to help protect 2,259 acres of forest, wetlands and farmlands along the Eastern Shore river which contain a high diversity of plants and animals.
The lands are also important to the Patuxent Naval Air Station because they are part of its Atlantic Test Range used for aircraft. Protecting the lands from development will reduce noise and safety concerns in the test range and head off potential future restrictions or delays in training and testing.
The award was one of two made this year under the department’s Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration Program Challenge.
The REPI program, established in 2003, allows the military to enter into cost-sharing partnerships with government agencies or conservation organizations to preserve land around military installations from development that could restrict their operations, training and testing.
“There is a direct relationship between the realistic training and success on the battlefield,” said Kristin Thomasgard-Spence, REPI program director.
In the last decade, the program has protected about 315,000 acres to buffer land around 72 installations in 27 states.
The $1 million awarded for the Nanticoke was part of the REPI Challenge program, launched in 2012, which is designed to support proposals that go beyond the normal requirements of the REPI program by leveraging a greater amount of support from other agencies or organizations, protecting large landscapes and achieving additional natural resource benefits.
The Nanticoke project was developed by the Chesapeake Conservancy and is expected match the REPI funding by more than 5-to-1 with the help of other project partners including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the states of Maryland and Delaware, the Conservation Fund and The Nature Conservancy.
The parcels targeted for protection are unprotected areas in an 8,500-acre corridor along the river that includes 124 rare, threatened or endangered plant and animal species.
The Nanticoke is one of the least developed rivers on the Eastern Shore, and thousands of acres in the river corridor have already been protected.
But, said Joel Dunn, executive director of the Chesapeake Conservancy, the protected land in the corridor is highly fragmented. The REPI grant, he said, will help “fill in missing pieces, particularly ecologically significant properties that might also provide public access to the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail — and protect the Atlantic Test Range.”
Also awarded under this year’s REPI Challenge was $4 million to Fort Huachuca in Arizona.
The Nanticoke project is one of only three projects to be funded through the REPI Challenge program since it was launched two years ago.