For many of the people living upstream of the Chesapeake Bay, daily life doesn’t involve crab pots or oyster dredges. A group of such Bay novices — including one member who had never been on a boat — assembled in Crisfield, Md., this fall to take a ferry to Smith Island, one of the last two inhabited islands in the Chesapeake Bay. Actually a small cluster of low-lying stretches of land, Smith Island and its Virginia neighbor Tangier Island carry a rich cultural history dating back to the 1600s. Over the years, they have been subjected to the extreme weather conditions in the open Chesapeake Bay and forces of sea level rise and land subsidence that have already claimed surrounding islands. The trip, organized by the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Forestry Workgroup, gave the foresters the chance to experience the unique life of a Chesapeake waterman.
“These participants are engaged in work throughout the watershed that directly benefits the quality of the Bay, but often they have very little experience on the Bay itself,” said Craig Highfield of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and the Forests for the Bay initiative, who has facilitated the excursion for the past two years. “This trip is a way to connect their work with a community that relies so intimately with a healthy Bay.”
Over the course of two and a half days, the group of foresters followed educators from Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Smith Island environmental education center, taking in the unique culture, exploring the changing environment and finding new connections that bring the Bay closer to home.
“I think this group was able to draw similarities between the rural communities they work with — who rely on the natural resources on the land — with this rural community that relies on the natural resources of the Bay,” said Highfield.
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program's Flickr page.
It is often said that the environment is dying a death by a thousand cuts. No single development, no act of an individual or organization or business causes a big negative impact; but collectively these developments and actions represent a significant impact on the environment. Left unchecked or unaltered, the ultimate fate is clearly predictable.
Thankfully, throughout the watershed, more and more small organizations and businesses are working with local governments to uproot pavement and concrete and replace it with gardens and natural areas. These pollution-reducing conservation practices at churches, schools, libraries, car dealerships, marinas, and, yes, even local brew pubs are healing some of the thousand cuts, as they absorb runoff from buildings and parking lots and reduce pollution flowing off the land and into local streams and creeks. Most of these projects are the result of a few dedicated and talented local citizens and organizations. Recently, the Spa Creek Conservancy, working with the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and the Watershed Stewards Academy, with funding support from state and local agencies, installed rain gardens and infiltration basins at the Cecil Memorial Methodist and Mt. Olive African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Churches in Annapolis, Maryland.
Remarkably, these beautiful gardens now catch and absorb virtually all of the polluted stormwater runoff that previously flowed off the property, untreated, and into nearby Spa Creek. While controlling polluted runoff was important to the leadership and congregations of these inner-city churches, so too was the sense of pride that they had in beautifying their houses of worship, with flowering native plants in the rain gardens and these community improvements.
So, how do we stop the death of a thousand cuts from which nature is suffering? By healing those cuts one at a time, through small projects like these that also lift our hearts and our souls and restore that sense of pride in our communities. How glorious and uplifting it will be for members of these churches to attend services and witness these plants in full bloom and know that they are honoring and paying tribute to creation.
Note: The opinions expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect U.S. EPA policy endorsement or action.
Conserving forests is critical to clean water, and honoring the champions of these vital habitats is central to the work of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay. At its ninth annual Chesapeake Watershed Forum, the non-profit organization, with support from the U.S. Forest Service, recognized four Chesapeake Forest Champions: a public charity that demonstrates sustainable forest management to children and adults, a partnership that promotes volunteerism in planting urban trees, a private forest owner who engages women in working wooded lands and the founding director of Maryland’s largest environmental center.
Across the watershed, forests are disappearing at an average rate of 100 acres per day. This can mean less habitat for wildlife and more pollution flowing into rivers and streams. But the examples set by Chesapeake Forest Champions act as reminders of the local action that can restore the region’s resources.
The Evergreen Heritage Center was named Most Effective at Engaging the Public. The public charity was founded in 2008 and sits on a 130-acre Maryland estate that pre-dates the Revolutionary War. Its 108 acres of forestland have been managed under state guidelines for 65 years, and in 2000 earned the title Tree Farm of the Year. Dedicated to education, the organization offers field studies to students, professional development courses to teachers and conservation workshops to the general public. Its outdoor learning stations explore forest ecology, soil and water conservation, and climate change, while its heritage hoop house and sawmill demonstrate the art of forestry from start to finish and meet demand for local wood products.
