DNREC offers land protection suggestions

“Open Spaces & Natural Places” — Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) staffers held a public workshop on the topic in Georgetown on April 26, sharing recommendations on how much to protect, and where.

They unrolled a new set of draft state resource area (SRA) maps, which in their final form will be inserted into Sussex County’s comprehensive plan, as part of the pending update.

The SRA maps show where land is already preserved, or at least treated with extra consideration, and where DNREC would like to see some additional consideration. And, where things have changed so much since 1990 that trying to preserve wildlife habitat in certain areas just doesn’t make sense anymore.

Originally drafted in 1990, the SRA maps haven’t changed all that much, as far as total acreage. Back then, the department’s SRA recommendations covered 16 percent of the Sussex landmass. The brand new SRA maps recommend a rather small increase, to 19 percent coverage.

However, the department has nearly doubled its recommendations for the amount of land Sussex designated as “natural area” (currently 39,000 acres, roughly 77,000 acres as proposed).

As DNREC’s Ron Vickers (Parks and Rec) pointed out, these areas were the best of the best — the SRA lands of highest quality.

Then there are “protected lands,” which allow a broader spectrum of uses:

Federal lands, like the Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, but also,
Various state lands, including state parks, fish and wildlife management areas, state-owned ponds, selected department of transportation parcels and selected Historical and Cultural Affairs parcels;
County and city lands, including county/city parks and open space, and areas set aside for spray irrigation and land application of wastewater effluent;
Lands held in private conservancies (Delaware Wild Lands, The Nature Conservancy, Delaware Nature Society, Sussex County Land Trust);
Public and private conservation easement, agricultural preservation easements and statutorily-protected tidal wetlands.
The proposed SRAs entirely encompass the “natural areas,” but there’s some overlap with the “protected lands.” In large part, they fall under the SRA umbrella, but some stand outside, protected on their own merits.

At any rate, DNREC is recommending 115,000-acres-worth of SRA in Sussex County. (By way of comparison, developed land accounts for 105,000 acres.)

All of the natural acres, plus some random acreage inside the proposed SRAs not already “protected,” would receive some extra tenderness and consideration in SRAs — if the county so ordered.

“Just because it’s mapped as an SRA, as proposed, does not mean you can’t develop,” Vickers pointed out. “You just have to develop in a more sensitive manner.”

As DNREC’s Olin Allen (Natural Heritage and Endangered Species) put it, “We map out what’s important — from the state’s perspective, what’s significant. It’s up to (the counties) to decide how to go about protecting those areas.”

DNREC has significantly refined the maps since 1990.

“There’s been a lot of research, and we have a lot more data now than we did then,” Vickers noted. He said the department had carefully mapped out the borders of each forested area for the new SRA maps.

“And these maps were created using better technologies,” he added. “It was a ‘blob’ map before — now, it’s much more discrete.”

The rather small increase in overall SRA acreage may belie larger increases in certain areas.

“When you look at existing SRAs, versus the new proposed SRA map, they do look very different,” noted DNREC’s Karen Bennett (Delaware Natural Heritage Program). “They expand here, shrink there.”

For instance, the 1990 maps depict a massive blob encompassing all of Redden State Forest (Ellendale), but the new maps show greater fragmentation in that area. Conversely, the new maps marks the smaller section of Redden forest, west of Georgetown, and the Old Furnace and Midlands wildlife areas (northwest and west of Millsboro, respectively).

Closer to home, the department is recommending a light touch in several areas that didn’t appear on the 1990 maps:

Jay Patch wetlands, north of Selbyville (between Shockley Town and Jay Patch roads), comprising the largest single area;
An area immediately to the east of Frankford, south of Omar Road;
An area east of Dagsboro, north of the above-mentioned tract (sprawling from Omar Road, across Route 20/Armory Road, all the way to Route 26).
(The proposed SRAs are presented in their entirety at www.dnrec.delaware.gov, via link from the Open Space Program section.)

From the “Open Spaces & Natural Places” brochure, “The beauty and wonder of the natural environment right outside our door and across our state is steadily disappearing in the wake of development.

“Clean air, clean water, the state’s diverse variety of plants and animals, and our quality of life for years to come require we adopt more responsible growth policies.”

DNREC staffers used the workshop on the SRA maps as an opportunity to provide information on various voluntary land preservation programs.

They noted the four subsets of the Delaware Landowner Incentive Program, or DELIP: (1) wetland restoration/enhancement, (2) riparian forest/grass buffers, (3) upland early successional habitat, and (4) reforestation — and options like the Wildlife Habitat Enhancement Program (WHEP), the Agricultural Lands Preservation program, the Forestland Enhancement program or donation to private conservancies.