Rodney Stotts, left, of Wings Over America, lets high schooler DeShawn Wheeler touch a rehabilitated red-tailed hawk at the Masonville Cove Environmental Education Center in Baltimore, Maryland, while classmate Ramond Thomas looks on. More than two decades ago, Stotts left behind a past life of drugs and violence to begin working with birds of prey.
In 1992, Stotts worked as one of the founding staff members of the Earth Conservation Corps (ECC), a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., that pairs unemployed community youth with conservation work along the Anacostia River and beyond. From ECC arose Wings Over America, a group that provides at-risk young adults with opportunities to rehabilitate injured raptors, such as hawks, falcons and eagles. The group is currently working to establish a bird sanctuary at their headquarters in Laurel, Maryland—close by to New Beginnings Youth Development Center, a rehabilitation facility for young men.
Image by Will Parson
A colony of brown pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis) roosts on an uninhabited portion of Smith Island. A non-native species in the Chesapeake region, the brown pelican’s range has been expanding north into the Bay in recent decades. Once found only in the lower Bay, the birds can now be found breeding on islands in the mid-Bay in summer.
In the mid-20th century, widespread use of the pesticide DDT caused populations of many birds, including brown pelicans, to decline significantly. In 1970, the brown pelican was listed as an endangered species, but had recovered enough to be de-listed along its Atlantic Coast range in 1985 and throughout the rest of its range in 2009.
In 1987, only five known pairs of pelicans were nesting in the Chesapeake Bay region—by 2008, more than 1,000 pairs were nesting on Holland Island alone. Many experts credit the influx of pelican visitors to climate change: warmer weather and milder winters may be prompting the birds to expand the northernmost reaches of their range to include the Chesapeake Bay.
Image by Will Parson
The Citizens’ Advisory Committee (CAC) has a unique role in the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay. The Chesapeake Bay Program established the CAC in 1984 as a means for citizens to express their recommendations and concerns on the cleanup effort to our political leaders. The members—non-paid volunteers appointed by the Governors of Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania; the Mayor of the District of Columbia; and the Board of the Directors of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay—reflect a sample of diverse stakeholders and bring their experiences and insights to the Chesapeake Executive Council.
Why would a group of volunteers with various perspectives take time off work and away from their families four times a year to travel throughout the region for meetings?
In search of information and solutions. The CAC members see themselves as the only independent citizen voice within the formal structure of Chesapeake Bay Program, and because of this, they feel they can and should speak openly and honestly about progress toward Bay watershed recovery.
The Bay Program relies on science to underpin policy. The Citizens’ Advisory Committee encourages the political will and support to aggressively pursue those polices that will recover our rivers and the Chesapeake Bay.
Over the years, the CAC has participated in the development of the Chesapeake Bay watershed agreements. For the Chesapeake 2000 Agreement, the CAC advocated for land conservation, public engagement, reduction of toxins and political commitment to reduce nutrients going in rivers and the Bay. For the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, the CAC again advocated for a toxic containment goal, environmental literacy, public access, local engagement and interim progress reports on meeting the goals.
In recent years, the CAC has focused on ways the Chesapeake Bay Program could enhance transparency and accountability. Our membership advocated for better verification of reported conservation practices and encouraged independent evaluation to highlight areas for improvement. We raised policy issues like nutrient trading, oysters, Conowingo Dam and environmental education. The CAC has called for continuous funding for environmental state and federal programs and highlighted federal funds that could accelerate progress.
Find out more about our group, by visiting the Citizens’ Advisory Committee page on the Bay Program website.
CAC Vice-Chair, Paula Jasinski, is a founder and principal of Chesapeake Environmental Communications and an appointment of the Virginia Governor.
Nahshon Forde, an operations assistant with the Anacostia Watershed Society, steers his kayak to shore after helping with a free paddle night organized by the AWS in Washington, D.C. "By doing paddle nights and things like that we’re helping people develop a relationship with the river, and that’s kind of a conveyor belt to a lot of our other ways to be involved with AWS," said Lee Cain, former Director of Recreation at AWS.
Historically overrun with pollution, the Anacostia is still plagued by litter, toxics and stormwater runoff. But the river is also home to a wealth of wildlife: deer silently approaching the water’s edge, egrets congregating in the shallows and bald eagles defending their nests.
In June 2014, the Anacostia Water Trail officially opened. This nine-mile water trail runs from Bladensburg, Maryland, through Washington, D.C., to where the Anacostia meets the Potomac River, passing by natural areas and recreation sites like Kenilworth Park, the National Arboretum, Kingman Island and Yards Park.
Image by Will Parson