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Chesapeake Bay News

Jul
10
2017

Creating a cadre of Chesapeake Bay Landscape Professionals

Written and photographed by Jim Edward, Deputy Director of the Chesapeake Bay Program

As I drove into the parking lot of the Mt. Olive African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Annapolis on June 20, I couldn’t help but notice the rain gardens and lush native plantings on the church property. It certainly seemed appropriate, though, as I was there to attend a two-day training class with others aspiring to become certified as Chesapeake Bay Landscape Professionals (CBLP). The nascent CBLP Certification Program, in its first full year of operation, is a new voluntary credential system for professionals who design, install and maintain sustainable landscapes. The training and examination are based on a core set of standards in sustainable landscaping, emphasizing best practices for stormwater retrofitting and conservation landscaping to benefit the environment.

A rain garden at Hillsmere Shores Community Beach is visited during a Chesapeake Bay Landscape Professionals (CBLP) training workshop in Annapolis, Md., on June 21. CBLP offers voluntary certification for sustainable landscape professionals.

My class consisted of about 25 people representing a wide variety of environmental professionals. Some, like myself, had degrees in landscape architecture or regional planning, while others were horticulturists, arborists, engineers, ecologists or environmental scientists. While a bit eclectic, we were all there for two reasons: first, because we care about protecting and restoring the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers, streams and creeks, and second, to learn about the design, installation and maintenance of sustainable landscapes, with an emphasis on properly maintaining stormwater best management practices (BMPs). Consisting of a two-day class, an online webinar series and a written exam, the course incorporates interactive classroom instruction with a field-based practicum.

To begin our class, we were greeted warmly by Reverend Johnny Calhoun, pastor of our host Mt. Olive AME Church and one of the Chesapeake region’s leading advocates of involving faith communities in Bay restoration work. Thus inspired by the Reverend, we spent most of the day in the classroom with CBLP Program Coordinator Beth Ginter and our expert instructors learning about a variety of topics, including native plants, invasive species and soil textures. Following an overview of issues related to the design, installation and maintenance of stormwater BMPs, we finally headed outside for some field work.

We didn’t have to go far: the grounds of Mt. Olive AME Church served as a perfect venue for viewing first-hand some rainwater harvesting practices. For most places of worship, large parking lots are the norm, and Mt. Olive is no exception. To help limit stormwater runoff, church leadership put a number of practices in place, including three rain gardens lush with native plants and flowering perennials as well as some rain barrels to capture runoff from the church and community center roofs. They also installed pervious concrete in parts of the parking lot to help prevent stormwater from leaving their property and polluting local streams and rivers.

Day two of the CBLP training was spent primarily out in the field, participating in a “BMP Maintenance Practicum.” The CBLP management team decided that, regardless of whether a professional is going to focus on landscape design, installation or maintenance, it is imperative that everyone understand and properly plan for the maintenance needs and implications of sustainable landscapes. Armed with our inspection checklists, we spent the day examining various residential and commercial sites in and around the city of Annapolis.

A rain garden at Mt. Olive AME Church in Annapolis captures and filters stormwater before it can leave the property.

Our first stop was the downtown Annapolis Visitors Center. We met with local landscape architect Shelley Rentsch, who designed the elliptical parking lot and bioremediation practices and plantings that surround it. Her design—which won a Best Urban BMP in the Bay Award, or BUBBA—uses a mix of rain gardens and their larger cousins, bioswales, as well as pervious concrete and permeable pavers for the parking spaces and driving surfaces. The conservation landscaping was generally in good shape, although our instructor was able to point out a few minor maintenance issues likely resulting from an inadequately trained maintenance crew.

Next was a green roof on top of a bank building off Westgate Circle. It was well-maintained and watered by a professional landscaping crew and had mainly low-growing, herbaceous plantings with some benches for workers to sit and enjoy the view of the city.

We then moved onto the Hillsmere Shores neighborhood, where we saw a number of good examples of somewhat larger-scale bioremediation projects on community properties (beaches, neighborhood pools, etc.), such as bioswales, step pool storm conveyances and raingardens. Most of them were well-established and professionally maintained, although we were told that annual maintenance costs are starting to raise concerns among some community residents.

We spent the remainder of the day touring other residential and commercial sites around the city, some of which had more serious maintenance issues (no names, please!). In a number of cases, it was hard to tell if the issues were the result of inadequate maintenance or of flaws in design or installation. But that was what the training was for: to get us thinking about these issues now, so we’ll each be prepared to address them in the future when we become certified Chesapeake Bay Landscape Professionals. We’ll know for sure after we take our certification exams this fall!

About Jim Edward - Jim Edward is the Deputy Director of the Chesapeake Bay Program. He plays a lead role in coordinating the U.S. EPA's activities with other federal agencies, and works with state and local authorities to improve the water quality and living resources of the Bay.



