Imagine seeing a video of a frog in the Amazon that was believed to be extinct until she was caught on this tape. You see her, abdomen full of eggs, struggle to get to water to lay her eggs.What a find! How exciting for that scientist behind the camera! Then you are told that she was ill, died soon after the video was taken, and no other frogs of her species have been found since. She is currently in a jar in the Smithsonian. Just an instant after you expect to hear a success story, you realize that you have just watched a species go extinct from the planet. That happened to me last week, and this little frog tugged at my heart like no amphibian before.
I had the pleasure of attending the 9th National Conference on Science, Policy, and the Environment held by the National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE) at the Reagan Building in Washington, D.C. on December 8-10. This year’s conference topic was “Biodiversity in a Rapidly Changing World,” during which, among other activities, I watched the frog go extinct.
So why tell the sad story? As species go extinct worldwide, we are losing biodiversity as well. Biodiversity is lengthily defined as “the variability among living organisms from all sources … and the ecological complexes of which they are a part; this includes diversity within species, between species, and of ecosystems.” Without all the words, a place that has good biodiversity has many different species all living in a small area. A coral reef is probably the most vivid example, with its multitudes of coral, anemones, and fish. An environment with very little biodiversity may be as bleak as a cornfield, all dominated by the same species with a few others thrown in. Biodiversity is often used as a measure of ecosystem health. As biodiversity decreases, the ecosystem’s health and stability decreases as well.
The three-day conference focused on ways to preserve biodiversity worldwide. Topics covered policy and legislation, scientific research gaps, and communication to the public. Speakers who made their case for making changes and saving biodiversity included the director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and a Pulitzer Prize-winning author! Each day after the speakers, various breakout sessions were offered to give each participant an individual experience. I could write pages on what I learned in those discussions, and I have a stack of literature on my desk that I still need to read!
In addition to new things, I heard several familiar themes: less pollution, more preserved land, better land use, teach the public how to be more environmentally responsible, and so on. Some of these are ideas we focus on here at the Bay Program. Since this conference had a global focus, we must not be so far off base in our ideas of how to save our Bay. I hope that one day the world, and the Bay, will resemble the thriving systems they once were, in part because this conference had something good to say.
On Tuesday, Rep. Rob Wittman from Virginia presented at the quarterly Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee meeting about his bill, the Chesapeake Bay Accountability and Recovery Act. Check out a clip from his presentation here:
After the meeting he visited the Bay Program office to hear some presentations and meet some of our staff. We thank Rep. Wittman for his visit!
A partnership between the James River Association, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Corporate Wetlands Restoration Partnership and several other organizations has protected from erosion more than 500 acres of tidal freshwater marsh on Herring Creek in Charles City County, Virginia.
The newly protected marsh, known as Ducking Stool Point, is a spit of land located at the confluence of Herring Creek and the James River. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ducking Stool Point provides important habitat for waterfowl, bald eagles, largemouth bass and a number of other birds and fish.
To protect the marsh from further erosion, the partnership installed an 1,825-foot-long structure of sloping stone between the marsh and the James River. Stabilizing Ducking Stool Point will help protect stream habitat for migratory and residential fish species, many of which are recreationally valuable to area residents. The project also protects bald eagles and other wildlife that nest and roost in the area.
The project was completed in November and unveiled at a ceremony this month.
Visit the James River Association’s website for more information about the Ducking Stool Point project.
In early October the search was on for a site in the Bay watershed for the November 18 Bay Program Forestry Workgroup meeting. Educational workgroup meetings are good because members can get out of their offices and visit the fields and forests of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. After a few calls, the Virginia Tech Mare Equine Center in Middleburg, Virginia, separated itself from other choices. It was a perfect location for the forestry workgroup meeting because it has a 23-acre riparian forest buffer, and forest buffers would be the focus of the meeting.
Riparian forest buffers are a topic near and dear to my everyday life. People often tell me I live in “buffer land” because my job is very specific to that area of forestry. I really am very interested in watersheds as holistic ecosystems and think of forest buffers as the integral link between what happens on the land and how those actions are reflected in the water quality of streams and rivers.
Along with other Bay goals, the riparian forest buffer goal will fall short of the 10,000-mile commitment made for the 2010 deadline. The number of riparian buffer miles achieved annually has dropped off from 1,122 miles in 2002 to 385 miles in 2007. Since Forestry Workgroup members represent state forestry agencies, NGOs, and other groups interested in Bay forests, they are the logical group to come up with ways to address barriers that stand in the way of achieving state riparian forest buffer commitments. We spent the afternoon of the Forestry Workgroup meeting discussing the barriers to riparian forest buffer plantings and ways to eliminate those barriers.
The Forestry Workgroup meeting also featured two presentations on new riparian forest buffer tools intended for use by local governments, watershed groups, and local foresters. The first presentation, given by Fred Irani from the U.S. Geological Survey team at the Bay Program office, was about the RB Mapper, a new tool developed for assessing riparian forest buffers along shorelines and streambanks. The other presentation, given by Rob Feldt from Maryland DNR, was about a tool for targeting the placement of riparian forest buffers for more effective nutrient removal. (You can read all of the briefing papers and materials from the Forestry Workgroup meeting at the Bay Program’s website.)
After all the business, it was time to experience the Mare Center, their streamside forest buffer and the rolling hills of Virginia. A tractor and wagon provided transportation to the pasture to see the buffer, which was planted in 2000 with 2,500 tree seedlings. It was a cold and windy day, and there were actually snowflakes in the air. We had planned to ride the wagon out and walk back, however, with a little bit of a bribe, the wagon driver waited while we checked out the forest buffer for survival, growth, and general effectiveness for stream protection.
The Forestry Workgroup meeting was productive, educational, and enjoyable. How often can we say that about group meetings? Sometimes it is worth the extra effort to provide a meeting place with an outdoor component that conveys the endeavors that the Bay Program workgroups are all about.