ANNAPOLIS – Endangered squirrels along the Chesapeake Bay will get forestland for nesting and a small island will get protection from wind and water with a recent pledge from Exxon to plant 16,140 trees.
The oak and pine trees will be planted along a 30-acre stretch of the Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge in Kent County, as part of a $250,000 project by Exxon and the nonprofit American Forests. Three coastal areas in Florida will also be reforested later this year and early next year under the project.
The wildlife refuge – a four-square-mile island – already holds 600 acres of forest and 1,000 acres of wetlands, said Walt Ford, assistant refuge manager. But, he said, the additional trees will help protect the island from erosion and improve the habitat for the Delmarva fox squirrel.
The trees, which will include the state tree, the White Oak, will also provide a buffer against urban pollution and nutrient runoff, said Dan Smith, a spokesman for American Forests, a national conservation organization. Their planting will create 2.5 miles of shoreline forest, he said.
“Whenever you take 30 acres and establish it as a block [of forest], it makes a significant change,” said Steve Koehne, associate director of the state Department of Natural Resources forest services.
Almost 50 percent of the Chesapeake Bay’s forest buffers have been lost to development and erosion during the past few centuries, said Dave Slater, a spokesman for the nonprofit Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
Ford said he was not sure how many Delmarva fox squirrels live at the refuge, but he estimates the numbers are “extremely small.” The squirrel has been on the endangered species list since 1967.
Last year, Ford said, only one or two were tagged; this year, none have been caught. Studies are being conducted to determine the squirrel’s habitat needs, he said.
Native to the Mid-Atlantic area, the Delmarva fox squirrel once roamed as far north as New Jersey. Now the white-gray squirrel can be found in scattered refuges along the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, Delaware and Virginia, Ford said.
Exxon’s donation was part of a larger tree-planting campaign by American Forests. The goal is to plant 20 million trees nationally by the millennium, with 1 million of those located in the Eastern Neck refuge and surrounding Chesapeake Bay area.
Other groups and agencies are also at work reforesting Maryland. DNR, working with American Forest, is sponsoring a project to plant 600 miles of trees along state streams and creeks by the year 2010. The state has already planted 106 miles and intends to plant between 65-85 miles this spring.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation pledged to plant trees along 15,000 miles of the bay’s streams and shorelines by the year 2005. “We are a bit more ambitious,” Slater said. -30-