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Chesapeake Bay News


By the Numbers: $10.7 billion

Less than 15 years ago, an exotic green beetle was discovered in southeastern Michigan. In the years that followed, the metallic insect that is no more than half an inch long spread into 24 more states—including five in the Chesapeake Bay watershed—and now threaten millions of native ash trees that fall sick and die when the insect’s larvae feed on the tissue underneath their bark.

Adult emerald ash borers feed on the leaves of ash trees, but it is the larvae that do the most damage: as they feed on a tree’s nutrient-rich inner bark, they disrupt the tree’s ability to transport food and water from its roots to its leaves. Image by Macroscopic Solutions/Flickr.

The emerald ash borer likely arrived in the United States on wood packing material carried on airplanes or cargo ships from its native China. While the insects can fly at least half a mile from where they emerge as adults, it is the movement of larvae-laden wood that is thought to be the cause of many emerald ash borer infestations. As a result, the shipment of ash trees and logs is regulated, and transporting firewood outside of quarantined areas is illegal. 

Such precautions are necessary because of the impact the emerald ash borer can have on forests. As larvae feed on the nutrient-rich inner bark of ash trees, they disrupt the trees’ ability to move food and water from its roots to its leaves. Once a tree is infested with emerald ash borer larvae, one-third to one-half of its branches may die within a year. Most of its canopy may be dead within two years, with the entire tree dead in three to four.

When emerald ash borer larvae emerge as adults, they leave D-shaped exit holes in the bark of trees that can be hard to spot. Image by annahesser/Flickr.

Ash trees can be found in almost all parts of the United States. All North American ash trees are susceptible to infestation, which means countless forests are susceptible to the loss of a species that supports the ecosystem’s protection of clean air, water and wildlife habitat. While native trees could fill the gaps left by dead ash, invasive plants could also spread in response to new light levels. Even the makeup of the surrounding soil may change, as ash trees are “dynamic accumulators” that gather calcium from the soil around them.

To slow the spread of the invasive emerald ash borer, follow regulatory guidelines for moving ash trees, logs and firewood and report potential infestations to your local Cooperative Extension Service office. Image by waitscm/Flickr.

The economic impacts of the emerald ash borer are significant. First, there are costs to losing trees. The U.S. Forest Service estimates the eight billion ash trees on U.S. timberlands to be valued at $282.25 billion. Then, there are costs to mitigating the damage the insect has done. The Forest Service has predicted that an expanding infestation through 2019 will warrant the treatment, removal and replacement of more than 17 million ash trees, with an estimated price tag of $10.7 billion.

But the Forest Service has also explored an impressive number of emerald ash borer control and management methods. Experts have searched for effective predators, parasitoids and pathogens that could act as biological controls, evaluated the efficacy of insecticides injected into trunks of infested trees and explored the development of genetic hybrids that would integrate the resistance of Asian ash tree species into those native to North America. Experts have also conducted research into ridding trees of larvae by submerging infested logs under water, treating infested logs with chemicals and removing the bark of infested logs that could otherwise be sent to sawmills and manufacturing plants to be used for lumber, railroad ties and other value-added products.

In light of the extensive research that has been done in the years since the emerald ash borer was first found in the United States, the most important thing for individuals to remember is to follow regulatory guidelines for moving ash trees, logs and firewood and to report potential infestations to your local Cooperative Extension Service office. According to the Forest Service, making a large investment in understanding and controlling the spread of this invasive insect now could slow the expansion and postpone the ultimate costs of the emerald ash borer.

Learn more about the emerald ash borer in the United States and the health of forests in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Catherine Krikstan's avatar
About Catherine Krikstan - Catherine Krikstan is a web writer at the Chesapeake Bay Program. She began writing about the watershed as a reporter in Annapolis, Md., where she covered algae blooms and climate change and interviewed hog farmers and watermen. She lives in Washington, D.C.


Final Chesapeake Bay interpretive buoy back on the water for spring

The official start of spring may have already passed, but one of the unofficial signs of the season arrived when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) redeployed its final Chesapeake Bay Interpretive Buoy System (CBIBS) buoy today. All ten buoys—located along the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail—are now collecting and transmitting real-time data about conditions in the Chesapeake Bay.

One of ten Chesapeake Bay Interpretive Buoy System (CBIBS) buoys floats after being deployed near Annapolis, Md., on March 23, 2016. (Photo courtesy Nikiforos Delatolas)

CBIBS buoys offer valuable information to sailors, kayakers and others looking for information on wind speed, currents, wave heights and local conditions before heading out on the water. In addition to water and weather conditions, the buoy data provides a snapshot into what is happening in and around the Bay, including information on water temperature, salinity and dissolved oxygen.

The crew of a coast guard vessel prepares to lower a buoy into the mouth of the Patapsco River on March 23. Technicians contracted by NOAA connect multiple sensors once the buoys are in the water. (Photo courtesy Nikiforos Delatolas)

To learn more about the buoys and the technicians that support them, watch our From the Field video:

All of the data collected by the CBIBS buoys is free to the public and can be accessed online, by phone at (877) 286-9229 and via a mobile app.


