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Chesapeake Bay News: Restoration


Restoration Spotlight: The Grass Whisperer gets to the root of grazing

At Endless Trails Farm in Hubbardsville, N.Y., Troy Bishopp is looking for cow pies.

“There’s a little bit there, but overall there isn’t a whole lot of manure,” he says, explaining to the farm's manager. “Every rotation we’re going to want more.”

Bishopp is a conservation specialist with New York’s Madison County Soil and Water Conservation District and the Upper Susquehanna Coalition, and among the services he provides is advice on how grassland farmers can get the most out of their pastures. With 30 years of experience, he has learned to pay attention to the subtleties that only come with walking out in a field and talking with farmers.

Troy Bishopp stands on a rotationally-grazed pasture at Palmer Farm in Madison County, N.Y., on May 28, 2015. "We’ve helped with the water system here—fencing, some buffers and just overall pasture management," said Bishop, known as the Grass Whisperer, who works with the Madison County Soil and Water District and the Upper Susquehanna Coalition.

“I’m constantly looking, because wherever that cow manure lands is where there’s going to be more grass than not,” Bishopp says. This passion for grass has led to him being called the Grass Whisperer, a moniker first bestowed on him by his friend Dick Warner during a visit to Washington to educate congressional districts about grass-based agriculture in New York.

Bishopp has worked with Endless Trails Farm for about eight years, first to set up some conservation practices like stream buffers, then helping with fencing and offering rotational grazing advice. When he visits a farm, his tools are cheap—a plastic grazing stick helps him assess how many pounds of feed are in a pasture, and a reel of electrified tape lets him keep animals on and off sections of pasture, a practice he prescribed for Endless Trails.

Troy Bishopp meets with farm manager Megan Wilcox at Endless Trails Farm in Hubbardsville, N.Y., on May 28, 2015. Switching to an all-grass system allowed the farm to exercise agro-tourism opportunities, including a six-bedroom guesthouse.

“There was no real system of fencing or paddock rotation [on this farm]. And so usually in July and August there wasn’t a whole lot of grass here,” Bishopp says. “Implementing strategic fencing, water spots around the farm, water tubs, and then allowing the grass and the pastures to rest for a month or two, always made a lot of grass which actually sequestered any rain that came, which is huge up here.”

The water infiltration resulted in more grass for cattle at the farm, and also less runoff, including sediment and nutrients, running into streams and ultimately into the Chesapeake Bay. In 2011, the Madison County Soil and Water Conservation District named Endless Trails its Conservation Farm of the Year.

“Generally speaking, we want to retain our topsoil, have good water infiltration and keep the waters clean,” Bishopp says. “When you produce a lot of feed and you do those things that make you money, conservation comes right along with it.”

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

Video, Images and Text by Will Parson

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About Will Parson - Will is the Multimedia Specialist for the Chesapeake Bay Program. A native of Bakersfield, California, he acquired an interest in photojournalism while studying ecology and evolution at University of California, San Diego. He pursued stories about water and culture as a graduate student at Ohio University's School of Visual Communication, and as an intern at several newspapers in New England before landing in Maryland.


Conservation partners convene in Shepherdstown for sixth annual meeting

For the last five years, non-profits, American Indian tribes, land trusts and federal and state agencies engaged in land conservation throughout the Chesapeake watershed have come together at the Chesapeake Conservation Partnership’s annual meeting. In the largest gathering to date, nearly 120 people convened at the National Conservation Training Center on October 5-6, 2015, for the sixth annual meeting. The spirit of the event—Growing the Partnership, Growing Our Impact—was reflected both in the increased attendance and the conversations around increasing diversity and inclusion.

Attendees of the sixth annual meeting of the Chesapeake Conservation Partnership, held at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, W. Va., on October 5-6, 2015, discussed successes and new projects related to land conservation in the Chesapeake region. (Image courtesy Jeff Allenby/Chesapeake Conservancy)

New and returning attendees were invited to an overview of the history of the Conservation Partnership and information on the broader large landscape conservation movement. The Conservation Partnership’s co-conveners are Joel Dunn, President and CEO of the Chesapeake Conservancy, and Chuck Hunt, Superintendent of the National Park Service Chesapeake Bay. They addressed the growth of the Conservation Partnership over the previous year and recent progress of conservation in the Chesapeake region. Speakers were invited to share their successes and new projects in fast-paced presentations, highlighting the tremendous collective impact of the group over the previous year.

