Over the past 100 years, Maryland has seen a foot of relative sea level rise. Rising waters have caused the disappearance of 13 Bay islands, many of which played an important role in maritime culture. In our area, sea level rise is exacerbated due to local land subsidence, or sinking of the Earth’s surface. Like our island communities, many coastal communities and ecosystems in today’s landscape are being threatened by encroaching waters. In addition to nuisance flooding, rising sea levels could bring more severe storm surge and damaging saltwater intrusion to coastal areas. In order to address these impacts, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources has been developing new land conservation strategies to address the impacts of climate change and increase the resilience of vulnerable coastal habitats.
In the coastal zone, DNR is pursuing a new strategy for purchasing conservation easements. Coastal Resilience Easements on private lands incorporate climate change considerations and may provide additional benefits to coastal communities. Easement elements include: 1) transition of marsh habitat, 2) a management plan with strategies to reduce vulnerability to coastal hazards, such as invasive species removal or wetland restoration and 3) development setbacks in areas subject to sea-level rise inundation by 2050. These easements are unique in that they recognize the protection value of wetland habitat and set aside space for landward migration as sea levels rise.
How are Coastal Resilience Easements established?
CCS works with DNR’s Land Acquisition and Planning unit to identify important natural areas of the state. For instance, Maryland's Green Print considers wildlife and rare species habitat, forests that are key for water quality, and places valuable for biodiversity to define those that are considered the “best of the best.” The resulting Targeted Ecological Areas (TEAs) do not include developed areas and are prioritized for funding through Program Open Space. To further target coastal areas that should be protected, DNR is using a new Wetland Adaptation Area (WAA) map. Wetlands provide a host of ecological functions such as carbon sequestration, water filtration, and provision of critical wildlife habitat. These environments also benefit people by acting as sponges to buffer against the impacts of sea-level rise and storm surge, and providing recreation opportunities through kayaking, birdwatching, hunting and fishing. Using the Sea Level Affecting Marshes Model (SLAMM), DNR utilized predictive models to determine priority “Wetland Adaptation Areas,” or corridors where wetlands will migrate inland as sea level rises. For more technical information on Wetland Adaptation Areas and SLAMM,
see the full report.
A variety of easement programs exist for landowners looking to conserve their properties and encourage wetland migration in the coastal zone.