Five remarkable women with ties to the Chesapeake region

From authors to world leaders, inventors to entrepreneurs, the Chesapeake region has been home to some pretty remarkable people. Men such as George Washington, Thurgood Marshall and Edgar Allan Poe are well known for being from the region—but for Women’s History Month, we wanted to celebrate a few of the historic women who have lived and worked in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

1. Harriet Tubman (1822 – March 10, 1913)

(Image from U.S. Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons)

Harriet Tubman, the most famous “conductor” of the Underground Railroad, was born in 1822 in Dorchester County, Maryland. Born into slavery, she escaped to Philadelphia in 1849. Tubman eventually set up a home in Auburn, New York, but returned Maryland not once but 13 times to free family, friends and other slaves, earning her the moniker “Moses.”

During the Civil War, Tubman served as cook, scout, spy and nurse to black Union soldiers. In June of 1863, she guided Colonel James Montgomery and his Second South Carolina regiment, becoming the first woman to command an armed military raid. They destroyed several important Confederate sites and freed over seven hundred slaves. After the war, Tubman returned to Auburn and continued her career as an activist, humanitarian and suffragist. In 1903, she opened the Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged, where she later died in 1913.

2. Euphemia Lofton Haynes (September 11, 1890 – July 25, 1980)

Euphemia Lofton Haynes was a lifelong educator and the first black woman to receive a Ph.D. in mathematics. Born into a prominent family in Washington, D.C., Haynes received her bachelor’s degree from Smith College in 1914. She then began what would turn into a 47-year teaching career, which included elementary, high school and college classes.

In 1930, after receiving her master’s from the University of Chicago, Haynes began teaching at Miner Teachers College (later the University of the District of Columbia), a school dedicated to training African American teachers. She founded the college’s mathematics department and remained its head until she retired. In 1943, she earned her Ph.D. in mathematics from the Catholic University of America, becoming the first black woman to do so. Haynes was appointed to the D.C. Board of Education in 1960 and spent her eight years there fighting racial segregation.

3. Rachel Carson (May 27, 1907 – April 14, 1964)

(Image from U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr)

Rachel Carson is famous for Silent Spring, her groundbreaking book outlining the dangers of pesticides. After receiving her bachelor’s in biology from the Pennsylvania College for Women (now Chatham College) and her master’s in zoology from Johns Hopkins University, Carson went on to work first as a professor at the University of Maryland and then as an aquatic biologist at the Bureau of Fisheries (now the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service).

Writing was always an important part of Carson’s work, and she found early success when she began publishing her own work. Her first three books, released between 1941 and 1955, were all well-received. The third, The Edge of the Sea, became a best seller, won many awards and allowed Carson to retire from the Bureau of Fisheries to concentrate on researching pesticides.

The resulting 1962 book was the wildly successful—and controversial—Silent Spring. In it, Carson describes the effects of large-scale pesticide use, particularly DDT. While Carson never called for an outright ban of pesticides, the book caused a firestorm nonetheless. President John F. Kennedy established a committee to investigate pesticides, and Carson was asked to testify before a Congressional committee in 1963. She died a year later, but is remembered by many as someone who ignited the environmental movement.

4. Frances Payne Bolton (March 29, 1885 – March 9, 1977)

Frances Payne Bolton stands at Mount Vernon in 1972. (Image from Cleveland Press/Cleveland Historical)

Frances Payne Bolton had a lasting impact on the Chesapeake Bay as the founder of the Accokeek Foundation. Born into a wealthy Ohio family, she attended schools in Cleveland, Ohio, New York and France. It was after her husband Charles’ death in 1940 that Bolton’s political career began, when she was appointed to serve out his term as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Bolton was heavily involved in issues of healthcare and foreign policy, becoming the first woman delegate to the United Nations. She continued to serve in the House until she was defeated for reelection in 1968.

Outside of politics, Bolton was involved in philanthropic work and was particularly fond of Mount Vernon. It was her love of the estate that led her to buy a 500-acre farm in 1955 just across the Potomac River, in order to prevent development that would spoil the view from Mount Vernon. Bolton then founded a land trust, the Accokeek Foundation, in order to preserve and protect the land forever. She served as the foundation’s president until her death in 1977.

5. Vera Rubin (July 23, 1928 – present)

Vera Rubin, second from left, at the NASA Women in Astronomy and Space Science 2009 Conference. (Image from NASA/Wikimedia Commons)

Vera Rubin is a trailblazing astronomer who first proved the existence of dark matter. Although born in Philadelphia, her family moved to Washington, D.C., when she was young, and it was there that her fascination with stars flourished. She attended amateur astronomy meetings and, with her father’s help, built a telescope when she was only 14. In 1948, Rubin graduated from Vassar College as the only astronomy major. Rejected by Princeton because of her gender, she received her master’s degree from Cornell, then returned to D.C. to complete her Ph.D. at Georgetown. From there, Rubin taught at Montgomery County Junior College in Maryland, then worked at Georgetown as a research assistant and later as assistant professor. In 1965, Rubin joined the staff of the Carnegie Institution in Washington, D.C., where she remains today.