West Virginia Project CommuniTree was commended for Greatest On-the-Ground Impact. Founded in 2008, the partnership of the Cacapon Institute and the West Virginia Conservation Agency, Division of Forestry and Division of Highways has led close to 50 plantings, with more than 2,500 volunteers planting more than 3,200 trees. In its work to boost urban forests in the Potomac Highlands, the partnership engages students, citizens and community groups to plant trees where people live—in neighborhoods, along roadsides and at schools—and offers grants for “CTree Kits” that contain everything a group would need to complete its own planting: trees, deer protection and mulch.
Nancy G.W. Baker was named an Exemplary Forest Steward. A private forest owner, Baker stewards the Panther Lick. This 163-acre property has been in her family for more than 150 years, and she uses the land to demonstrate the benefits of a working forest. She is president of the Bradford-Sullivan Forest Landowners’ Association’s Board of Directors, an active member of Pennsylvania’s Forest Stewardship Steering Committee and a leader in the Women and Their Woods program, which reaches out to women forest owners in the mid-Atlantic. Living along the Susquehanna River, Baker was one of the first members of Forests for the Bay and an essential part of its steering committee.
Joe Howard was given the Lifetime Achievement Award. A Maryland teacher for 35 years, Howard co-founded and was the first director of the Lathrop E. Smith Environmental Education Center, where he turned fields into forests and taught thousands of students about the importance of trees. In his retirement, Howard led Montgomery County’s Champion Trees program. Thanks to Howard, the county is home to three of the state’s five largest yellow poplars, and a cockspur hawthorne that he and his students planted was named a Big Tree National Champion in 2010. Howard continues to teach people about trees, forests and the management of this vital habitat.
Three watershed organizations are marking three decades of Chesapeake Bay restoration with an initiative that links tree plantings, rain garden installations and other “green” events to encourage people to reflect on the Bay’s past and take steps toward securing its future.
The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, the Choose Clean Water Coalition and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation have named their initiative “30 Events for 30 Years: Planting Seeds for the Future.” It marks the thirtieth anniversary of the signing of the first Chesapeake Bay Agreement—which in 1983 established the Chesapeake Bay Program—and expresses gratitude toward citizens, educators, officials and others who have been part of Bay restoration ever since.
But above all, the initiative celebrates the hard work of the watershed’s volunteers. “Ordinary citizens… have volunteered their time in so many ways,” said Al Todd, executive director of the Alliance, in a media release. “Picking up trash, planting trees, restoring streams and monitoring water quality are just some of the ways that volunteers can ensure the health of our rivers and streams.”
More than a dozen organizations have joined the initiative, with more than 30 restoration events scheduled for the fall. Among them? An urban tree planting in Harrisburg, Pa.; a creek-side tree planting in Berkley Springs, W.Va.; and a rain garden installation in Baltimore. Find an event near you with this interactive map.
Protecting undeveloped land, planting native trees and monitoring forests for insects and disease: each of these actions can conserve critical forest habitat, and each has been put into practice across the region by this year’s Chesapeake Forest Champions.
A researcher, a forester, a teacher and a regional water provider were among the four award-winners in the annual contest sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.
“The need for local champions of trees and forests has never been greater,” said USFS liaison to the Chesapeake Bay Program Sally Claggett in a media release.
Across the watershed, forests are disappearing at an average rate of 100 acres per day, which can mean less habitat for wildlife and more pollution flowing into rivers and streams. But the examples set by these Chesapeake Forest Champions are a “continual reminder of the positive local action and careful land stewardship that is taking place to restore our treasured natural resources,” said Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay Executive Director Al Todd.
Newport News Waterworks was named an Exemplary Forest Steward. The regional water provider serves 400,000 Virginia residents and manages 12,000 acres of land, more than half of which has been a certified American Tree Farm since 1947. Here, farm fields have been reforested, stands of timber have been improved and insects, disease and invasive plants have been monitored and controlled.
Maryland middle school teacher John Smucker was commended for Greatest On-the-Ground Impact in light of his talent as a volunteer organizer and environmental educator. Smucker grows trees and shrubs from seed in a Frederick County nursery, which he and his volunteers plant across the region. Smucker also remains involved in forest maintenance, watering trees throughout the summer, mowing tall grasses and replanting trees that have died.
Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) District Forester Roy Brubaker was named Most Effective at Engaging the Public. Brubaker manages 85,000 acres of land and water at Michaux State Forest, where he engages stakeholders to resolve issues related to public use. As owner and operator of a grass-fed livestock farm, Brubaker is also involved in sustainable agriculture in the state, and has helped promote forest management to the region’s farmers.
