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Chesapeake Bay News


Food for fish: Improving the forage base in the Chesapeake Bay

Commercial and recreational fisheries in the Chesapeake Bay are an important part of the region’s culture, economy and ecosystem. But as key species in the estuary’s food web, fish like striped bass and bluefish rely on “forage”—the smaller fish, shellfish and invertebrates that underwater predators feed on. According to a recent report from the Bay Program’s Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee (STAC), a better understanding of this aquatic forage base could help support a healthy and balanced Chesapeake Bay.

Species such as the bay anchovy are important prey for larger aquatic predators. (Image by Aimee Comer/Virginia Institute of Marine Science)

Despite their importance in the Bay ecosystem, uncertainty remains as to the species that make up the forage base and how they interact with their environment. In the report, managers and scientific experts from across the region discuss the current level of knowledge and what additional information would help experts better manage forage species.

Key forage species listed in the report include the bay anchovy, mantis shrimp and several types of small, underwater invertebrates such as amphipods and isopods. Some of these species, like Atlantic menhaden, are managed by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) or by states in the Bay region. But, the report states, most of the forage base is not currently being managed. With a better understanding of key forage species, the habitats those species rely on and the interactions between predators and the forage base, experts can build plans that support management of predator species and the Bay ecosystem as a whole.

Under the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, Bay Program partners are committed to improving their understanding of the role forage fish play in the Bay ecosystem, as well as supporting efforts to restore and protect critical fish habitat. Information included in the report is aimed at helping partners meet those goals.

The report, Assessing the Chesapeake Bay Forage Base: Existing Data and Research Priorities, is available on the STAC website.


Photo Essay: Bald eagle populations soar in New York

The bald eagle, a national symbol of strength and resiliency, may be a common sight today, but just a few decades ago toxic pollutants working their way up the food chain had the species toeing the line of extinction. Prevalent use of dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT), a harmful insecticide, on agricultural fields caused eagles to produce eggs that were too delicate to support the incubating bird, lowering hatch rates in a drastic way. The decline was so severe that by DDT’s ban in 1972, only 482 breeding pairs were left throughout the entire continental United States.

Michael Clark, Senior Wildlife Biologist from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), looks toward a bald eagle nest on private property near Otsego Lake in Cooperstown, N.Y., on May 27. Clark and DEC Wildlife Technician Scott Van Arsdale have to climb trees to place numbered bands on juvenile eagles for monitoring purposes.

Following the ban, one nesting pair of bald eagles remained in the state of New York, and their eggs were too contaminated with chemicals to be considered a viable means of repopulation. Restoration efforts began across the nation, but two researchers in particular, Peter Nye from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and Tom Cade of Cornell University put New York on the map as a key player in eagle repopulation tactics. They took to using an ancient falconry practice called hacking to raise eaglets in a controlled, but wild, environment, to ensure that the birds would learn the proper survival techniques to independently prosper after fledging the nest.

Wildlife Technician Scott Van Arsdale from DEC keeps a support rope tight as Clark climbs toward a nest holding juvenile bald eagles in a white pine tree near Otsego Lake in Cooperstown, N.Y., on May 27. “Now we have all kinds of fancy GPS transmitters that lessen the need to band eagles,” Van Arsdale said. “With the eagle population coming back so strong, there is less of a need to babysit every individual eagle, and we can actually learn more by transmittering a few birds than tagging a whole bunch.”

“Their goal was to establish 12 nesting pairs in New York. By 1988, they had achieved the goal of 12 nesting pairs, and here we are in 2015 with more than 300. I know down in Maryland in the Chesapeake Bay area there are even more, so the reintroduction has been very successful,” said Michael Clark, Senior Wildlife Biologist for New York DEC. Clark and his colleague Scott Van Arsdale, Wildlife Technician for New York DEC, were mentored by Nye, and have taken over the legwork of tagging and monitoring the birds since Nye’s retirement.

Michael Clark swings a leg up to reach the nest. Bald eagle nests can be used by the same nesting pair of eagles in multiple years and can weigh up to two tons.

A roughly six-week-old male bald eagle awaits a prompt return to its nest after being fitted with a monitoring band.