Updates included:

  • The recent submission of the Rivers of the Chesapeake Land and Water Conservation Fund proposal for the 2017 fiscal year, which requests funding for over 25,000 acres in conservation opportunities;
  • Preservation efforts on Tangier Island, Va., including the nomination of the site for designation as a historic district;
  • The successful acquisition of the historic Campbell Tract in the George Washington National Forest, led by the U.S. Forest Service; and
  • Improved safety and public access at Brookwood Point on Otsego Lake, the source of the Susquehanna River.

Other features included a session on impacts from linear infrastructure projects like roads and power lines, a discussion on strategies to engage with diverse audiences and breakout sessions on key conservation focus areas. The meeting set the stage for action in the coming year, including continuing progress toward achieving the protected lands outcome of the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement.

The Chesapeake Conservation Partnership was formed in 2009 and is jointly convened by the Chesapeake Conservancy and the National Park Service Chesapeake Bay Office. Its mission is to foster collaborative action to conserve culturally and ecologically important landscapes to benefit people, economies and nature throughout the six-state watershed.

Learn more about the Chesapeake Conservation Partnership.

Written by Jonathan Doherty, Assistant Superintendent, National Park Service Chesapeake Bay, and Kate Baker, Chesapeake Conservation Partnership Coordinator.


'Zombie' crabs invade the Chesapeake Bay

Imagine you are going about your day as usual when you encounter a foreign creature. It injects something in you, but does not kill you. Over the next few weeks, you notice a growth in your abdomen. A network of tube-like threads spreads throughout your circulatory system. Soon, you start losing control of your motor functions. You adopt defensive postures and develop maternal instincts to care for the growth instead of caring for yourself. Then, the mass begins to expel larvae, which seek out and infect anyone nearby. Your behavior is forever changed and your reproductive system destroyed.

Darin Rummel holds a black-fingered mud crab at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, Md., on Oct. 15, 2015. Rummel works in the lab of Carolyn Tepolt studying the "zombie crab" parasite called Loxothylacus panopaei, or Loxo.

This scenario may seem like something out of a science fiction novel or the latest zombie thriller. But for many black-fingered mud crabs, the parasite Loxothylacus panopaei, or loxo, has made this situation a reality.

Loxo was discovered in the Chesapeake Bay about 50 years ago. Scientists believe it was carried from its native range in the Gulf of Mexico on oyster shells during early restoration efforts. Since then, researchers have found sites throughout the Bay where the parasite is highly prevalent, with infection rates as high as 30 to 50 percent.

The tiny parasite Loxo is visible to the naked eye as white specks under a bright light, but practically disappears inside its host.

“This is huge, especially because this parasite is a castrator, so infecting crabs means they can no longer reproduce,” said Carolyn Tepolt, Biodiversity Genomics Postdoctoral Fellow at the Smithsonian Institute. “[The crabs] are still alive, but essentially dead as far as genes are concerned, because they are not contributing to the next generation of crabs.”

The Chesapeake Bay Parasite Project was established as a means for scientists to develop a better understanding of loxo by both monitoring infection rates in the wild and making observations in a lab, where research can be done in a controlled environment.

An infected black-fingered mud crab displays a Loxo egg sac on its abdomen. Infected crabs care only for the parasite eggs and lose the ability to reproduce.

“In 2013, I had the idea that it should be a citizen science project,” said Monaca Noble, Biologist at the Smithsonian Institute. “This isn’t a project that has its own grant money. It’s a project we do because we love it, so it’s always collateral duty for somebody. We thought it would be great to bring on volunteers.”

Through studying the prevalence of the parasite in both its native and invasive range, researchers now understand that loxo is much rarer along the Gulf Coast and up to Cape Canaveral, Fla., where one to five percent of crabs are infected. Tepolt and her colleagues are working to understand if reproductive pressures have affected these numbers over generations. “Say you’re a crab and you have some little mutation that makes it a little harder for the parasite to infect you, you may have a huge evolutionary advantage if 50 percent of your peers are getting taken out of the gene pool,” said Tepolt.

