Freshwater mussels, brook trout, and waterfowl are among the species that will benefit from the inaugural round of grants under a new habitat improvement program targeting the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

The Chesapeake Wild grants, announced on October 20, will fund 12 projects intended to benefit habitats from oak forests to wetlands to riparian corridors, which are critical for various species.

Three Chesapeake Wild grants will help efforts to restore freshwater mussels that help filter and clean the water. Credit: Whitney Pipkin

The program is funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and overseen by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The grants will receive $3.5 million in federal funding and leverage an additional $4.7 million in matching funds.

The grants will permanently protect more than 3,300 acres of fish and wildlife habitat and restore nearly 1,000 acres of forest and marsh habitat and more than 20 miles of rivers and streams across the Bay watershed. Several projects will improve public access to natural areas.

Three projects will bolster fledgling efforts to restore populations of freshwater mussels in the region. Freshwater mussels are some of the most imperiled aquatic species, but interest has been growing in the Bay region to harness their water-filtering ability to help clean rivers.

The James River Association will receive $51,800 to help develop a plan for restoring freshwater mussels in the James River, identify areas where mussel surveys and research are needed, and establish long-range restoration objectives.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation will receive $73,800 to identify areas where planting streamside buffers will also support mussel populations in Virginia.

And the West Virginia Land Trust will receive $499,800 to protect and restore one of two remaining populations of the endangered James spiny mussel along the South Fork of Potts Creek. The project includes protecting land around the mussels’ habitat and improving the creek to bolster the population.

Among other grants, the Indiana University of Pennsylvania Research Institute will get support for tree management practices that help oak forests, which are ecologically important but in decline in the Bay watershed. The institute will also develop oak forest management guidelines for agency officials and consulting foresters.

Other grants will help the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy protect a wildlife habitat corridor between the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and the Nanticoke River watershed; help Ducks Unlimited enhance waterfowl habitat at the Doe Creek Wildlife Management Area on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, and aid the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy in removing stream barriers to help brook trout.

Legislation sponsored by U.S. Reps created the program. John Sarbanes (D-MD), Bobby Scott (D-VA), and Rob Wittman (R-VA), are co-chairs of the bipartisan Chesapeake Bay Watershed Task Force.

In a joint statement, they praised the grants under the program as “great news for the Chesapeake Bay and all those who call the 64,000 square mile watershed home.

“These projects leverage the on-the-ground expertise of regional, state, and local partners to conserve land; enhance resilience; restore critical habitat, including wetlands; and make recreational experiences more accessible to the public.”

This article was originally published on BayJournal.com and is republished with permission.


Karl Blankenship

Karl Blankenship is editor-at-large of the Bay Journal.

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