Nestled next to Patuxent River State Park in Laytonsville, Maryland, are the 220 rolling, vegetation-rich acres of Waredaca horse farm. Husband and wife Robert and Gretchen Butts are the second generation to manage the family farm since Robert’s parents purchased the property in 1953. To them, Waredaca is more than just a business: it is their home.
The farm has evolved from a summer camp to a boarding stable for more than 80 horses, 30 of which are directly owned by Waredaca; recreational and competitive riders board the rest. The farm continues to host a youth summer camp, hold eventing competitions and offer year-round riding lessons. “To be able to make a living doing things you love—and to do it at home—is the best. This place is my life, and that’s pretty special,” Robert said.
The Butts’ connection to their land has sparked a deep sense of environmental stewardship within their family. “We’ve been here our whole lives, and plan on being here a long time. I think for a large portion of the agricultural community, that’s the case. Many have been motivated conservationists for years,” Robert explained.
A prominent part of Maryland’s environmental efforts to conserve farmland has included the equine community. “In recent years, certainly the state and Montgomery County have clarified in legislation that horses are a part of agriculture and therefore the services and outreach pertain to them,” said Robert. “Outreach to the equine community has been particularly important to [increasing] participation [in restoration initiatives].”
The Maryland Horse Council has been a strong partner with the state’s Farm Stewardship Certification and Assessment Program (FSCAP), which certifies agricultural stewards throughout the state. Since its development in 2010, FSCAP, administered by the Maryland Association of Soil Conservation Districts (MASCD), has conducted 131 reviews on 108 farms and certified 91 agricultural conservation stewards protecting 27,000 acres in 16 counties. The Maryland Horse Council has helped FSCAP certify 20 horse farms.
According to the state, any farm with more than eight “animal units”—normally defined as one mature cow weighing about 1,000 pounds and her suckling calf—is required to follow a nutrient management plan to ensure that excess manure is properly disposed of. Assessors from FSCAP are trained by the Maryland Department of Agriculture to review nutrient management plans with the same attention to detail provided by official inspectors. Assessors also inspect other “best management practices” (BMPs), which reduce pollution and improve habitat on farmland. When certified, each steward gets his or her own webpage on the FSCAP website and the landowner receives a large sign to place on their property, advertising their environmental stewardship.
“The program was created in order to provide some positive recognition for farmers that are doing a great job [caring for the land], in light of what seems like fairly constant criticism about agriculture’s role in polluting the Chesapeake Bay,” said FSCAP Project Leader Gerald Talbert. “We carefully gathered core partners for this program because we wanted both the agricultural and the environmental communities to be involved.”
"Many stewards feel that certification means more than just personal recognition; it’s also good for business,especially with farms that deal directly with the public” Talbert said. “ So far, we’ve provided 91 signs, but there are 133 signs displayed.
By working together, Robert and Gerald were able to identify and address a streamside fencing issue that thwarted Waredaca’s certification efforts. The problem has since been fixed and the farm has been certified.
The Butts follow a nutrient management plan, composting their manure and spreading it on their fields to encourage rich soil and healthy pastures. They have also put a number of BMPs in place: a manure storage facility, a spring-fed water tank and stream-side buffers with fencing to keep horses out of streams, thereby keeping the surrounding creeks and streams clean.
The Butts also practice rotational grazing. Strategically moving livestock to fresh pastures can allow previously grazed fields to regenerate, and is a preferred practice for fighting overgrazing. But many farmers do not have the space to rotate their grazing pastures, leading to field erosion and the sedimentation of rivers, streams and the Bay.
“We are very blessed to have a lot of room where the horses can roam,” Robert said. “Lack of space can be a limiting factor for many [horse-owners]. Overgrazing is a very common thing in the horse business, and will be hard to eliminate completely because of the way horses eat. Cows don’t eat the grass all the way down to the ground, but horses do,” he explained.
Through the efforts of programs like FSCAP and the willingness of farmers like the Butts to sign on to voluntary conservation programs, stewardship certification programs are gaining traction among the agricultural community. “Part of the effort here is not just to recognize those folks that have already done a great job, but to also provide incentive for someone to step up and put those one or two BMPs in place that they may have been missing to meet the standard,” said Talbert.
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A new report from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) indicates the economic benefits of a restored Chesapeake Bay could total $130 billion each year, as the watershed’s “pollution diet” creates clean air and water, protects properties from floods and fuels local restaurant and recreation industries.
Image courtesy olorak/Flickr
The Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), which the Annapolis-based nonprofit calls the Clean Water Blueprint, was established in 2010 to reduce pollution loads across the watershed. It limits the amount of nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment that can enter rivers and streams to improve water quality. Jurisdictions use Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs) to put these limits in place.
According to the report, which was produced by ecological economist Spencer Phillips and CBF Senior Scientist Beth McGee, the annual value of the natural benefits provided by a “pre-Blueprint” Bay is an estimated $107 billion. Once the TMDL is put in place and its benefits are realized, this amount would increase 21 percent to $129.7 billion. While Virginia is set to benefit most from a restored Bay—increasing its annual earnings by $8.3 billion—other watershed states would also benefit: Pennsylvania would see an earnings increase of $6.1 billion, Maryland $4.6 billion, New York $1.9 billion, West Virginia $1.3 billion and Delaware $205 million.
“The conclusion is clear: the region’s environmental and economic health will improve when we fully implement the [Clean Water] Blueprint,” said Phillips in a media release. “The cleanup plan was designed with the understanding that all people and communities in the watershed can contribute to making the Bay cleaner, and that everyone will benefit when pollution is reduced. Our analysis confirms this.”
While its report doesn’t address the annual watershed-wide cost of restoration, CBF estimates this figure is in the range of $5 billion.
Note: This blog post was written by a staff-member of the Chesapeake Bay Program.
Conserving forests is critical to clean water, and honoring the champions of these vital habitats is central to the work of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay. At its ninth annual Chesapeake Watershed Forum, the non-profit organization, with support from the U.S. Forest Service, recognized four Chesapeake Forest Champions: a public charity that demonstrates sustainable forest management to children and adults, a partnership that promotes volunteerism in planting urban trees, a private forest owner who engages women in working wooded lands and the founding director of Maryland’s largest environmental center.
Across the watershed, forests are disappearing at an average rate of 100 acres per day. This can mean less habitat for wildlife and more pollution flowing into rivers and streams. But the examples set by Chesapeake Forest Champions act as reminders of the local action that can restore the region’s resources.
The Evergreen Heritage Center was named Most Effective at Engaging the Public. The public charity was founded in 2008 and sits on a 130-acre Maryland estate that pre-dates the Revolutionary War. Its 108 acres of forestland have been managed under state guidelines for 65 years, and in 2000 earned the title Tree Farm of the Year. Dedicated to education, the organization offers field studies to students, professional development courses to teachers and conservation workshops to the general public. Its outdoor learning stations explore forest ecology, soil and water conservation, and climate change, while its heritage hoop house and sawmill demonstrate the art of forestry from start to finish and meet demand for local wood products.
West Virginia Project CommuniTree was commended for Greatest On-the-Ground Impact. Founded in 2008, the partnership of the Cacapon Institute and the West Virginia Conservation Agency, Division of Forestry and Division of Highways has led close to 50 plantings, with more than 2,500 volunteers planting more than 3,200 trees. In its work to boost urban forests in the Potomac Highlands, the partnership engages students, citizens and community groups to plant trees where people live—in neighborhoods, along roadsides and at schools—and offers grants for “CTree Kits” that contain everything a group would need to complete its own planting: trees, deer protection and mulch.