Black-fingered mud crabs from a sampling site in Louisiana await study in the lab of Biodiversity Genomics Postdoctoral Fellow Carolyn Tepolt at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, Md.

Citizen science has proven to be a valuable method for studying loxo’s reach and the population of affected crabs. Noble and her team have seen a steady increase in volunteer numbers, with 89 participants this past summer compared to 50 in 2014.

“I love [The Chesapeake Bay Parasite Project] as a citizen science project,” explained Noble. “It’s an opportunity to share an exciting story about science with people who are interested and get them excited about science, and also tell them about invasive species.”

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

Text by Jenna Valente
Images by Will Parson

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About Jenna Valente - Jenna developed a passion for conservation through her outdoorsy nature and upbringing in Hawaii, Washington State and Maine. A graduate of Virginia Tech's Executive Master of Natural Resources program and University of Maine's School of Communication and Journalism, she welcomes any opportunity to educate the public about the importance of caring for the environment.


By the Numbers: 60

Three centuries ago, the Chesapeake Bay watershed was covered with trees. Maples, pines and oaks captured rainfall, stabilized the soil and offered food, shelter and migration paths to wildlife. But as the country was settled and developed, more people moved into the region, and forests were cleared for farms and communities and trees were cut for timber and fuel. The population of the region now stands at almost 18 million—more than double what it was in the 1950s. While valuable forests do remain in the region, many suffer from fragmentation: separation into smaller pieces that are vulnerable to threats.

Healthy forests capture rainfall, stabilize soil and offer food, shelter and migration paths to wildlife.

According to a report from the U.S. Forest Service, 60 percent of Chesapeake forests have been divided into disconnected fragments by roads, homes and other gaps that are too wide or dangerous for wildlife to cross. The isolated communities of plants and animals that result have smaller gene pools that make them more susceptible to disease. The sensitive species that thrive in the moderate temperatures and light levels of an “interior” forest (which is mature and separate from other land uses) can’t find the unique habitat characteristics they need. And the forests themselves are more vulnerable to invasive species and other threats.

In the 1600s, forests covered 95 percent of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. In 2011, just 55 percent of the watershed was forested.

In an effort to reconnect fragmented forests, conservationists have turned to wildlife corridors. These corridors give wildlife the space to move and can be found around the world. The World Wildlife Federation runs the Freedom to Roam initiative to protect corridors along the Northern Great Plains and Eastern Himalayas. The National Wildlife Federation runs the Critical Paths Project to cut the number of fatal road crossings for animals in Vermont. And watershed states like Maryland and Virginia have incorporated wildlife corridors into their green infrastructure plans.

Virginia landowners Christine and Fred Andreae receive the Exemplary Forest Steward award from Craig Highfield of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.

Even local landowners have contributed to the corridor movement: in September, the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay recognized Christine and Fred Andreae as Exemplary Forest Stewards for their work to manage 800 acres of forestland—including a corridor that connects George Washington National Forest and Shenandoah National Park—along the Page and Warren county lines in Virginia.

Christine and Fred placed the property under conservation easement through the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, which was established by the Commonwealth in 1966. The Andreaes have also convinced their neighbors to follow suit: what started as an agreement between Christine, Fred and one neighbor to connect a patch of land on two sides of the Shenandoah River eventually expanded to include eight property owners and 1,750 contiguous acres. Today, bald eagles and bears abound on the land that can be seen from Skyline Drive.

“[Our neighbors] wanted to keep the land undeveloped,” Fred said when asked how he motivated others to join the conservation cause. “Most of them had family connections to the land—some [spanning] 100 years or more. It was their heritage they wanted to see preserved.”

The Andreaes have made their property as self-sustaining as possible so that once their two sons inherit it, it won’t have to be sold. “We’ve done something that will last. That’s a legacy. That will be there, theoretically, forever,” Fred said. “There aren’t too many things you can do that will be there after you’re gone—that will have an impact on my family and the other people who live in the area.”

Through the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, the Chesapeake Bay Program has committed to expanding urban tree canopy and restoring hundreds of thousands of miles of streamside trees and shrubs. Learn more about forests and our work to protect them.

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.

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