County Forested Land Bought By State

BERLIN – Nearly 4,800 acres of ecologically important forestland in southern Worcester County will be preserved by the state, the Maryland Board of Public Works decided this week.

The 4,769-acre Foster property is the largest set of contiguous forestlands in private hands in the state of Maryland. The Nature Conservancy has been working with the Foster family for years on preserving this property.

The forested Foster land, located in the Pocomoke River and Nassawango Creek watersheds, lies on the border of the Chesapeake State Forests, which are certified sustainably managed. The Nature Conservancy’s Nassawango Creek holdings, roughly 10,000 acres, adjoin the Foster land.

“The Foster property provides a connection. It butts up against our holdings and other state holdings. What you end up creating is a large contiguous block of forested land and creek watershed,” said Nat Williams, director of the Maryland/DC chapter of the Nature Conservancy. “The Foster property is just such a priority, and its protection by the State, together with The Nature Conservancy’s holdings at our Nassawango Creek Preserve, will create an expansive natural gem that future generations of Marylanders will be able to enjoy for years to come.”

Maryland Coastal Bays Executive Director Dave Wilson called the property, “one of the most important spots in the whole state of Maryland for biodiversity. It’s really a coup they were able to get this property.”

The Foster property was awarded one of the highest ecological rankings ever given by the state of Maryland Program Open Space land preservation targeting system.

The site in southern Worcester County hosts numerous rare plant and wildlife species, including the threatened white-fringed orchid and the frosted elphin, a rare butterfly.

Two-thirds of Maryland’s forest interior dwelling species are represented in the area, and one-third of the neo-tropical migrant birds, including the Baltimore Oriole.

The property also hosts two rare habitats, with ancient sand dunes interspersed with boggy areas. Both habitats host numerous rare plants and other species, Wilson said.

The size of the property, which lacks roads, is an enormous part of its conservation value.

“You really can’t have viable wildlife populations in remnant chunks of forest,” Wilson said.

Animals have difficulty negotiating roads and subdivisions to other green areas in their search for breeding opportunities.

“Even most birds, the larger the forested area, the more likely they are to have breeding success,” he said.

Protecting such biodiverse green spaces preserves water quality, with forests taking up large amounts of nutrients that would otherwise reach bays and rivers, and adds value to the growing green tourism economy.

“It’s not just a biodiversity win. It’s an economic win,” said Wilson.

The Maryland Board of Public Works, consisting of Gov. Martin O’Malley, Comptroller Peter Franchot, and Treasurer Nancy Kopp, approved the purchase Wednesday.

“Today we took advantage of a historical opportunity to permanently protect a great natural treasure on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, one that offers boundless outdoor recreation and sustainable, green job opportunities,” O’Malley said in a statement.

Five different agencies and organizations clubbed together to come up with the $14.4 million purchase price, including the U. S. Department of Transportation, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the Maryland Department of General Services, the Maryland State Highway Administration, and the Nature Conservancy.

Funding sources included Maryland’s POS and $5.1 million in SAFETEA (Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act) funds, a federal source. Former Congressman Wayne Gilchrest was instrumental in securing those funds.

“One of the most precious legacies we can leave our children is a beautiful landscape that they can value as much as we do,” Gilchrist said.

The cost per acre comes to just over $3,000.

Some have questioned the wisdom of spending large sums on land preservation during a recession, but Wilson said this money is specifically set aside for these types of purchases.

“It’s money earmarked for conservation. You can’t use it for anything else,” said Wilson.

In a statement, O’Malley said this purchase was a great use of funds and shows what a collaborative effort can achieve.

“Protecting this invaluable wildlife habitat and pristine landscape is a legacy that Maryland’s families expect and deserve, and the wisest use of our Program Open Space funds,” the governor said.

Williams believes the purchase is important on a variety of levels.

“The protection of our ecological integrity is as important as anything we can do. The benefits are measurable,” said Williams