In the 1970s, Rubin began researching galactic movement and found that stars on the edges of galaxies moved just as quickly as those in the center. This was unexpected, because from what she could see, there was not enough gravitational pull to keep fast-moving outer stars in orbit. Rubin’s calculations showed that galaxies must contain invisible dark matter that keeps those outer stars in orbit. In recognition of her accomplishments, Rubin was elected to the National Academy of Sciences and in 1993 received the National Medal of Science, the highest American award in science. Being all-too familiar with the challenges women face in the sciences, Rubin makes it a point to be a mentor to other women, saying once that “it is well known that I am available 24 hours a day to women astronomers.”


What other remarkable women have ties to the Chesapeake? Let us know in the comments.

Joan Smedinghoff's avatar
About Joan Smedinghoff - Joan is the Communications Office Staffer at the Chesapeake Bay Program. Originally from Chicago, she was introduced to the Chesapeake Bay region through the streams of central Pennsylvania. She received her Bachelor's in Environmental Studies at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., where she first discovered her passion for storytelling.


Maple syrup may face not-so-sweet future in Bay region

Visitors gather for a demonstration during the 46th Annual Maple Syrup Festival at Cunningham Falls State Park in Thurmont, Md., on March 20, 2016. The region's maple syrup industry might suffer as climate change pushes the range of maple-beech-birch forests northward.

It’s a cold, overcast day in Mid-March, and dozens of onlookers are huddled around a wooden shelter, watching steam billow off the top of a cast-iron pot. The gathering is part of the 46th Annual Maple Syrup Festival, held at Maryland’s Cunningham Falls State Park, and a curious audience is listening to Maryland Park Ranger Jeremiah Corbin describe how the sweet sap produced by sugar maple trees is boiled into pure maple syrup.

Each year, volunteers and attendees at the festival celebrate all things maple syrup. Visitors can partake in a pancake breakfast, sample maple candies and creams, and watch a demonstration of the syrup-making process, from techniques used hundreds of years ago to current tree-tapping technologies.

Maryland Park Ranger Jeremiah Corbin describes the modern method of using plastic tubing to collect maple sap. "We focus on quality, not quantity," said Corbin, noting that Maryland’s maple syrup output ranks 13th in the country.

When it comes to maple syrup production, Maryland isn’t first on the list—in fact, the state ranks near the bottom of U.S. syrup production (Vermont, of course, is number one). Of the Chesapeake Bay watershed’s six states, New York ranks highest, accounting for more than 15 percent of U.S. production. Pennsylvania typically accounts for around five percent, while Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia may produce a few thousand gallons of maple syrup a year. But much of the region falls along the southern edge of maple syrup production, meaning these may be some of the first areas to experience how a changing climate affects this cultural and economic tradition.

Late-winter temperatures—warm, sunny days followed by cool nights—are crucial to start the flow of the sugar maple’s watery, slightly-sweet sap. But temperatures across the globe have been steadily rising, with 2015 the warmest year on record, and these warmer temperatures could affect the habitat and health of trees like the sugar maple.

Maryland-made maple syrup is offered at the Annual Maple Syrup Festival.

As temperatures warm, certain areas may no longer be suitable habitat for tree species that are common today, including the sugar maple. The Maryland Climate Action Plan suggests maple-beech-birch forests are likely to fade northward and be replaced by species currently found south of the state. Even low-range predictions from the U.S. Forest Service’s Climate Change Atlas suggest suitable habitat for sugar maples will retreat to the northern reaches of the watershed over the next 100 years.

According to scientists with the Acer Climate and Socio-Ecological Research Network, or ACERnet, the potential effects of climate change on maple syrup production could include not only the amount of trees available to tap, but also the health of those trees, the tapping season and the quality of sap. If suitable sugar maple habitat shifts northward, climate-stressed trees left in the area may become more susceptible to threats like pests and disease. And although syrup producers have already seen tapping seasons starting earlier and becoming more unpredictable, more research is needed on whether climate change will affect the sweetness of the sap.

Wooden and metal stiles, or spouts, show how maple sugaring technology has changed since Native Americans first used cutting methods to collect maple sap.

Still, there’s no need to bid farewell to locally-made syrup just yet. By adapting to a changing tapping season, producers in northern states may be able to continue collecting sap. And advanced technologies like vacuum tubing systems may help those in southern ranges continue production, at least for a little while. Either way, the maple syrup festivals of the next century may look quite different from the ones we’re used to today.

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


Text by Stephanie Smith
Images and captions 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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