Department of the Interior

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Office of the Secretary
Contact: Dan DuBray

For Immediate Release, April 18, 2005

Interior Secretary Norton Celebrates Cooperative Conservation in Advance of Earth Day 2005


(Cambridge, MD) Secretary of the Interior Gale A. Norton today worked alongside volunteers engaged in on-going cooperative conservation projects and witnessed the positive impacts of other recently-completed projects at the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.

Secretary Norton waded into a marsh to aid refuge volunteers in planting marsh vegetation as part of an ongoing wetlands restoration effort. Responding to decades of wetlands degradation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its public and private partners are developing plans to restore 8,000-acres of refuge wetlands in the Blackwater River watershed to a healthy condition.

"The wetlands restoration projects at this marsh are perfect examples of cooperative conservation," Norton said. "The partners involved in these conservation projects here at Blackwater are many and the benefits great."

One possible method for fully restoring the Blackwater marshland is for clean dredge material from Maryland shipping channels to be used as fill. Previous, smaller-scale restoration projects were completed in the 1980s and in 2003 as a result of a partnership between the refuge and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, National Aquarium in Baltimore, Friends of Blackwater and Ducks Unlimited.

Earlier in the morning, Secretary Norton toured part of a 900-acre hazardous fuels reduction project at the refuge. The project, made possible by President Bush's Healthy Forest Initiative, is part of the first and largest project of its kind undertaken in FWS's Northeast Region. The project was completed two months ago following cooperation between U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff, private land owners, local volunteer fire departments and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

"This Healthy Forests project has reduced excessive fuel loads, significantly reducing the risk of uncontrolled wildfires destroying property or life in communities at risk," Norton said. "This project also produced about 20 tons of biomass while at the same time promoting habitat improvement."

In addition, Secretary Norton participated in the reforestation of a 55-acre forested wetland, which had most of its timber destroyed by a tornado in 2001. Thus far volunteers have planted more than 40,000 hardwood and loblolly pine seedlings. The project was made possible by a 2003 Department of the Interior Cooperative Conservation Initiative Grant.

"This CCI grant was one of the first given by the Department to conserve and enhance important habitats like this one," Norton said. "It is great to see the fruits of our efforts."

The project is being accomplished as a result of partnerships involving the refuge and National Tree Trust, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Eastern Shore Resource Conservation and Development, National Civilian Community Corps, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, National Park Service's Chesapeake Bay Gateways Program, National Aquarium in Baltimore, and Friends of Blackwater.

The restoration site is the location of a National Park Service Gateways Program hiking trail, which has recently been enhanced by an observation platform constructed by South Dorchester High School student Adam Brooks. Secretary Norton today awarded Brooks, who built the platform as his Eagle Scout project, with a Take Pride in America appreciation certificate.

Supported by numerous private associations and organizations and administered by the Department of the Interior, Take Pride in America is a national partnership program that aims to inspire a new generation of volunteers to put their love of country to work and to improve our national parks, wildlife refuges, public lands, cultural and historic sites, playgrounds and other recreation areas.

The 25,526-acre Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Refuge System, was established in 1933 to protect and manage habitat for migratory birds, threatened and endangered plants and animals and other native species. The refuge is recognized as an internationally important birding area, attracting more than 200 bald eagles in addition to various wetland birds each year.



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