One of two bald eagle parents circles overhead while researchers band juveniles in the birds’ nest.

Scott Van Arsdale holds a juvenile bald eagle to show its newly received metal band. The bands are color-coded blue for the state of New York, and represent individual birds with a unique three-digit code.

Scott Van Arsdale uses a bag to lift a juvenile bald eagle back to its nest, roughly 90 feet above the ground.

Michael Clark lowers to the ground after successfully tagging the juvenile bald eagles, whose nest is roughly 90 feet above the ground. “Alright, guys. You guys have a good life,” Clark said before his departure.

Michael Clark puts away his climbing gear after finishing with the banding. He wasn’t sure if a a recent injury was going to keep him from climbing that day.

Scott Van Arsdale returns to his vehicle after completing the successful banding. “Banning DDT wasn’t enough because we didn’t have the birds to get the population going, so if you see an eagle in New York, and even Maryland to some extent, you can thank Peter [Nye] because 16 other states and the province of Ontario followed our lead with the hacking program,” Van Arsdale said.

To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Flickr page.

Images by Will Parson
Text by Jenna Valente

Jenna Valente's avatar
About Jenna Valente - Jenna developed a passion for conservation through her outdoorsy nature and upbringing in Hawaii, Washington State and Maine. A graduate of Virginia Tech's Executive Master of Natural Resources program and University of Maine's School of Communication and Journalism, she welcomes any opportunity to educate the public about the importance of caring for the environment.


Restoration Spotlight: Generations of conservation on a West Virginia family farm

It’s an overcast summer morning in Berkeley County, West Virginia, and Todd Butler has parked his pick-up truck atop one of the many hills that roll across his property. He points to the ridge of a nearby mountain peak, where the dense, forested tree line is broken by a small gap. “I’m sitting in my house, and I can see this mountain from there,” Butler recalls. “I never will forget the very first morning I sat there, and I saw a light on top of that mountain, and I thought, ‘What is that?’ And it turns out, they’d built a house up there.”

Butler Farms, a beef cattle farm, apple orchard and hunting preserve in Inwood, W.Va., is seen on June 25, 2015. Winner of the 2014 West Virginia Conservation Farm of the Year award, Butler Farms has been celebrated for the family's commitment to a rural lifestyle, its involvement in the community and its efforts to operate more sustainably with the surrounding land and water.

As the fourth-generation owner of Butler Farms, Butler has been witness to plenty of changes over the years: a decline in the number of neighboring farms, a rise in residential development, a technology boom for farming equipment. And while some features have remained the same—the original farmhouse, barn and cattle gates are still standing—much of the farm’s operation is dramatically different from when Butler’s great-grandfather bought the land in 1919. Almost a century later, the 200-acre family dairy farm has grown to more than 1,000 acres, home to beef cattle, an apple orchard and a bird and deer hunting preserve.

Todd Butler poses for a portrait on his farm in Inwood, W.Va., on June 25, 2015. Todd's great-grandfather purchased the original 212-acres farm in 1919; Todd took over operating Butler Farms from his father, Bill Butler, in 2000.

Over the years, Butler and his father, Bill, have transformed their property into one of the top conservation farms in the Mountain State. A variety of practices—from streamside fencing to cover crops—help to reduce runoff and promote water quality. Cattle drink out of troughs rather than straight from streams, and their feed wagons are continuously moved to different locations to prevent a single area from getting trampled or polluted with manure. The farm’s 72 apple orchard plots are farmed in strips; the land between each row of trees is left untouched to help slow the flow of water and prevent soil from washing away.

Butler Farms, a family-owned 1000-acre beef cattle farm, apple orchard and hunting preserve in Inwood, W.Va. is seen on June 25, 2015.

Sustainable pest management practices have made the land of Butler Farms a haven for insects, birds and other wildlife. Pollinator-friendly native flowers and grasses border the fields. Patches of sorghum, an annual grass that produces bright red berries, will feed birds and deer through the winter. When Butler was younger, he remembers entire fields being sprayed with herbicides, pesticides and other chemicals. Now, he says, “we don’t use near the chemicals that we used to. Everything used to be in quarts or gallons; now we’re down to ounces.”