Jul
07
2017

Photo of the Week: Osprey banding not just for the birds

Greg Kearns, a naturalist at Patuxent River Park in Prince George’s County, Maryland, reads the numbers on a newly-banded osprey during a tour of the river on Thursday, June 29. Members of the public were able to handle osprey and participate in the banding process, which helps researchers monitor the species.

During banding, birds are fitted with an aluminum ring around one leg—25 standard sizes and five specialty sizes mean bands can fit on anything from the large tundra swan to the tiny ruby-throated hummingbird. Each band is stamped with a unique eight or nine digit number, allowing researchers to track the movement and behavior of individual birds.

Banding data from across the country is sent to the Bird Banding Laboratory, housed at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Maryland. More than 1.2 million banding records are send to the Bird Banding Laboratory each year, helping scientists understand migration patterns, population dynamics, sources of mortality and how long birds live. Much of the critical information known about birds like osprey comes from tracking and reporting banding data.

Not everyone can band a bird: to protect the safety and health of migrating birds, bird banding is strictly controlled and limited to trained, permitted professionals whose projects aid in bird conservation and management. However, anyone is welcome to report a banded bird. If you come across a banded bird, report the band number at www.reportband.gov or 1-800-327-BAND along with where, when and how you found it.

Learn more about osprey, or get a behind-the-scenes look at bird banding on the Chesapeake Bay’s Eastern Shore.

Image by Skyler Ballard

Stephanie Smith's avatar
About Stephanie Smith - Stephanie is the Web Content Manager at the Chesapeake Bay Program. A native of the Midwest, she received her Bachelor’s in Professional Writing from Purdue University and Master of Science degree from the University of Michigan. Stephanie’s lifelong love of nature motivates her to explore solutions to environmental problems and teach others what they can do to help.



Jul
03
2017

Learning from history to shape the future

An aerial view showcases the broken windows and the beauty of Petersburg, Va., a town of over 32,000 people located on the Appomattox River about 20 miles south of Richmond. (Photo by Tom Saunders/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license)

“Close your eyes,” commands Michelle Peters, Director of Planning and Economic Development for the City of Petersburg, Virginia. Her voice – buoyed by optimism – floats over the roomful of officials, government agents, nonprofits, businesses and Petersburg citizens gathered at the meeting of the Chesapeake Bay Program Diversity Workgroup. “It is the year 2030. It’s a great day in the city of Petersburg. Petersburg is an economically, environmentally, socially vibrant community… The spiritual, physical, emotional health of our community has been raised… It’s a great day in the city of Petersburg.”

When a speaker employs an envisioning exercise, most audiences listen politely and allow their gaze to wander –but this was in no way a typical meeting. The Chesapeake Bay Program Diversity Workgroup chose to hold their quarterly meeting in the city of Petersburg in a conscious effort to put into action those methods that spark real change: to listen, to engage with a community and to be present where change needs to happen. In the auditorium of Virginia State University on the thirteenth of June, faces across the room were tilted up, seeing this revitalized and thriving town. It is in a town like Petersburg that a time capsule jump carries weight—for, here, time behaves strangely.

Petersburg, Virginia has a long history as a market town and leading tobacco center. Twenty-four factories made chewing tobacco, and the manufacturer Brown & Williamson was king. The civil rights movement in the sixties was energized in the city of Petersburg, which is the home of the important Underground Railroad hub Pocahontas Island and two of the oldest black Baptist congregations in the nation. Demographics were relatively equal and the city was dynamic. As the city grew and needed to expand, it hit a roadblock of legal zoning. With annexation illegal, the size of Petersburg was set. The middle classes, both white and black, left Petersburg for the more desirable Chesterfield and other nearby areas. Brown & Williamson, the largest employer for the area and the driving force of Petersburg’s economy, pulled up stakes and left the town for Georgia in 1983. And then: time stopped.

“The saddest day in the city of Petersburg was when Brown & Williamson left Petersburg,” Reverend Betty Jackson proclaimed at the meeting. “We had poured so much into one industry and were codependent.”

Close to forty years have passed since the loss of the tobacco industry, but the feeling in Petersburg is that it might have been mere months since the departure. Marcus Comer, environmental research specialist and assistant professor of agriculture at Virginia State University, explained the phenomenon and its after-effects: “When different industries left, they took their earnings but left their pollution and toxins. Historically, Petersburg has been on the negative side for so long that it’s hard to overcome.”

Dr. Lucious Edwards speaks at the Diversity Workgroup meeting held June 13th at Virginia State University. Retired from decades as VSU archivist, Edwards is still active in the welfare of his community. (Photo by Reggie Parrish/EPA)

Stepping out of the past and embracing that envisioned future is exactly the hope of the day for all parties involved. Listening and understanding the starting place – historically and psychologically – is crucial to bringing about true change for the city, and realistic ideas for action grew from the protracted conversation rooted in that sense of place.

“’Oh, dear. Do you drink the water?’ When you tell someone you live in Petersburg, that is the first question you will be asked,” states Comer. According to him, “the perpetuation of negative perceptions has kept Petersburg down,” creating a learned helplessness.

