The need for land and resources has led to fragmented and degraded habitats across the Chesapeake region, impacting the health of many species. But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the Bay Program’s Vital Habitats Goal Implementation Team are leading an effort to exemplify scalable, strategic habitat conservation in action across the Chesapeake landscape.
For the first time, our partners now have the regional context and scientific horsepower—through tools and information developed by the North Atlantic and Appalachian Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs); the Atlantic Coast, Appalachian Mountain and Black Duck Joint Ventures; and the Northeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (NEAFWA)—to identify and agree upon priority "surrogate" species. Surrogate species are animals and plants that can be used to represent the habitat needs of many other species using similar habitats throughout the watershed, and include the black bear, woodcock, black duck, saltmarsh sparrow and brook trout.
Together, we are determining the habitat needs of these surrogate species—what kind of habitat, how much, and where—to understand and plan for habitat changes due to climate change and development. Our aim will be to conserve enough of the right kinds of habitat throughout the Chesapeake landscape, in the right configurations, to sustain these surrogate species, and by extension all the other species whose needs they represent, at desired population levels.
FWS is helping to coordinate the contributions of established, successful conservation partnerships that impact the Chesapeake region, supporting the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement and Chesapeake Bay Executive Order. By aligning the ground-breaking science of LCCs, the organizing power of Joint Ventures and Fish Habitat Partnerships, and the capacity of NEAFWA and other non-governmental organizations to address our mutual priorities, we are bringing new leadership and resources to bear on the goals of the Executive Order and Watershed Agreement.
Conserving healthy habitats is essential to the long-term health of the ecosystem and the region’s quality of life. All of our work adds up to measurable gains for fish, wildlife and plants and the natural benefits they provide to people living in the Chesapeake watershed.
Written by Mike Slattery, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
With its rough shell, gray body and big ecological value, the eastern oyster is one of the most iconic species in the Chesapeake Bay. And for decades, protecting oyster populations has been part of the Chesapeake Bay Program’s work. But it was not until the signing of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement that our partners committed to what is known as a tributary-based restoration strategy, setting a goal to restore oyster reefs in ten Maryland and Virginia rivers by 2025 in order to foster the ecological services these reefs provide.
In Maryland, three tributaries—often referred to collectively as the Choptank Complex—have been selected for oyster reef restoration, which will take place where oyster harvest doesn’t occur. While the implementation of restoration treatments in Harris Creek was completed this September, work remains in two other waterways that flow into the Choptank. According to a December update from our Sustainable Fisheries Goal Implementation Team, 589 acres of oyster reefs are targeted for restoration in the Little Choptank and Tred Avon rivers. That’s an area bigger than the town of Oxford, Maryland, which is located between the two waterways.
But what does restoring reefs to a tributary entail? The process varies by state and even by waterway. While its overarching steps—from selecting a tributary and setting a target to tracking progress and monitoring oyster health—are often the same, a range of factors can impact the specific course of work. The availability of shell and other hard substrates (which are used to build reefs) and the availability of spat (which are planted on reefs) are of particular concern in a region where both resources are used for other work (including aquaculture and shellfish harvest).
Nevertheless, work is underway in the Little Choptank and Tred Avon. In the Little Choptank, which has a restoration target of 442 acres, 114 acres have been built and 35 have been seeded with spat to date. In the Tred Avon, which has a restoration target of 147 acres, 17 have been built and just over two and a half have been seeded to date. The next progress report from the Maryland Oyster Restoration Interagency Workgroup will be released in spring of 2016, and tributary teams in Virginia will continue their work in the Piankatank, Lafayette and Lynnhaven rivers. The two-year work plan detailing the steps that will be taken to restore reefs in Maryland and Virginia will be released in summer.
Update: On January 13, 2016, the Chesapeake Bay Journal reported that the state of Maryland has instituted a "brief pause" in its construction of oyster reefs in the Tred Avon River. Maryland Department of Natural Resources Secretary Mark J. Belton told the newspaper that the pause will be in place until the state completes an internal review of its oyster management policies, due in July.
Intersex small- and largemouth bass were found in waters near national wildlife refuges throughout the Northeast United States, according to a study from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). Of the fish tested, 85 percent of male smallmouth bass and 27 percent of male largemouth bass were intersex.
Intersex conditions—the presence of both male and female characteristics in an animal that should exhibit the characteristics of just one sex in its lifetime—occur when pesticides, pharmaceuticals or other chemicals disrupt the hormonal systems of an animal.
“It is not clear what the specific cause of intersex is in these fish,” said Luke Iwanowicz, a USGS research biologist and lead author of the paper, in a release. “Chemical analyses of fish or water samples at collection sites were not conducted, so we cannot attribute the observation of intersex to specific, known estrogenic endocrine-disrupting chemicals.”
Among the sites sampled were several locations in the Chesapeake Bay region, including near the Patuxent Research Refuge, Susquehanna National Wildlife Refuge and Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge.
This study comes just after the release of a separate report from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission identifying endocrine-disruptors, pathogens and parasites as the most likely causes for a decline of smallmouth bass in the Susquehanna River.
The USGS and FWS report, “Evidence of estrogenic endocrine disruption in smallmouth and largemouth bass inhabiting Northeast U.S. national wildlife refuge waters: A reconnaissance study,” is available online.
As the days shorten, the last of the leaves fall and temperatures start to drop, we often find ourselves spending more time huddled indoors than discovering the landscape. But the Chesapeake region still has plenty to offer in the winter months—whether you decide to brave the outdoors or explore from the warmth of your own home.
1. Watch for winter wildlife. Chilly temperatures may send many critters into hibernation, but there’s still plenty of activity outdoors—including some animals that are only found in the region during the winter months. Waterfowl like tundra swans are part of the approximately one million ducks, geese and swans that overwinter in the Chesapeake. Other critters like the shy Delmarva fox squirrel are active in the region year-round. Plan a wildlife hike or bird walk through one of the many parks in the region and see how many critters you can spot!
2. Take a hike. Many of the area’s parks are open year-round—and with fewer crowds in the winter months, you might have these picturesque views all to yourself. If there’s snow on the ground, activities like cross-country skiing and snowshoeing can help you glide through the still, snow-covered landscape.
3. Go ice fishing. Below-freezing temperatures might only last for a few weeks in some parts of the watershed, but their arrival means a tradition beloved by some and puzzling to others: ice-fishing. While this activity takes plenty of patience and lots of warm clothing, enthusiasts can be rewarded with catch like yellow perch, bluegill and even the occasional walleye.
4. Visit a museum. Can't convince yourself to brave the cold? That shouldn’t stop you from learning more about the Bay! The watershed is full of museums where you can learn more about all aspects of the watershed. The Great Valley Nature Center in Devault, Pennsylvania; the Virginia Living Museum in Newport News; and the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum are just a few of the places where you can learn about the Bay and its rivers, wildlife and history.
5. Snuggle up with a book. On those days when the wind and snow is too much to bear, you can stay indoors and learn about the Chesapeake while curled up on your favorite chair. From the travels of Captain John Smith to the life of a waterman, our suggested reading list offers dozens of options for books that will let you explore the Chesapeake from your own home.
6. Take a virtual tour. Winter weather can often make it difficult or dangerous to get on the water. But with virtual tours of the region’s waterways, you can explore the beauty of the watershed on your computer or smartphone! The Chesapeake Conservancy offers several virtual tours—including the Susquehanna River, Nanticoke River and Mallows Bay—to connect you with these waterways and help you plan for your visit when warmer weather arrives.
Do you have a favorite way to enjoy the Bay in the winter? Let us know in the comments!