Rows of young apple trees line a distant hill at Butler Farms. The Butlers have operated the 72-plot orchard since 1981. Seventy tractor-trailer loads of apples are handpicked each year.

Butler credits the West Virginia Conservation Agency’s (WVCA) Eastern Panhandle District with the success of the conservation practices currently in place on the farm. “When we first started, we were putting in switchgrass and so forth, and we really didn’t know what to implement and what to put in,” Butler explains. “With their direction and their help, it’s made it very easy for us to get it done.”

And though Butler Farms won the WVCA’s Conservation Farm of the Year award in 2014, Butler doesn’t see the work his family has done as out of the ordinary—rather, it’s part of how he and other farmers can prepare for the future. “Water’s going to be the biggest natural resource that we’re going to have to contend with here very shortly. It just seems to be taken for granted,” Butler says. “More and more people are working toward [using conservation practices], as we’re being educated on what we can do to help improve.”

No matter what the future holds, Butler and his family seem ready to handle it. After all, the farm has already adapted to a multitude of changes over the past hundred years. “I heard my dad say the other day, he said his parents would roll over,” Butler laughs. “He said they’d never have any thoughts of the way things have changed.”


Images and captions by Keith Rutowski
Text by Stephanie Smith

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.


The power of motivation and collaboration in rural communities

In the 1960s, in response to growing environmental degradation, the U.S. Congress called for the establishment of a nationwide network of councils that would build strong federal, state and local partnerships to expand ways for rural communities to succeed. Known as the Resource Conservation and Development Councils (RC&Ds), many were at one time sponsored by local Soil and Water Conservation Districts, county governments and planning districts. Today, most operate locally as non-profit organizations while also being tied together through the National Association of RC&D Councils.

From left, Fred Janci, Mayor of Wachapreague; Virginia Witmer, Virginia Department of  Environmental Quality (DEQ) Coastal Zone Management; Chesapeake Bay Program Director Nick DiPasquale; Jutta Schneider, Virginia DEQ; James Davis-Martin, Virginia DEQ; and Dot Field, DCR Virginia Natural Heritage, tour Seaside Park's native plant garden in Wachapreague, Virginia, on a recent visit to the Bay's eastern shore.

For more than 50 years, the Eastern Shore RC&D, which serves Accomack and Northampton Counties on Virginia’s eastern shore, has specialized in facilitating research, outreach and education to all levels of the community and fostering deep collaborative partnerships with local governments, planning districts, research facilities, educational institutions, health care facilities, non-profits and citizen groups in the area. It has worked quietly in the background on wide ranging local issues, pioneering the development of innovative public infrastructure such as waterless fire hydrants for dealing with the challenges of rural firefighting; spearheading widespread implementation of public boat landings in many seaside and bayside towns; and collaborating on the development of model conservation demonstration programs such as living shorelines, which not only mitigate erosion from increased weather activity and rising sea levels, but also improve water quality which in turn improves aquaculture. (The reestablishment of oyster and clam beds in the Chesapeake Bay and the in the coastal waters of the seaside contribute not only to a major economic gain but also to the resiliency of our shorelines.) Its extensive network of sponsors and partners are critical in identifying, planning, funding and implementing projects.

At the invitation of Josephine Mooney, the Eastern Shore Council’s part-time projects director, I had the opportunity to spend a few days with them on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, attending their quarterly Roundtable, participating in a very ambitious schedule of site visits focusing on local collaborative projects, and speaking at a public meeting and reception. This region is truly unique—blessed with an abundance of resources and natural beauty, steeped in history and culture, it maintains a distinct identity. While my role as the Bay Program Director during this outing was to discuss water quality with leaders and citizens in the area, I also attended because I am constantly interested in learning about all the various Bay regions and communities and always curious about what motivates individuals to take on even more responsibilities which may not be required directly by their jobs. While the reasons varied, one thing was clearly shared: an interest in making the places where they live, work and play better for all to enjoy.