“[At nearby military base] Fort Lee, [visitors] are told not to take a left turn towards Petersburg,” stated Annie Mickens, former mayor and longtime Petersburg resident. It is in discussing and realizing these limitations that residents found new strength and strategies. Through the course of the day, Petersburg citizens took ownership of their town and their own ability to improve conditions.

University of Virginia President Makola Abdullah put those ideals into action when he bought a home within the city of Petersburg and encouraged his staff to do the same, seeing investment in the city from within as the key to moving forward.

“Let’s change the way Petersburg views itself,” said Ronald Howell, special assistant to the Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry, to general applause. “Let’s look not from the outside in, but from the inside out… These are the resources we have. We don’t have the optics to garner people from the outside… Let’s look at who is driving the economy in Petersburg right now, and let’s see if we can bring that back home. That’s where we start. There should be a network of farmers, internal training, certification and development. If no one wants to come from the outside, let’s build from the inside.”

Real-time change was apparent as attendees and speakers alike slipped in and out of the meeting throughout the day to vote in a general election. Community members were taking action on the words of former mayor Mickens: “We don’t speak for people who have no voice. They have a voice. We have to get those people to the table, to say, ‘I elected you. Accept my voice.’”

The South Side Depot in Petersburg, Va. Built in 1854 as the passenger depot for The Southside Railroad, this Petersburg landmark is the oldest railroad station in the state of Virginia. (Photo by Ron Cogswell/CC BY 2.0 license)

Dr. Lucious Edwards, archivist and historian, spoke on the historical tourism opportunities of Petersburg and its mark on the shaping of America. “[We need to] engage, to blend, to see the value of and interpret the African American experience,” said Edwards. “We should move away from the expectations of confederate history, slavery, plantations and towards others. Petersburg is a jewel for architecture and industry.” Planning departments and cultural affairs departments are merging in Petersburg, in line with a new plan to revitalize through the lens of historical identity.

Before adjourning to tour the Harding Street Urban Agriculture Center—one of the examples of internal Petersburg innovation—attendees settled on the takeaway action items for the Diversity Workgroup.  EJ Screen is an environmental justice knowledge tool that provides maps with overlapping layers of data, combining both environmental and demographic indicators that allow users to make informed decisions. Incorporating community input on the city’s role in health concerns, EPA is considering adding a new data layer to EJ Screen showing failing infrastructure lead lines in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. The Diversity Workgroup will work to assist in Train the Trainer workshops and include lead remediation as a potential avenue for a green jobs workforce, while working more closely with local non-profit organizations and key community leaders on local issues.

By structuring meetings around the heart of communities and with an understanding of their history, as with this Diversity Workgroup meeting, it may truly be a great day in Petersburg and towns like it.

Learn more about the efforts of the Diversity Workgroup and the positive changes taking place throughout the partnership.

Caitlyn Johnstone's avatar
About Caitlyn Johnstone - Caitlyn is the Outreach Coordinator at the Chesapeake Bay Program. She earned her Bachelor's in English and Behavioral Psychology at WVU Eberly Honors College, where she fed her interest in the relationship between human behavior and the natural world. Caitlyn continues that passion on her native Eastern Shore by seeking comprehensive strategies to human and environmental wellbeing.



Jun
30
2017

Photo of the Week: Growing CommuniTree in West Virginia

Danielle French, right, and Roanin Cabrera plant a tree at Deerfield Village outside of Shepherdstown, West Virginia, at an event on April 29, 2017. Adult and youth volunteers planted 28 trees as part of the Carla Hardy West Virginia Project CommuniTree program.

CommuniTree is an initiative of the Cacapon Institute—a watershed protection organization located in Great Cacapon, West Virginia—and is the largest tree steward program in the state. The purely-volunteer program promotes tree planting and education on the public lands that surround the headwaters of the Potomac River.

This spring’s tree planting event marked the fourth one held at Deerfield Village, following plantings in 2014, 2015 and 2016. Of the 72 trees planted during those prior events, 60 have survived to provide clean air, shade and other benefits to their communities. This year, volunteers planted 12 trees to replace those that had failed to establish, as well as 16 new trees as part of an old apple orchard.

Trees are a critical piece of a healthy ecosystem: they soak up polluted stormwater, provide habitat for wildlife, absorb and trap air pollution and enhance quality of life for local communities. That’s why Chesapeake Bay Program partners have committed to expanding tree canopy in urban areas by 2,400 acres by 2025, providing air quality, water quality and habitat benefits throughout the Chesapeake Bay region.

Learn more about CommuniTree, or learn about our work to increase tree canopy in the watershed.

Image by Will Parson

Stephanie Smith's avatar
About Stephanie Smith - Stephanie is the Web Content Manager at the Chesapeake Bay Program. A native of the Midwest, she received her Bachelor’s in Professional Writing from Purdue University and Master of Science degree from the University of Michigan. Stephanie’s lifelong love of nature motivates her to explore solutions to environmental problems and teach others what they can do to help.



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