The Delaware Center for the Inland Bays’ new Watershed Reforestation Plan is identifying and envisioning water quality improvement projects that benefit the Inland Bays and create valuable partnerships in conservation efforts.

In recent years, land use has changed for the Inland Bays watershed, an area of land covering most of eastern Sussex County that drains into the Inland Bays. Farms and forests are being replaced by developments which grew by 25 square miles from 1992 to 2012.

Over the past five years, the center has worked to implement several reforestation projects to mitigate these problems and to achieve the goals of the center’s 2012 Comprehensive Conservation Management Plan Addendum and 2008 Pollution Control Strategy, which has an ambitious goal of creating 3,246 acres of riparian forested buffer.

The center partnered with the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Division of Fish and Wildlife in 2015 to reforest 70 acres of former agricultural land at the Marion R. Okie Preserve at Poplar Thicket. The center partnered with The Nature Conservancy in 2016 to reforest 22 acres of the 557-acre Bullseye-Ferry Landing Preserve on Indian River. Over four years beginning in 2014, the Angola Neck Reforestation Project saw the planting of nearly 38 acres of state-owned and managed agricultural lands in Angola Neck. This project created a forested corridor from Love Creek into other wetland areas located further inland to enhance water quality and wildlife habitat for songbirds like Yellow-breasted Chat, Northern Parula and American Redstart.

The center initiated the development of a Watershed Reforestation Plan in 2016. This plan identified and conceptualized priority cropland reforestation projects that are cost-effective measures for water quality improvements and result in higher quality conservation improvements. A Watershed Reforestation Model was developed to identify and rank all agricultural parcels in the Inland Bays watershed as candidates for reforestation or other Best Management Practices based on specific criteria, including the proximity to first order streams and already protected areas.

The center is reaching out to landowners of the top ranking project sites to gauge interest and create partnerships. From there, reforestation concept designs will be developed and used, turning to The Reforestation Management Plan as a guide.

For more, visit inlandbays.org.