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Media inquiries: Please contact Gary Waugh, gary.waugh@dcr.virginia.gov, 804-786-5045.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Date: October 27, 2011
Contact: Julie Buchanan, Public Relations Specialist, (804) 786-2292, julie.buchanan@dcr.virginia.gov

Acquisition of Northampton County property to aid in migratory bird habitat restoration, Chesapeake Bay cleanup

RICHMOND — The recent acquisition of an 88-acre property in Northampton County will lead to protection and restoration of one of the world’s migratory songbird hotspots, as well as a reduction in nitrogen runoff entering the Chesapeake Bay.

The property will be owned by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation and managed as a state natural area preserve.

On the southern tip of the Eastern Shore, approximately three miles from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, the property is ecologically important. It features natural wetlands, a freshwater pond, threatened secondary dunes and maritime forests that serve as habitat for migratory songbirds and other coastal species. The northeastern beach tiger beetle, a state and federally threatened species, inhabits the beachfront.

For decades, much of the land has been used to farm soybeans, corn and potatoes. Under DCR’s ownership, the fields gradually will be converted to native shrubs and trees to reduce nitrogen runoff from farm fertilizers into the bay. The newly established vegetation will provide food and habitat for migratory songbirds and other coastal wildlife.

Funding for the acquisition was provided by American Electric Power whose local utility subsidiary, Appalachian Power, serves a significant portion of western Virginia. The AEP funding was available as part of a mitigation plan required by a consent decree with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the Clean Air Act to mitigate nitrogen runoff in the Chesapeake Bay. The purchase was completed in late September.

Sheppard and Jo Ann Davis, sellers of the property, had long shared a vision to conserve their land for future generations. They purchased it in 1984.

“We could have gotten 100 lots subdivided on it,” said Sheppard Davis, who moved to the Eastern Shore in the late 1970s. “We chose not to because we knew it was an important ecological property. All we did was create 10 lots on the bay and left the rest.

“We always intended for it to remain in its natural state. It was, to us, a very important thing not only for our family but also for the wildlife.”

The property is an addition to DCR’s Pickett’s Harbor Natural Area Preserve and will be managed as part of Virginia’s Natural Area Preserve System, a designation that provides permanent land protection. Staff from DCR’s Virginia Natural Heritage Program will manage the property.

“We were very pleased to acquire this outstanding property on Virginia’s Eastern Shore and grateful to the Davis family for their long-term commitment to protecting the land,” said DCR Director David A. Johnson.

Tom Smith, DCR Natural Heritage Program director, said, “DCR, working with many partners, has been focused on conserving through studies, land protection and habitat restoration, habitat in what is truly one of the world’s hotspots for migratory songbirds. AEP’s assistance was vital to this project. These 88 acres impact species from Canada to Latin America. That’s success.”

“With our long history of environmental stewardship, AEP and Appalachian Power are pleased to partner with DCR to increase and protect biodiversity along the Chesapeake Bay,” said Charles Patton, president and chief operating officer of Appalachian Power.

The southern tip provides critical habitat for raptors, shorebirds, waterfowl and songbirds. An estimated 5 to 6 million neotropical landbirds and 10 to 12 million temperate landbirds pass through the southern tip during fall migrations.

The southern tip provides one of the only rest stops for the blackpoll warbler as it flies from Venezuela to Canada. The bird is a key player in balancing populations of insects that, left unchecked, would destroy tree foliage. Blackpoll warblers also are critical for seed dispersal and pollination.

Protecting the property was a top priority for the Eastern Shore Southern Tip Partnership, a group whose members have worked for more than 20 years to conserve wildlife habitat in the region. The partnership is composed of DCR, The Nature Conservancy, the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program at the Department of Environmental Quality, the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, Ducks Unlimited, the Virginia Eastern Shore Land Trust and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“The Southern Tip Partnership has been a tremendously successful venture,” said Laura McKay, program manager for the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program. “Together, we’ve protected more than 24,000 acres of critical habitat that now provides the infrastructure for a growing ecotourism industry on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.”

The region plays host to the annual Eastern Shore Birding and Wildlife Festival, which coincides with fall bird migrations along the Atlantic Flyway. The three-day event offers exhibitors, speakers and organized birding trips. The festival will mark its 20th year next fall.

“This property will provide a new venue for the hundreds of birders, and millions of birds, who attend the festival,” McKay said.

For more information about the land purchase or the Virginia Natural Area Preserve System, contact Julie Buchanan, DCR public relations specialist, at 804-786-2292 or julie.buchanan@dcr.virginia.gov.

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Editor's note: A photo and cutline information are available here.

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