Funding for farmland and open space preservation is insufficient
The Delaware Chapter of the Sierra Club asks the General Assembly to restore the Open Space and Farmland Preservation Program funds to $10 million. The Open Space and Farmland Preservation Program provides a valuable service in preserving habitat and biodiversity, protecting our communities from flooding and improving water quality by conserving groundwater retention areas and wetlands that absorb stormwater and provide a buffer from storms.
Essential habitat, including habitat for endangered species, is being threatened in Delaware. The Delaware Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program’s 2011 list of “Rare and Uncommon Vascular Plants of Delaware” inventories numerous plant species that are at a high risk of extirpation in Delaware. These include numerous SI Rare Species that are “especially vulnerable to extirpation” and S2 Rare Species that “may be susceptible to becoming extirpated.”
Of the 1583 species of native flora in Delaware, 576 species, or 36%, are rare. 63 species, or 12% of the rare flora of Delaware, are known from only a single population in the state. 191 species, or 12% of Delaware’s full native flora, have not been reported in 20 or more years, or are known to be extirpated. 32 species of native flora in Delaware are globally rare, and 9 species are Federally listed as either Endangered, Threatened, or Candidate. There are 46 species of native flora in Delaware that are at the extreme northern limits of their distribution and 19 species of native plants in Delaware that are at the extreme southern limits of their distribution. The loss of these species would result in the extinction of locally distinct genotypes.
Particular habitats in Delaware are especially vulnerable and represent the intimate connection between native wildlife protections and habitats. A variety of wildlife species are directly dependent on 136 species, or 12%, of Delaware’s rare flora. 27% of Delaware’s rare flora occur in non-tidal, freshwater wetlands and 28% of Delaware’s rare flora occur in upland forests and woodlands. 55% of Delaware’s rare flora are found in non-tidal, freshwater wetlands and upland forests and woodlands.
In their 2012 report Delaware's Wetlands: Status and Changes (1992 - 2007), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control describe the current status of wetlands as one of alarming and dramatic decline. Between 1992 and 2007 Delaware has experienced a net loss of 3,126 acres of vegetated wetlands. Of this total, forested wetlands experienced the largest net loss at 2,931 acres. 83% of wetlands lost during this period were in Sussex County as a result agricultural, commercial and residential development, and extraction of natural resources.
To sum up these disturbing statistics, habitats are the core of Delaware’s biodiversity and deserve protection. We ask you to value Delaware’s open space by restoring the funding to $10 million.
Wetlands also provide a number of valuable services to Delawareans, including water quality, flooding and erosion protections. Recent flooding and streams that overflowed their banks in Hurricane Sandy, and more importantly, the areas that did not flood during this storm, demonstrate the value of wetlands in protecting our homes, businesses and infrastructure. Protections for open space, especially wetlands, will pay dividends that will benefit Delawareans for generations to come.
In addition to restoring the funding level for this program to $10 million, we ask for greater transparency in the program to guard against “protected area degradation.” We ask that DNREC provide all records for each parcel/tract of protected land on the DNREC website, including an updated list of all properties, property or tract names, dates of purchase, description of uses and use restrictions, texts of any deed covenants, a listings of the type and date of any changes in allowable use, name, or other disposition of the publicly owned resource, and a reference for any management plan for each property.
Such transparency is essential to insure to the public that our open space is not used for activities that may lead to future degradation. This effort would provide public transparency and accountability for the disposition and protection of public-owned conservation land.
Considering the amount of public funds expended on this program, the public has a right to have easy access to this information. These conditions of transparency should be included in epilogue language as a prerequisite to the disbursement of funds.