The Roundtable project partners include: VA Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), DCR's Natural Heritage Program, Virginia Eastern Shore Land Trust, Eastern Shore District/VDH, Virginia Eastern Shorekeeper, Resource Management Associates, Citizens for a Better Eastern Shore, The Nature Conservancy, NRCS, Soil and Water Conservation District, Cooperative Extension, VA Tech AREC, VA Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), Accomack Northampton Planning District Commission (AN-PDC), Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Chincoteague Bay Field Station, AmeriCorps/Vista Volunteer Program. Thanks to the efforts of Edwin Long, the current Council Chair, the Roundtable now enjoys a broadened membership with representation from a wide variety of federal and state agencies and non-governmental organizations with whom the Council collaborates. The Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources, Molly Ward, joined the meeting, commending the ES RC&D for its work and collaboration with this very broad network of partners.

Permeable pavement lines a parking lot in Onancock, Virginia, on the state's eastern shore.

After the Roundtable discussion, we toured the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences (VIMS) Salt Water Laboratory in Wachapreague. Its new director, Dr. Richard Snyder, showed us around while explaining some of their ongoing research and his plans for the facility’s future—all with obvious enthusiasm. VIMS then hosted a small reception where the partners and collaborators had an opportunity to informally discuss their work and plans and to meet others who are working on the shore. The following day we started out early on a marathon of site visits to see some of the great projects that resulted from this collaboration. First stop was the Native Plant Demonstration Garden at Kiptopeke State Park designed and installed by the Eastern Shore Master Gardeners. Then on to Pickett’s Harbor Natural Area Preserve, one of nine such preserves on the Eastern Shore which are owned and managed by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.

Another interesting stop was Cherrystone Aqua Farms in Cheriton, which has been producing world-renowned clams and oysters for over 115 years. Our tour guide stressed how important clean water is to the success of their operations and the concerns they have about water quality which could have a devastating impact on the economy of the region. Next we visited with Bill Jardine, owner of Quail Cove Farm, which specializes in growing, selling and distributing natural and organic foods. For Bill, growing organic foods is much more than a way to make a living: it is his passion. He experiments with different types of crops and techniques, looking for the best way to grow nutritious foods while minimizing the use of agricultural chemicals. A tall man with an infectious smile, you could feel Bill’s energy rise as he surveyed his plantings and explained what was going on. He took great delight in sharing his knowledge and experiences with us and we enjoyed listening to what he had to say.

We visited a number of other sites to view the Onancock School Nature Trail and the permeable pavement in one of the town parking lots. The Mayor of Wachapreague, Fred Janci, gave us a tour of the town’s Seaside Park in which he rightfully takes great pride. The native plantings help attract pollinators and are welcoming to the town’s residents and visitors. While we were there, a monarch butterfly made an appearance as if to confirm what the Mayor had told us.

A living shoreline helps prevent erosion along Occohannock Creek on Virginia's eastern shore. Living shoreline projects can also help mitigate sea level rise and improve water quality.

My RC&D visit ended with a public meeting at the Eastern Shore Community College. About 70 people turned out to listen to presentations on best management practices (BMPs) for business from Shorekeeper Jay Ford and on native plants from Dot Field and Virginia Witmer, representing DCR and DEQ respectively, as well as Virginia Coastal Zone Management (CZM). I talked about the Chesapeake Bay watershed restoration effort and the importance of individual actions by land owners and residents who collectively can have a big impact on controlling pollution and helping the ecosystem recover.

The Eastern Shore of Virginia is a very special place. You only have to spend a short time there to understand that. Certainly, it faces challenges from sea level rise due to climate change, controlling development so the region can benefit economically without suffering environmentally, addressing the growth of poultry houses without sacrificing quality of life or degrading water quality. The people I met, who are collaborating on projects, understand how special this rural region is and how important it is to protect it. They are motivated, and they are making a difference. It was a beautiful thing to behold.


Note: The opinions expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect U.S. EPA policy endorsement or action.

Nick DiPasquale's avatar
About Nick DiPasquale - Nick has nearly 30 years of public policy and environmental management experience in both the public and private sectors. He previously served as Deputy Secretary in the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Director of the Environmental Management Center for the Brandywine Conservancy in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania and as Secretary of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

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