A new report from the Delmarva Land and Litter Work Group—a partnership of poultry and grain producers, conservation partners, academic experts and other stakeholders—outlines the group’s recommendations for reducing nutrient pollution related to poultry manure, or “litter,” on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay.
Known as the Delmarva Peninsula, the land to the east of the Bay includes parts of western Delaware and eastern Maryland and Virginia. It is also responsible for a disproportionate amount of the excess nitrogen and phosphorus polluting the estuary, according to a report from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) released earlier this year. But the Delmarva Land and Litter Work Group is committed to improving the relationship between agriculture and Bay health, encouraging responsible nutrient management and promoting alternative uses for manure and poultry litter.
To support the group’s vision of a healthy and productive Chesapeake Bay, the report recommends developing action plans for the research, implementation, funding and coordination of regulations for nutrient management programs and technologies. Along with the report, members of the work group announced the launch of the Delmarva Land and Litter Challenge, an initiative to unite stakeholder groups and take the lead on the responsible use of manure and poultry litter.
Livestock manure and poultry litter are often applied to farmland as a form of fertilizer, providing crops with the nutrients they need to grow. When more litter is applied to the land than is needed by crops, nutrients can build up in the environment. Eventually, these nutrients flow into streams, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay, where they can fuel the growth of harmful algae blooms that block sunlight and create low-oxygen “dead zones” that suffocate marine life.
Under the clean water goals of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, which encompasses the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), Bay Program partners are working with farmers across the watershed to reduce the amount of nutrients entering local waterways.
The report, New Approaches to Poultry Litter Management in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed: Win-Win Pathways for Agriculture and the Bay, is available online.
At the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, D.C., a diminutive Japanese white pine tree rests unassumingly on an outdoor table, its vibrant green leaves belying its age. The 390-year-old tree, first cultivated in 1625, was a mere 320 years old when it survived the atomic blast that destroyed Hiroshima, Japan, during World War II. And the tree is gaining renown this week as it is honored to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the bombing. As part of the permanent collection at the arboretum’s National Bonsai and Penjing Museum, it helps form a tiny flourishing forest.
The museum’s three pavilions, housing about 150 plants, are part of the 446 acres of lush fields, forests and gardens making up the arboretum. Home to one of the largest bonsai and penjing collections in North America, the museum was established in 1976, while the arboretum dates to 1927.
The arboretum’s research program in ornamental horticulture and plant exhibits draw more than 500,000 visitors each year, allowing the staff to showcase a repertoire of educational programs, workshops and demonstrations about horticulture, agriculture and forestry.
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Flickr page.
Images and captions by Will Parson
On June 16, 2014, the Chesapeake Executive Council signed the historic Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, charting the future course for the multi-state and federal partnership known as the Chesapeake Bay Program.
Governor Terry McAuliffe assumed the chairmanship of the Chesapeake Executive Council, the Bay Program’s top leadership body, on January 1st of this year, and on July 23, 2015, he chaired his first meeting. This meeting focused on specific actions that will further our collective efforts to restore the Bay, from increasing the amount of forested stream corridors, excluding livestock from streams, advancing critical land conservation needs and working to increase the funding available for restoration.
Experts, scientists, agency staff and non-profits collaboratively developed the management strategies for meeting the goals and outcomes in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement. These strategies, presented to the Executive Council at the July 23rd meeting, go far beyond water quality improvement, addressing issues from land conservation and fisheries management to environmental literacy and climate change.
The ongoing efforts to protect and restore the Chesapeake Bay are at a critical point. The deadline called for in the Chesapeake Bay TMDL for 60 percent of nutrient and sediment reductions by 2017 is fast approaching. The more difficult task of meeting our pollution reduction commitments by 2025 will take continued progress across the entire range of nutrient and sediment sources.
Each of the six states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, along with the District of Columbia, the Chesapeake Bay Commission and the federal government represented by EPA, are responsible for meeting our collective goals. As the “downstream” state in the watershed, we in Virginia depend on our neighbors to the north and west to achieve healthy waters and the benefits that come from a clean Bay. Our neighbors will also benefit from cleaner water and more abundant fisheries and wildlife in their rivers and streams. Whether you are in Cooperstown, New York, or in Hampton, Virginia, we are all in this together.
Clean water, healthy stream corridors and the related habitat and ecological benefits make our counties, cities and towns more livable and more attractive to prospective employers, and they support our traditional industries such as agriculture, forestry, tourism and fishing, which in turn support jobs and serve our goals of a vibrant and sustainable economy.
All Bay Program partners are now fully engaged in the implementation of the management strategies. As partners, we will continue the progress we have made in meeting our water quality goals and seek the continued cooperation of key urban and agriculture sectors. We will work to bring new resources, including private and federal, to meet the costs of implementation and progress. We will be open and public about our science-based decisions and the rationale for making them. We will reach out to all sectors, public and private, to ensure that regulatory obligations are fulfilled and voluntary efforts are supported and valued.
Although we may face significant challenges in such a large and developing watershed, the payoff in terms of environmental health and economic prosperity will be enormous, and it will benefit ours and future generations.
Written by Molly Joseph Ward, Secretary of Natural Resources, Commonwealth of Virginia. Ward is chair of the Chesapeake Bay Program's Principals' Staff Committee.
Between 2013 and 2014, underwater grass abundance in the Chesapeake Bay rose 27 percent, marking a 27,600-acre increase from the last decade’s low and an achievement of 41 percent of our 185,000-acre goal.
Scientists attribute this boost in bay grasses to the rapid expansion of widgeongrass in moderately salty waters, even in areas where vegetation has not been observed before. Scientists have also observed a modest recovery of eelgrass in very salty waters, where the hot summers of 2005 and 2010 led to dramatic diebacks.
“This data offer hope to those of us who have watched these grasses decline in our lifetime,” said Virginia Institute of Marine Science Professor Robert J. Orth in a media release. “As efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay continue, these plant populations can rapidly recover. We cannot give up on our efforts to improve water quality, because there are plants and animals that depend on us to make this happen.”
Underwater grass beds are critical to the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem. They offer food to small invertebrates and migratory waterfowl; shelter young fish and blue crabs; and keep our waters clear and healthy by absorbing excess nutrients, trapping suspended sediment and slowing shoreline erosion. For these reasons, the Chesapeake Bay Program has committed to achieving and sustaining 185,000 acres of underwater grasses in the Bay, with a target of 90,000 acres by 2017 and 130,000 acres by 2025. “
“Every additional acre of underwater grasses measured in 2014 indicates improved water clarity and improved wildlife habitat,” said Maryland Department of Natural Resources Biologist and Submerged Aquatic Vegetation Workgroup Co-Chair Brooke Landry. “This [increase in underwater grasses] shows that restoration efforts are working and, if we stay the course, we could be successful in reaching our long-term goals. These data also highlight the importance and value of the Submerged Aquatic Vegetation monitoring program. Without it, measuring our progress towards a restored Bay would be infinitely more difficult, so I thank the Virginia Institute of Marine Science for providing such vital information.”
Underwater grass abundance is estimated through aerial surveys flown from late spring to early fall. Abundance is mapped in four different salinity zones, each of which is home to an underwater grass community that responds differently to strong storms, drought and other growing conditions.