The federal agencies leading the watershed-wide effort to restore the Chesapeake Bay have released a progress report highlighting the work that was completed last year.
Federal agencies and state and local partners have added 20 new monitoring stations to the Bay and its tributaries, expanding their ability to track changes in water quality and pollution. They have established conservation practices across Bay farms and forests, installing streamside fencing to keep livestock out of waterways and planting cover crops to reduce the need for nutrient-laden fertilizers. And they have planted close to 100 acres of oyster reefs in a Maryland tributary and opened more than 30 miles of Virginia and Pennsylvania streams to eels, shad and other diadromous fish, restoring habitat for some of the watershed’s most critical critters.
But much remains to be done, and the Federal Leadership Committee for the Chesapeake Bay has outlined future work in a 2013 action plan.
“EPA and our other federal partners are pleased to report the tangible progress we’ve made over the past year, which will inform, guide and accelerate our collective actions going forward,” said EPA’s Nick DiPasquale, Chesapeake Bay Program Director. “The federal agencies and our partner jurisdictions are accountable to the citizens living near the local rivers and streams that also stand to benefit from this critical restoration work. Through our commitments, the prospects for increased momentum and improvements to the Bay’s health should be encouraging to everyone.
Harris Creek is a tributary of the Choptank River. Located on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, the waterway has been thrust into the spotlight as the first target of the oyster restoration goals set forth in the Chesapeake Bay Executive Order: to restore oyster populations in 20 Bay tributaries by 2025. Existing reefs will be studied, bars will be built, larvae will be raised and spat-on-shell will be planted in this federally mandated attempt to boost populations of the native bivalve.
Already home to productive and protected oyster reefs, Harris Creek’s good water quality and moderate salinity should allow for high rates of reproduction and low rates of disease—both critical factors in ensuring oyster survival. Indeed, natural “spat set,” or the settling of wild oysters on reefs, was observed in Harris Creek last year, and continued natural spat set could reduce the number of hatchery-raised oysters that are needed to complete the restoration plan.
Over the past two centuries, oyster populations across the Bay have experienced a dramatic decline. Habitat loss, disease and historic over-harvesting have taken their toll, and populations now stand at less than one percent of historic levels. But as filters of water and builders of reef habitat, oysters are critical to the health of the Bay.
As of December 2012, reef construction and seeding for more than a quarter of Harris Creek’s 377 targeted acres were complete, and partners project that more than half of the construction and seeding for the rest of the creek’s reefs will be complete by the fall of 2013.
But it will take a lot for a reef and a tributary to be deemed “restored.” Partners will look not just for the presence of oysters, but for the expansion of oyster populations in the years following restoration efforts. The goal is an ambitious one, but many believe the Harris Creek project will serve as a model for the restoration of other tributaries in support of the Executive Order goal.
Video produced by Steve Droter.
This winter saw an increase in waterfowl along Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay shoreline and Atlantic coast.
While pilots and biologists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) counted fewer diving and dabbling ducks this winter than they did in the 2012 Midwinter Waterfowl Survey, these same crews counted more geese.
According to a DNR news release, both Canada geese and snow geese were “noticeably more abundant during this year’s survey,” with crews counting 462,000 Canada geese—a three-year high—and 83,300 snow geese—a five-year high. Biologists have attributed the boost in goose numbers to two factors: last spring’s successful nesting season and December snow cover in New York and southern Canada, which encouraged geese to migrate into the Bay region right before the survey was taken.
While more geese could mean more damage to area farms—as the birds forage on green cover crops and grain crops—most farmers “have learned to deal with the problem,” said Larry Hindman, wildlife biologist and Waterfowl Project Leader with DNR. Fluttering plastic flags, bald eagle effigies placed in the middle of fields and the loud bang of a rifle or shotgun have all proven effective at deterring persistent geese, Hindman said, and those farmers who need extra help can find assistance and advice in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Damage Management program.
Resident Canada geese can pose a problem for rural, suburban and urban residents alike, and are considered overabundant in the region. While the birds do provide hunters with a chance for recreation, resident geese can overgraze wetlands and lawns and leave their droppings to pollute local rivers and streams. While the Midwinter Waterfowl Survey does not make a distinction between resident and migratory geese—as both stocks look the same during an aerial survey—DNR researchers do monitor the resident population using leg bands recovered from hunters.
The Midwinter Waterfowl Survey is used as an index of long-term wintering waterfowl trends. The estimates measure waterfowl populations along the Atlantic Flyway, which is a bird migration route that follows North America’s Atlantic Coast and Appalachian Mountains.
Read the full waterfowl survey results on the DNR website.
Fencing off a stream from livestock, planting trees along a soon-to-be-shaded river or creating marshland to provide habitat to fish, frogs and birds: restoration projects such as these would not be possible without the hundreds of watershed groups working across the Chesapeake Bay region, or the networking needed to connect restoration partners with their peers.
Each year, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF)—which supports Bay restoration with grants offered through the Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund—gives restoration partners a break from their intensive on-the-ground work with the Chesapeake Bay Agricultural Networking Forum. Last week, this forum brought more than 100 grantees together in Staunton, Va., to discuss restoration successes, challenges and solutions to common problems, networking with each other and forming invaluable partnerships.
“Our grantees really are the front lines of the Bay restoration effort,” said Amanda Bassow, NFWF Director of Chesapeake Programs. “We need to arm them with all the knowledge, resources and experience we can. These are the people who are accelerating progress, engaging new partners and new landowners, and continually figuring out new ways to get the job done.”
The forum began with a rapid-fire update from grantees working on close to a dozen projects, ranging from forest buffer plantings to the engagement of so-called "absentee landowners”—or those landowners who do not work their own farmland—in conservation. Field trips in and around Staunton gave participants a hands-on look at areas in which progress is underway. On the Merrifield and Ford farms, for instance, located in the Poague Run watershed, landowners have restored stream banks, protected streamside forests and excluded livestock from sensitive waterways.
“Grantees tell me they love the forum because they get re-energized about their work,” Bassow said. “It’s a community of doers, not finger pointers, and when you get them all in a room together, it’s a powerful thing to see.”
Chesapeake Bay Program Director Nick DiPasquale moderated a session at the forum, and found the event to be a meaningful one.
“For farmers and farm service providers, conservation district staff, government officials, funders and non-governmental organizations, this was a great exchange of ideas and approaches on implementing effective and innovative agricultural best management practices,” DiPasquale said. “This forum should help the community save money, clean up local waterways and keep farmers farming while using creative ways to manage nutrients on their land.”
Read more about the NFWF and the Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund.