On Maryland’s Eastern Shore, pollution from development and agriculture are much-debated issues affecting the Chesapeake Bay's health. But one of the region's most destructive forces is unseen by many: a large, beaver-like rodent that digs out and feeds on the roots of marsh grasses.
Nutria are an invasive species that live in the Delmarva Peninsula's marshes and wetlands. Since their introduction in the 1940s, nutria have eaten through thousands of acres of marshland on the Eastern Shore. Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Dorchester County has been especially hard-hit: nutria have destroyed more than half of the marshes there -- nearly 7,000 acres.
Marshes and wetlands are important because they protect clean water by filtering out pollutants and reducing shoreline erosion. They also provide opportunities for outdoor nature activities such as paddling, hiking, hunting and bird-watching.
Additionally, wetland destruction by nutria costs Maryland’s economy $4 million per year in lost environmental services from the degradation of farmland, property, water quality, commercial fisheries and outdoor activities. Recent reports estimate that figure will increase to $30 million per year by 2050 if nutria are left unchecked.
To combat nutria’s destruction of valuable marshland, a group of federal, state and local organizations has come together to eradicate the invasive rodent from the Eastern Shore.
The Maryland Nutria Project began in the late 1990s as the Maryland Nutria Project Partnership, a group of 22 organizations that joined together to investigate the potential to eliminate nutria from Eastern Shore marshes. In 2000, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service received federal funding to develop a strategy to eradicate nutria in Maryland.
Today, the Maryland Nutria Project is one of a small handful of highly successful invasive species programs in the United States. Since its work began in 2002, the Project has removed nutria from almost 150,000 acres of wetlands in Caroline, Dorchester, Somerset, Talbot and Wicomico counties.
The Maryland Nutria Project’s trapping efforts were originally concentrated in a 95,000-acre “nutria eradication zone,” which included Blackwater, the state-owned Fishing Bay Wildlife Management Area, the privately owned Tudor Farms, and other nearby private lands.
“Except for monitoring activities, the Project is finished in the nutria eradication zone,” said Dan Murphy, program supervisor with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Chesapeake Bay Field Office. “We are continuing to expand out of Dorchester County into nutria-infested marshes in Caroline, Somerset, Talbot and Wicomico counties.
Marshes have shown a remarkable ability to recover once nutria are removed from an area. But without a continued effort to eradicate them, nutria will re-infest and once again destroy wetlands. The Project must expand its efforts into the remaining five southern Maryland Eastern Shore counties and the Delaware and Virginia portions of Delmarva -- a total of more than 400,000 acres of wetlands.
“The challenge ahead is for the Project to continue to expand into surrounding marshlands while preventing re-infestation of previously trapped habitats on state, federal and private lands,” Murphy said. “This will require the trapping team to work in much larger areas and expand the trapping zone on a much broader front.”
Based on current staffing, progress and field efforts, the Maryland Nutria Project estimates that it will eradicate nutria from the Eastern Shore by 2013. After that time, Project members will continue to monitor marshes and remove any nutria they find.
The Nutria Management Team, led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Chesapeake Bay Field Office, oversees the nutria eradication project. Other members of the Maryland Nutria Project include:
Learn more about nutria and the Maryland Nutria Partnership from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
A new wetlands restoration partnership in Maryland will bring corporations, government agencies and nonprofits together to help improve and restore the state’s aquatic wildlife habitats.
The Maryland Corporate Wetlands Restoration Partnership (CWRP) is an innovative, public-private initiative created to restore and create wetlands and oyster reefs, enhance fish passage, and control invasive species at sites throughout the state.
The Maryland CWRP is a chapter of the national CWRP, which began in Massachusetts and now includes chapters across the United States and the world.
So far, three corporations -- The Brick Companies, Constellation Energy and Biohabitats -- have signed on to the Maryland CWRP. In addition, nonprofits such as Ducks Unlimited, Maryland state agencies like the Department of the Environment and the Department of Natural Resources, and federal agencies such as the U.S. EPA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are joining in.
“It is essential that we work together with government agencies and non-government institutions to propagate new ideas and find innovative solutions,” said Paul Allen, senior vice president and chief environmental officer at Constellation Energy and vice-chair of the Maryland Corporate Wetlands Restoration Partnership. “That’s why this partnership is so important.”
Currently, Maryland CWRP has proposed seven restoration projects throughout the state, four of which are in the Bay watershed.
At Eastern Neck, the proposed project by Maryland CWRP would protect the shoreline around Hail Cove, which is eroding by 7 feet per year. Hail Cove is an important wintering area for black ducks and other migratory waterfowl, shielding them from prevailing winds as they roost and feed. In addition, reducing erosion would stop sediment from flowing to the Chester River and protect underwater bay grasses growing in Hail Cove.
The Maryland CWRP is looking for other corporations to join the partnership and new potential restoration projects, particularly involving oyster habitat restoration and projects in urban areas. For more information about CWRP, visit the partnership’s website at www.cwrp.org.
A new independent report released by the Bay Program's Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee shows the Bay ecosystem will be significantly impacted by climate change during the next century.
Climate Change and the Chesapeake Bay: State-of-the-Science Review and Recommendations details the potential consequences of global warming for the Bay over the next 100 years and explains the need to adapt restoration to account for the environmental changes.
The report outlines several consequences of anticipated climate changes, including:
"It is difficult to imagine any aspect of the Chesapeake Bay –- biological, chemical or physical –- that will be unaffected by climate change, particularly if society continues the current rate of greenhouse gas emissions,” said Dr. Raymond Najjar, associate professor of meteorology at Penn State University and an author of the report.
According to the report, the Bay’s functioning will be affected by:
Climate Change and the Chesapeake Bay was written by the Bay Program’s Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee (STAC), a group of prominent scientists and experts that provide guidance on restoring and protecting the Bay and its watershed.
To factor climate change into restoration efforts and natural resource management, STAC scientists have recommended the Bay Program partnership develop a climate change action plan.
The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) is adopting new regulations to help combat polluted stormwater runoff, the fastest-growing source of pollution to the Bay and its rivers.
The Stormwater Management Act of 2007 will require developers to use state-of-the-art Environmental Site Design practices wherever possible to control runoff and pollution from both new development and redevelopment. Environmental Site Design practices include a combination of:
In addition, local governments must adopt appropriate ordinances to ensure the new stormwater practices are implemented and enforced. Also, redevelopment projects will need to reduce at least 50 percent of an existing site’s impervious area.
“Cleaning up polluted stormwater runoff reduces threats to public health and improves our access to clean rivers, streams, and the coastal and Chesapeake Bays,” said MDE Director of Water Management Jay Sakai.
Stormwater that flows across roads, yards, farms, golf courses, parking lots and construction sites contributes a significant amount of pollution to the Bay. Seventeen percent of phosphorus, 11 percent of nitrogen and 9 percent of sediment loads to the Bay come from stormwater runoff.
Every time we drive our cars, fertilize our lawns, leave pet waste on the ground or forget to fix car leaks, we contribute to pollution in our local rivers, streams and the Bay. You can help reduce polluted runoff to the Bay and local rivers by: