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Chesapeake Bay News

May
24
2017

Five endangered species that live in the Chesapeake Bay region

Since 1973, the Endangered Species Act has served as a way to protect plants and animals that are in danger of becoming extinct. More than 2,300 species are listed as endangered or threatened on the Endangered Species List, several of which depend on the unique habitats found in the Chesapeake Bay region to survive. In honor of Endangered Species Month, we’re highlighting a few of the local critters currently listed as endangered.

Image by Shenandoah National Park/Flickr

Shenandoah Salamander
This small, woodland amphibian is known to inhabit just three mountains, all of which—as evidenced by the salamander’s name—lie within the boundaries of Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Once more widely distributed, competition with redback salamanders has confined the Shenandoah salamander to the steep, rocky, north-facing slopes of Hawksbill Mountain, The Pinnacles and Stony Man Mountain. The species’ small range and limited habitat led it to be federally listed as endangered in 1987. Experts are working to monitor the abundance of Shenandoah salamanders, minimize the effects park activities have on the amphibians and understand the potential impacts of warming temperatures on this high-elevation species.

Illustration by Dave Neely/Wikimedia Commons

Maryland Darter
Originally discovered in 1912, the Maryland darter has only ever been recorded in three streams in Harford County, Maryland: Swan Creek, Deer Creek and Gashey’s Run. The species’ scarcity led it to be federally listed as endangered in 1967. Through the late 1980s, the darter continued to be sighted in Deer Creek at irregular intervals, but the last recorded sighting of the Maryland darter was in 1988. Rapid development is thought to have degraded local water quality, decreasing the amount of habitat suitable for darters, which are dependent on clean, well-oxygenated, swiftly-flowing streams. Despite fears that the Maryland darter may be extinct, scientists have continued to search for the fish, although none have been found so far.

Image by Larisa Bishop-Boros/Flickr

Virginia Big-Eared Bat
Named for their distinctive ears, Virginia big-eared bats are found in small populations in Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and Kentucky. Beginning in the early 1950s, the number of Virginia big-eared bats began to drop dramatically, falling to an estimated 3,500 bats when the species was federally listed as endangered in 1979. Their decline has been primarily attributed to human disturbance; however, protection of cave roosts has helped big-eared bat numbers to increase. Today, the total population is estimated at around 20,000 bats. However, white nose syndrome—a disease estimated to have killed nearly six million bats since 2007—poses an emerging threat: in 2010, cases of white nose syndrome were found in West Virginia’s Hellhole Cave, which is home to almost half of all Virginia big-eared bats.

Image by Ethan Nedeau/Flickr

Dwarf Wedge Mussel
This small freshwater mussel lives along the bottoms of rivers and creeks ranging from New Hampshire to North Carolina. To survive, dwarf wedge mussels rely on healthy freshwater streams: minimal sediment, a stable stream bed and plenty of dissolved oxygen. However, rapid land development has led to degraded water quality in areas where the mussels live, causing populations to decline. Dwarf wedge mussels also rely on just a handful of host fish species for dispersal, which has limited their ability to relocate to healthier waterways. In 1990, the species was federally listed as endangered. Scientists continue to monitor populations of the mussels and their changing habitat conditions to aid in the species’ recovery.

Image by jack perks/Shutterstock

Sturgeon
Both the Atlantic sturgeon and the smaller shortnose sturgeon are native to the Chesapeake Bay, and both are federally listed as endangered species. Experts estimate these prehistoric fish have existed for more than 120 million years and have lived in the Bay region for at least 70 million years. Once an abundant source of food for local residents, harvest pressures, barriers to migration and poor water quality caused this sensitive species to become increasingly more rare. In recent years, however, researchers have observed more of the elusive fish in the Bay and are working to boost their knowledge of sturgeon behavior and habitat needs.

 

Despite the uncertain future that faces these and other endangered species, much work has been done to aid in the recovery of plants and animals on the Endangered Species List. The iconic bald eagle, for instance, recovered enough to be removed from the federal list of endangered species in 2007, and the reclusive Delmarva fox squirrel was removed from the list in 2015. Scientists and experts continue to work toward protecting and supporting these irreplaceable species.

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.



May
19
2017

Fish, boat and enjoy the water at four new public access sites

As the weather warms, people across the region are getting out on the water, taking to boat ramps, fishing piers and other sites to fish, swim, paddle and more. Last year, our partners opened dozens of new public access sites as part of their goal to create more opportunities to put people in touch with the rivers, streams and open spaces that surround the Chesapeake Bay. Below, take a closer look at just a few of these new sites that you can enjoy.

1. Sleepy Hole Park in Suffolk, Virginia
On the outskirts of Suffolk, Virginia, sits Sleepy Hole Park, a 66-acre natural area that runs alongside the Nansemond River, a tributary of the James River. Visitors can walk along a nature trail that passes by a 30-acre freshwater lake before looping along the shore of the Nansemond. Last year, the City of Suffolk worked with the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Land and Water Conservation Fund to open a 371-foot-long pier, complete with a fishing platform and floating canoe and kayak launch. The pier offers the first direct public access to the 20-mile-long Nansemond River since the closure of a previous boat ramp in downtown Suffolk several years ago.

2. Fort Hunter Park in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania
Located just outside of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Fort Hunter Park is home to a historical mansion and settlement that includes buildings dating back to the early 1800s. The more than 40-acre park runs alongside the Susquehanna River and offers open fields, wooded areas and a riverside trail where visitors can take a nature walk, bird watch or simply enjoy the outdoors. In 2016, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission partnered with the National Park Service to provide access to the river at sites along the Susquehanna and on nearby Fishing Creek. The sites provide accessible canoe and kayak launch areas as well as opportunities for fishing and wildlife viewing.

3. Fort Smallwood Park in Pasadena, Maryland
For years, the only public boat ramps in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, were at Sandy Point State Park, near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, and Truxton Park in Annapolis. Last year, a third ramp was added, one of the largest boat ramps in the state and the first public boat ramp owned by the county. The ramp, located at Fort Smallwood Park in Pasadena, offers access to the Patapsco River and joins the park’s other amenities, which include a 380-foot fishing pear, walking trails and beaches. Fort Smallwood Park also opened for public swimming last year—only the second public beach in the county that allows swimming—although visitors should be aware no lifeguards are assigned to the beach.

4. Keyser in Mineral County, West Virginia
Nestled among the mountains of West Virginia’s Potomac Highlands is Keyser, a small town bordered by the North Branch of the Potomac River and just across the water from Maryland. Straight through the middle of town runs U.S. Route 220, and below the Memorial Bridge where the highway passes over the river is a new launch for canoers and kayakers to access the water. Traveling the region by boat offers impressive scenery, with towering cliffs and abundant wildlife. For those who prefer to stay on shore, the Keyser site also provides fishing access in an area that boasts some of the best smallmouth bass fishing in the Potomac.


Where is your favorite place to boat, swim or fish? Let us know in the comments! And make sure to visit the hundreds of new and existing public access sites to enjoy all the Bay and its rivers have to offer.

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

Photos by Will Parson, Ft. Smallwood photo courtesy Karin Dodge/Maryland Department of Natural Resources

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.



May
16
2017

Rockfish return to find a changing Chesapeake region

Each spring, as waters warm along the Atlantic coast and in the Chesapeake Bay, striped bass begin to migrate. Otherwise known as rockfish or stripers, striped bass are anadromous: they spend most of their adult lives in the ocean but travel back to the freshwater where they were born to spawn. As the fish make their return to the rivers of Maryland and Virginia, recreational fisherman celebrate with striped bass trophy season, hoping to catch and release the largest fish and spending time on the water with a tradition that spans generations.

Watermen Owen Clark, left, and Ashley Elbourn of Rock Hall, Md., catch striped bass with a roughly 1500-foot gill net for the spawning stock survey led by Maryland Department of Natural Resources in the northern Chesapeake Bay near Aberdeen Proving Ground last month. Surveys help inform fishery management decisions, track population size and measure spawning success. (Photo by Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program)

Rockfish have served as one of the most popular commercial and recreational fish in the Chesapeake Bay for hundreds of years. When Captain John Smith traveled the estuary in 1614, he wrote of seeing waters so full of “the Basse”—believed by many to mean striped bass—that a man might walk across their backs without getting his shoes wet.

For years, rockfish served as an iconic, ever-present Chesapeake species for both food and sport. But in the 1970s and 80s, the striped bass fishery collapsed. Between 1973 and 1983, commercial and recreational catches fell from a record-setting 14.7 million pounds to just 1.7 million pounds. By the late 1980s, states across the region had put moratoria in place in an attempt to help the species recover. After responding well to harvest restrictions, the population was considered fully restored in 1995. Today, active management and a Bay-wide quota for recreational and commercial striped bass fisheries have helped the species remain at a sustainable level.

The recovery of striped bass in the Bay is often seen as one of the estuary’s great success stories. But environmental pressures could put strain on habitats used by spawning adults and young striped bass, threatening the long-term health of the species. As the largest striped bass nursery area on the Atlantic coast, experts estimate that up to 90 percent of the Atlantic striped bass population uses the Bay and its tidal tributaries to spawn. Healthy habitats are key to the survival of young striped bass, a sustainable population and a robust commercial and recreational fishery in the Bay.

Researchers measure the length, determine the sex, and assess whether spawning has occurred or not during the annual striped bass spawning stock survey. Some fish also have scales removed for aging and some are fitted with tags.

From year to year, striped bass reproduction sees considerable natural variation. This means that the overall population relies on successful spawning years—which require suitable habitat—to compensate for below-average years. But threats like warming temperatures, for example, could disrupt the timing of migration and spawning and alter what areas are viable habitat for these life processes.

A less-discussed but equally significant threat to rockfish habitat, experts say, is land use—particularly development and urbanization. As the region’s human population grows, more farm and forest land is being converted into buildings, roads, parking lots and other paved surfaces. These impervious surfaces cause a surge in the amount and intensity of polluted runoff, which can erode streambanks, transport toxic contaminants and nutrient and sediment pollution into waterways and significantly alter the temperature of rivers and streams.

As the landscape is altered, these changes can turn previously suitable spawning and nursery areas into less productive habitat. Striped bass are sensitive to habitat changes because, when spawning and as larvae, they become concentrated in relatively small geographic areas. Any disturbances in those areas could potentially impact a large number of striped bass from across all life stages: from eggs to larvae to spawning adults.

Jeff Horne of Maryland Department of Natural Resources tags a striped bass. Fishermen who catch tagged fish can report them to DNR for a reward—sometimes as much as $125.

Horne releases a tagged striped bass. Information from reported tags helps determine striped bass migration rates, migration patterns, growth rates, and mortality rates.

When researchers overlaid a map of the Bay’s striped bass spawning areas with a map of projected development, the results showed all spawning habitat to be under moderate to very high development pressure. The Potomac and James Rivers, for example, are among the largest spawning areas in the Bay, and projections of growth show those areas could develop up to 10 percent impervious surface cover by 2020. Fisheries experts consider impervious surface cover at a level of five percent or below the target for a local region, but levels below 10 percent can still help keep the striped bass population stable.

Slight degradations in habitat can be offset by restoration efforts—although, once lost, there’s no guarantee habitat quality can be restored. By conserving farm fields, forests, wetlands and natural shorelines, land managers can help sustain healthy striped bass habitat. Concentrating the development that does occur in and around already-developed areas—a technique known as “smart growth”—can also help ease the effects of development, as can reducing the amount of runoff through green infrastructure like rain gardens, green roofs and permeable pavement.

Each year, researchers in Maryland and Virginia survey spawning and juvenile striped bass to inform fishery management decisions, track population size and measure spawning success. So far, the results of these surveys don’t have experts alarmed. Although results of Maryland’s 2016 juvenile striped bass survey were well below the long-term average, successful spawning years in 2011 and 2015 are expected to compensate for the below-average year. Meanwhile, experts continue to work to better understand how land use changes and other stressors may impact these numbers in the future, helping to ensure a robust rockfish population for years to come.

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

Photos 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.



May
15
2017

River Corps puts young adults on pathway to greener future

Queen Richardson, a member of the D.C. River Corps, takes a photo of a shade tree planted in front of a RiverSmart home. She and her fellow corps members inspect the trees for insects, signs of disease and other maintenance needs.

Meet the River Corps: a new partnership between the District of Columbia Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) and the Latin American Youth Center. This inaugural group has 10 members, and on this sunny April day, three of them are learning how to conduct home inspections.

The River Corps is a five month program in which young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 gain training, both in class and on-the-ground, in green sector work, with the intent that this experience will help them gain employment in the field afterward.

While the program is only in its first year, the Latin American Youth Center brings 40 years of experience in running programs aimed at equipping young people with the tools for success. For example, they also run the Montgomery County Conservation Corps, a similar program just to the east of D.C. that helps young adults get their GEDs while building the skills to start a green career.

River Corps members Rashid Mills (left), Tyshaun Turner (middle) and Queen Richardson (right) document the condition of two trees at this RiverSmart home with the assistance of Program Coordinator Faith McNeil and Crew Leader Mike Weitekamp. The information they gather will go back to DOEE, and, if needed, the River Corps will come back to perform maintenance.

This new partnership not only builds green jobs skills in D.C.’s young adults, it also helps DOEE maintain their projects and programs. One of those is RiverSmart Homes, one of many RiverSmart programs offered by DOEE that incentivize property owners to manage stormwater and reduce the amount of pollutants that enter local waterways—and eventually the Chesapeake Bay.

Homes enrolled in the RiverSmart program manage stormwater through the use of green infrastructure, such as rain barrels, pervious pavers and rain gardens, but those practices need maintenance to be effective. Through the River Corps, DOEE has the capacity to make the in-person visits needed to check that the practices are fully functional, and Corps members gain experience in a growing green infrastructure field.

Tyshaun Turner and Queen Richardson, both members of D.C.’s first River Corps group, ensure a rain barrel is properly connected to the downspout on a RiverSmart home.

The homes also serve as outdoor classrooms, and today’s lesson includes rain barrels, pervious pavers and trees. Mike Weitekamp, River Corps Crew Leader, walks the trainees through each feature, asking questions as they run through the checklist of what they should be looking for and documenting. He points out other elements around the yard, such as terraced gardens or areas beginning to erode, to further demonstrate how concepts they’ve learned about appear in real life.

Rashid Mills, part of the River Corps team, appreciates the hands-on aspect of the program. “In the book, it seems like a bunch of detailed information that has no significance,” he says. But in the field, the connections between technical standards and real life examples are easier for him to see.

Working outdoors makes the subject matter more relatable, Mills notes, but it also gets him more comfortable with the environment. At first, he saw forests as somewhere he shouldn’t go. Now, he’s starting to see them as less intimidating. “There are actually pathways in there,” he says.

This year, the River Corps will visit plenty of outdoor classrooms: they’re planning to inspect 80 RiverSmart homes and conduct photo monitoring on streams like the one restored at Linnean Park in northwest D.C. They have indoor classroom sessions as well, where they learn about topics such as climate change, invasive species and erosion and sediment control.

Queen Richardson, who was already a gardener before joining the River Corps, notes how what she’s learning goes much deeper. “It’s a lot different than just gardening stuff,” she says. “It’s more intense, but I feel as though the work we’re doing will make a positive change for the climate.”

Pervious pavers, like those shown above, are considered a best management practice because they help rainwater infiltrate into the ground as opposed to running off the pavement and into the storm sewer.

River Corps projects focus on DOEE priorities, but they also serve the dual purpose of preparing the team for certifications such as pesticide application and green infrastructure. These certifications can help them better compete after the program ends when they are looking for other green employment.

The green infrastructure certification applies particularly well to the work they’re performing at RiverSmart homes. As they make their inspections, River Corps Program Coordinator Faith McNeil runs through vocabulary and asks follow up questions about different concepts and techniques in order to help prepare them for their upcoming exam. Created in part by D.C. Water, the green infrastructure certification could help the River Corps members find long-term employment in a city that has a renewed emphasis on creating and promoting green infrastructure projects.

“The District of Columbia’s green economy is growing, as the demand for green infrastructure increases in response to the need for climate adaptation,” said Tommy Wells, Director of DOEE. “The River Corps program trains young adults in the District to install and maintain rain gardens and stormwater retention sites, like those implemented through the RiverSmart program. River Corps is helping create more pathways to the middle class by ensuring the District has a workforce with the technical skills necessary to meet the needs of this expanding market.”

River Corps member Rashid Mills and Crew Leader Mike Weitekamp adjust the mulch around a tree at a RiverSmart home. The River Corps makes home inspections to RiverSmart homes to ensure stormwater practices like trees and rain barrels are properly installed and maintained.

Many River Corps members see the program as more than a pathway toward a green job, but as a way to a better future—for themselves, their families and their city. Tyshaun Turner has lived his whole life in D.C., but says he never had a great relationship to the water. “I jumped at the first chance to do something to better the water,” he says.

Mills likes the fact that he can apply what he is learning not only to a future job, but to the way he currently lives his life. He sees the River Corps as a way to learn how to conserve water, grow his own food and control pests. “I want to be self-sustaining,” he says.

Richardson sees the River Corps as a way to create the opportunity for green jobs, and that “improving water quality by cleaning the streams provides clean water for our children."

Programs like the River Corps align with the Chesapeake Bay Program’s goal to increase the number and diversity of people involved in restoration work. Learn about our Diversity Workgroup’s efforts to create and expand employment and professional development opportunities for minority and underserved groups in the region.

 

Photos by Will Parson

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 from Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., where she first discovered her passion for storytelling.



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