Nancy G.W. Baker was named an Exemplary Forest Steward. A private forest owner, Baker stewards the Panther Lick. This 163-acre property has been in her family for more than 150 years, and she uses the land to demonstrate the benefits of a working forest. She is president of the Bradford-Sullivan Forest Landowners’ Association’s Board of Directors, an active member of Pennsylvania’s Forest Stewardship Steering Committee and a leader in the Women and Their Woods program, which reaches out to women forest owners in the mid-Atlantic. Living along the Susquehanna River, Baker was one of the first members of Forests for the Bay and an essential part of its steering committee.
Joe Howard was given the Lifetime Achievement Award. A Maryland teacher for 35 years, Howard co-founded and was the first director of the Lathrop E. Smith Environmental Education Center, where he turned fields into forests and taught thousands of students about the importance of trees. In his retirement, Howard led Montgomery County’s Champion Trees program. Thanks to Howard, the county is home to three of the state’s five largest yellow poplars, and a cockspur hawthorne that he and his students planted was named a Big Tree National Champion in 2010. Howard continues to teach people about trees, forests and the management of this vital habitat.
As students settle into their new school-year routines, it’s a good time to reflect on how their experiences in the classroom affect the Chesapeake Bay.
Image courtesy brucemckay/Flickr
Today’s students will play a critical role in the health of tomorrow’s Chesapeake. Making sure they understand how to critically think about evolving environmental issues is essential to the long-term success of environmental protection.
While managers are making progress in addressing the issues facing the Bay, many of the remaining challenges to a healthier ecosystem rest in the hands of individuals, businesses and communities. From decisions on how to heat and cool homes to decisions on where to live, what vehicle to drive and what to plant on private properties, individual choices can have a huge impact on the Bay. This means a successful environmental protection strategy must be built on the collective wisdom of the environment’s residents, informed by targeted environmental education and starting with our youngest students.
In recent years, a clearer picture has emerged about the environmental literacy of our students. A 2008 National Environmental Literacy Assessment and related follow-up studies showed that students who attended schools with environmental education programs knew and cared more about the environment, and were more likely to take actions to protect their environment, than students who didn’t. But learning outdoors during the school day is not common in the United States.
Image courtesy vastateparkstaff/Flickr
While our society is increasingly disconnected from the natural environment—spending more time online and less time outdoors—there is good news: states are increasingly stepping up to ensure that students have the opportunity to connect with nature. The state of Maryland, for instance, has established the nation’s first graduation requirement for environmental literacy; beginning in 2015, every student that graduates from a school within the state will have participated in a program that will help him or her make more informed decisions about the environment. Several states in the region have established partnerships for children in nature, taking a comprehensive look at how they can better encourage outdoor programs for children. Even more are recognizing the efforts of their schools to become more sustainable, ensuring that more students are learning inside buildings that model sustainable behaviors.
This momentum is being echoed at the regional level. The recently signed Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement commits the six watershed states and the District of Columbia to give every student the knowledge and skills necessary to protect and restore their local watershed. The cornerstone of this goal is the Meaningful Watershed Educational Experience, or MWEE, which should occur at least once in each elementary, middle and high school. MWEEs connect standards-based classroom learning with outdoor field investigations to create a deeper understanding of the natural environment. MWEEs ask students to explore environmental issues through sustained, teacher-supported programming. But less intensive outdoor field investigations could occur more frequently—each year when possible.
The Watershed Agreement highlights the roles that state departments of education and local education agencies play in establishing expectations and guidelines for the development and implementation of MWEEs. Indeed, plans that include strategies for MWEE implementation—coupled with outreach and training opportunities for teachers and administrators—have been effective in establishing and supporting a network for environmental literacy.
To support these efforts, funding is available: the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) offers grants through the Bay Watershed Education & Training (B-WET) Program, and the Chesapeake Bay Trust offers similar opportunities. The Chesapeake Bay Program also maintains a clearinghouse of teaching resources on Bay Backpack.
Note: A version of this article also appeared in the October 2014 edition of the Bay Journal.
Author: Shannon Sprague is the Manager for Environmental Literacy & Partnerships with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Chesapeake Bay Office. She is also the co-chair of the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Education Workgroup.