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NRCS Celebrates 25 Years of Preserving Farms and Wetlands

By Genevieve Lister

Parsonsburg, Md., June 15, 2018 – Maryland celebrated a milestone this week as it marked the 25th anniversary of conservation easements: celebrating landowners and producers that want to leave the land better than they found it for their children and grandchildren; celebrating farmers being able to keep their working lands; and celebrating the power of partnerships in protecting and restoring critical landscapes for wildlife and water quality improvement.

“Today, we are celebrating the power of voluntary, private lands conservation,” said Terron Hillsman, state conservationist for USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. “Over the past 25 years, NRCS has enrolled more than 400 easements covering more than 48,000 acres in Maryland. Investments from NRCS and partners total more than $400 million in financial and technical assistance.”Maryland Natural Resources Conservation Service celebrated their 25th Anniversary for Easements at Taylor Farm in Parsonsburg, Maryland on June 13. Attendees toured the nearly 700-acre easement and heard about the benefits of wetland and agricultural land conservation easements.

NRCS partners including landowners and federal, state, and local conservation groups gathered at the Taylor Farm in Parsonsburg to discuss the process of restoring wetlands to their original functions and the benefits of conservation easements. The nearly 700-acre wetland reserve easement includes about 375 acres of marginal cropland that was restored to forested and emergent wetlands and meadows, and an additional 318 acres of woodlands. The Nature Conservancy recently purchased the property from the private landowners who enrolled the easement, partnering with NRCS to help manage the land for optimal wildlife and wetland benefits and provide long-term monitoring on the restoration work.

“Along with our partners, The Nature Conservancy began working to protect Nassawango Creek some 40 years ago because it represents one of Maryland’s most unique and ecologically important areas,” said Tim Purinton, executive director of The Nature Conservancy in Maryland and DC. “Thanks to NRCS’ easement program, we were able to work with the Taylor family to restore and protect the creek’s headwaters.  We look forward to working further with our partners at NRCS, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Maryland DNR to engage landowners across Delmarva in protecting its waterways, farms, and communities.”

The Taylor Farm is home to an abundant array of wildlife and native plants, including many species of orchids and warblers. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service partners with NRCS to share their technical expertise to preserve and restore Maryland’s critical wildlife habitats.

“Teaming up with NRCS helps us restore stream, wetland, meadow and forest habitats that support our fish and wildlife,” said Genevieve LaRouche, supervisor, Chesapeake Bay Field Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “By focusing on shared conservation goals, together we are able to help interested landowners become stewards of America's most important natural resources.”

Maryland Natural Resources Conservation Service joined their partners to celebrate their 25th Anniversary for Easements on June 13. State Conservationist Terron Hillsman recognized various partners by presenting them with certificates of appreciation.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources partnered with NRCS in the mid-1990’s on the first wetland reserve easements in Maryland, and continues to collaborate with NRCS on wetland restoration efforts, including the Taylor Farm.

These restoration efforts will reverse the impacts from extensive drainage, grazing, and crop production. Restoring the natural hydrology will improve the quality of water and habitat in Nassawango Creek and downstream water bodies.

NRCS has protected 33,000 acres of farmland through its agricultural easement programs, helping to ensure the long-term sustainability of Maryland agriculture by keeping working lands working. The Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation has partnered with NRCS on the most easements in the last 25 years.

“The State of Maryland, with the work of the MALPF and its federal, State, and local partners, has preserved in perpetuity more agricultural land than any other state in the country,” said Carol West, MALPF’s Executive Director. “This work allows Maryland farmers to continue what they have done for years, decades, or sometimes a century or more – continue to farm their land.”

The celebration ended with a short tour of the restoration work on the Taylor Farm, where participants learned about the latest restoration work. Partners planted about 90,000 seedlings of 26 different species of trees and shrubs, including Coastal Plain non-riverine hardwoods, inland sand dune and ridge woodland, bald cypress and gum swamp, and Atlantic white cedar swamp.

Partners also restored the emergent marsh, wet meadow, xeric meadow, and mesic meadows on the farm, which will provide habitat for waterfowl, wading birds, pollinators and grassland birds.

“Working with private landowners and providing them with the support they need is going to be critical to protecting our wetlands and agricultural lands into the future,” said Hillsman.  “They have been stepping up to the plate to be part of the solution for the past 25 years and they want to continue this work into the future.”

Learn more about NRCS easements at www.md.nrcs.usda.gov.