By Greg Ellison
(Jan. 16, 2020) Land conservation efforts in Worcester County received a boost earlier this month after a quarter-million-dollar grant was approved for fiscal year 2020 through the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ Rural Legacy Program.
Among more than $18 million in grants approved by the Board of Public Works on Jan. 8 to buy conservation easements in 18 Maryland counties was $250,382 for the Coastal Bays Rural Legacy Area in Worcester.
Lower Shore Land Trust Executive Director Kate Patton said the state funds would be used to acquire easements to safeguard farmlands, forests and shorelines from ecologically unsound development.
“We’re thrilled that there was some funding that came to the lower shore so Worcester County was able to secure some funding,” she said.
Patton’s group, which oversees the Rural Legacy Program in Wicomico and Somerset Counties, has worked previously with Worcester officials who administer the effort directly.
“We have worked with them in the past,” she said. “We always like to work with our county partners when possible.”
Patton said the Coastal Bays Rural Legacy Area, which was originally established in 1998, is a prime example of a public and private partnership working together to inform state officials.
“Similar to the Ocean Pines Environmental Committee working with Coastal Bays to identify grant funding, we’re able to work with DNR [and] bring local input to these projects that are funded at the state level,” she said.
Patton said in addition to the grant for the Coastal Bays Rural Legacy Area, state money was made available to add 27,000 acres to the Dividing Creek Rural Legacy Area that runs between Worcester and Somerset Counties in the Pocomoke State Forest.
After two decades of use on the
, the Rural Legacy Program continues to attract rural landowners.
“We’ve got a lot of local landowner interest in these conservation programs,” she said. “We do a lot of outreach.”
Patton said the Rural Legacy Program provides a basis for landowners to pursue land conservation while continuing to manage their own parcels.
“We find a lot of folks that have some of these really important landscapes like the voluntary programs because they can help incentivize conservation,” she said. “The program supports our rural industries by ensuring that we have enough acreage for farming and forestry practices.”
The threat of ecologically sensitive areas becoming fragmented through future development is eased by undertakings such as the Rural Legacy Program.
“Agriculture, forestry and wildlife habitats need big blocks of land so that those ecosystems can function and that economy can be productive,” she said. “When you start to fragment these landscapes, then you start to diminish the values.”
Although local zoning ordinances can at times curb development of environmentally sensitive lands, the Rural Legacy Program provides additional means to protect vital watersheds and wetlands.
“Zoning can’t protect everyplace … it’s a guideline,” she said. “These conservation programs are tools that allow us to do a better job protecting these resources.”
Reducing pollutants in area watersheds is another goal.
“These conservation programs ensure we’re putting buffers along our rivers and streams,” she said. “That, in turn, protects water quality.”
There are also clear economic perks to not removing natural habitats birds and animals.
“There are billions of dollars that people spend when they come birding,” she said. “It’s a huge and growing market.”