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52 acres added to Assawoman Wildlife Area in Dagsboro

The new Piney Point property includes now-reforested cropland and extends out to the Indian River.

Another fifty-two acres of forests and wetlands along Indian River have been permanently preserved in the Piney Neck area of Dagsboro.

In 2019, the nonprofit Center for the Inland Bays identified a parcel of land adjacent to the Piney Point Tract of the Assawoman Wildlife Area as being for sale. Realizing the high conservation value of the ecologically-diverse parcel on the river, the Center worked with the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control to leverage its funds with those from the Delaware Open Space Program.

In December of 2019, The property was purchased by the department in Dec. 2019, expanding the Assawoman Wildlife Area at Piney Point by 11%. It’s now managed by the department’s Division of Fish and Wildlife.

In February, the Center for the Inland Bays and the Division of Fish and Wildlife jointly funded and planted 16,600 tree seedlings to reforest 16 acres of the parcel. They also purchased and installed 925 tree tubes to protect the seedlings from deer damage.

When this three-year-old is 80, the over 900 trees planted on the newly added parcel will be 100 feet tall.

“While valuable habitats have been damaged by human activities over time, this latest project represents what can be done when we identify a need, leverage grant support and get to work,” said Department of Natural Resources Secretary Shawn Garvin. “We have been able to preserve wildlife habitat, restore critical wetlands and improve water quality for this Indian River community and for generations to come.”

The reforestation adds to the Indian River’s natural buffer and prevents more than 250 pounds of excess nutrients from polluting the water each year, helping to reduce the river’s very high levels of pollution.

The Indian River is one of Delaware’s most ecologically and recreationally important waterbodies. For decades, excess nutrients have caused algal blooms that have killed off the river’s underwater baygrasses and led to dissolved oxygen levels, unhealthy for fish and crabs. Forested buffers like the one enhanced through this project are an important tool to provide clean water to the river, while also conserving wildlife on the land.

Wood thrushes are a migratory songbird that will benefit from the reforestation.

Many species of animals need large, contiguous blocks of forest for shelter, food and breeding habitat. However, forests in Sussex County are disappearing rapidly due to development and those that remain are becoming fragmented into many small pieces. The reforestation effort will result in an additional 6 six acres of important “interior” forest to support animals like the eastern box turtle and migratory songbirds such as the wood thrush.

Since the 1970s, populations of wood thrush have declined by 60% in the eastern United States. The hope is that projects like this one will stem these losses and provide more habitat for this once common bird.

The purchase of the property expands the Assawoman Wildlife Area on Piney Point by 11%.

“Partnership projects like this greatly benefit the inland bays and its communities,” said Center for the Inland Bays Executive Director Chris Bason. “Not only have we, together with DNREC, protected wildlife habitat and reduced water pollution, we have secured additional outdoor recreation opportunities for a rapidly growing local population.”