Twenty years ago, driving across the Bay Bridge from Annapolis to Kent Island, even the casual visitor to the Delmarva Peninsula knew they had encountered a special place. Unlike much of the rest of the East Coast, productive farmland and acres of marshland dominated Kent Island and the Eastern Shore. Man-made structures were few, and the influence of the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean were evident throughout the peninsula. The people were good to the land, and the land was good to the people.
Today’s visitor has to drive a little farther and look a little harder to see the unique qualities of Delmarva that are now often obscured by development. Although our region still contains valuable natural resources and economic opportunities, changes to the landscape have profoundly altered our ecology and our economy.
Farmland is disappearing at an alarming rate, and the loss of important wildlife habitat has been disturbing. While some groups have been diligently working to preserve farmland, others have worked hard to protect wetlands and other important species habitats. Unfortunately, these efforts don’t always work together, and groups often are forced to compete for a slice of scarce federal and state resources.
But obviously, the key to retaining the rural character, the economic viability and the ecological integrity of Delmarva is to work toward all these goals. We have a shared interest in a complete natural resource network throughout the Peninsula — a conservation corridor that protects all that we hold so dear.
My office has been working with key officials throughout Delmarva to develop a conservation corridor for our area. Our goal is to establish a cohesive and well-functioning Delmarva ecosystem that is made up of a wide array of agriculture, recreation and environmental interests. The corridor would involve contiguous land on Delmarva, both public and private, which is linked for the purpose of sustaining wildlife, the rural farming character of Delmarva and the economic stability of the region and its ecosystem.
Many different state, federal and local groups have already been working on pieces of such a corridor, but often they have done so in isolation. Linking these efforts is critical to ensure Delmarva retains its unique character. Through our office, a partnership has been created between all levels of government and the private sector to make the conservation corridor a reality.
A mapping effort is already under way. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — in conjunction with agriculture, environmental and natural resource agencies from the three states — is working to combine land use data and create a conservation corridor map for the peninsula. American Farmland Trust and county and municipal planners have participated in this mapping project as well. The next iteration of this project will be completed this summer, and maps will be available to the public.
Throughout the summer, we will share this map with people who make decisions about the future of our communities. We will also be sharing the map with local government, community groups, nonprofit organizations and others concerned with the future of our Peninsula. We hope that by opening a dialogue across Delmarva, our strength in numbers will make the conservation corridor partnership a reality.
Conservation programs that promote sustainable agriculture, recreation greenways, wildlife corridors, open space and smart growth share the common effect of long-term economic prosperity by restoring and sustaining ecological health. By linking these programs, the Delmarva Conservation Corridor Partnership will provide a framework within which the Delmarva ecosystem and the economy can thrive.
“We lie in the lap of immense intelligence which makes us organs of its activity and receivers of its truth.” Ralph Waldo Emerson understood the wisdom of the land which he described in his essay, “Self-Reliance,” and the residents of Delmarva do too. From respecting the importance of unique Delmarva species, to purchasing locally grown food for the benefit of our economy, the Delmarva ecosystem teaches us important economic and ecological lessons.
If you are interested in being a part of the Delmarva Conservation Corridor Partnership, please contact our office. It will take all of us to ensure the long-term ecological and economic viability of Delmarva, and we look forward to working with you to meet the challenge.
For information, write The Honorable Wayne T. Gilchrest, Member of Congress or Sally McGee, Legislative Fellow, 2245 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515, or call 202-225-5311.