ANNAPOLIS -- State officials approved yesterday the acquisition of 2,360 acres of marshland in southern Dorchester County to be set aside as waterfowl habitat.
In addition, representatives of the private, non-profit Conservation Fund announced their intention to donate another 2,085 acres in Dorchester and Somerset counties to the state to be similarly maintained.
The combined 4,445 acres, which include large stretches of marsh, tidal creeks, ponds and scattered upland islands, will be part of a system of more than 44,000 acres of wetland in Dorchester, Wicomico and Somerset counties preserved for wildlife conservation.
"This is exactly the kind of thing we have to do if we're going to continue to have black ducks, canvasbacks and other species return," said Dr. Torrey C. Brown, secretary of the Department of Natural Resources. "The biggest problem for wildfowl is habitat loss. To preserve something like this is fabulous."
The state Board of Public Works unanimously approved yesterday the purchase of two Dorchester County parcels from the Conservation Fund, a national conservation organization based in Northern Virginia.
The purchase price was $1.3 million, but state officials said they are confident the U.S. Department of Interior will eventually foot half the bill.
The two properties to be donated by the Conservation Fund were bought earlier from private landowners with the help of a grant from the Mellon Foundation, officials said.
All four properties are considered valuable for wintering and breeding waterfowl, particularly duck species that have experienced declining populations in recent years.
Some of the land is accessible only by boat and provides shelter for deer, otter, muskrats, bald eaglesand peregrine falcons.
"I've always been a critic of the Department of Natural Resources, but I see no problems with this," said Sen. Frederick C. Malkus Jr., D-Dorchester. "It's beautiful land."
The properties are generally in the vicinity of the Fishing Bay and Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. One of the areas to be donated, 1,400 acres on Deal Island, supports the state's largest population of breeding black rails.
The $1.3 million purchase by the DNR was financed by Program Open Space, a state fund that pays for parkland acquisitions.