Stroud Water Research Center President and Director Bern Sweeney received the Lifetime Achievement Award for his research and writing about the environmental impact of streamside forests. For more than two decades, Sweeney has worked to demonstrate the link between healthy forests and healthy streams.
The Chesapeake Forest Champions were celebrated at the Chesapeake Watershed Forum in Shepherdstown, W.Va. The eighth annual conference also commemorated the three decades of restoration work in which so much of the conservation community has been engaged. Learn more about the winners.
For the past decade, the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay has led Project Clean Stream--a vast network of organized annual trash cleanups along the Bay's many tributaries--to help clean up the Bay and connect residents to their local waterways.
During this year's unified day of service on Saturday, April 6, a group of 13 volunteers gathered near the small town of Marydel on Maryland's Eastern Shore, where resident Carol Sparks (not pictured) had reported an illegal dump site along a drainage ditch running adjacent to her property.
According to Sparks, residents from two nearby trailer parks often travel along the foot path adjacent to the ditch, and some have been dumping trash here for years. "I've called everybody and it seemed like nobody wanted to do anything about it. I finally contacted Debbie Rowe, the mayor of Marydel, and she's the one who organized this group, bless her heart."
"I got a call from the property owner that the ditch was in disrepair," said Rowe (below left, with volunteer Wilbur Levengood, Jr.), who had recently learned about Project Clean Stream through the Choptank Tributary Team, a volunteer watershed group from Easton, Md. "To be honest, I didn't know this was back here."
Jennifer Dindinger chairs the Choptank Trib Team, which was searching for neglected sites in neighboring Caroline County where they could make a bigger impact during this year's Project Clean Stream effort. "You don't see trash floating down the Choptank River, but there are places like this that, although it might not end up in the main stem of the Bay, negatively impact life along the tributaries to the river."
Despite the strong odor and armed with garden rakes and stainless steel dip nets, Project Clean Stream volunteers spent their Saturday morning combing through layers of algae in the stagnant drainage ditch. "It's just a nice thing to do on a sunny day," said William Ryall, a fellow Choptank Trib Team volunteer and wetland restoration engineer from Easton, Md. "All of these ditches are connected to the Bay, so it's really important to get this stuff out of here."
"We need everyone to understand how important the drainage is to the Eastern Shore of Maryland, and what it will do health-wise and for the environment if we do it correctly," said Wilbur Levengood, Jr., president of the Caroline County Commissioners. "We don't need to bring huge machines in here and disturb a lot of earth to achieve the drainage, we just need to keep it clean."
According to Levengood, the many drainage ditches in Caroline County are an environmental compromise critical to this landscape. "Without these ditches, ponds and wetlands like the one next door to here would otherwise require chemical pesticides to control the mosquito population. Cleaning up the trash will lower the water level in this ditch by a few inches and get the water moving again."
While most of the trash collected from the Marydel site was of the household variety--36 bags total, including diapers, beverage containers and rotting food--a tell-tale oil slick is evidence of even more hazardous materials lying beneath the surface.
According to Levengood, non-salvageable appliances like television sets and mattresses, as well as toxic materials like motor oil and other automotive fluids that cost money to discard, are often thrown into the drainage ditches along Caroline County roads.
"It's not just necessarily that it looks bad. It's an all-around health hazard, and if we don't keep the water going it's just going to get stagnant and cause mosquitoes and more problems," said Mayor Rowe, who recruited local youth to help with the cleanup. "Now that we know it's here, we can all help as a community to help keep it clean and it'll be safe for everybody."
"My mom is friends with Ms. Debbie [Rowe], so she asked if I could come help with cleaning up trash from the ditch," said Gary Colby of Marydel (top), who in turn recruited his friend Daniel Santangelo. "I just wanted to help out Marydel," Santangelo said.
According to Rowe, part of the dumping problem stems from the challenge of cross-cultural communication. More than half of Marydel's population are Hispanic or Latino immigrants, but today's effort to reach the town's young people seems to be paying off.
"I just offered to help my buddies out," said Carlos Martinez (left), who moved to Marydel last year from Mexico City and volunteered with friends Omar Fuentes (center) and Jordy Cordova (right). "I know it's not young people littering because I know my friends."
"I think we just need to recycle more," said Cordova. Fuentes agrees. Like Mayor Rowe, he says "I never even noticed the trash in the ditch, and I've lived here for 10 years."
During a well-deserved break from the cleanup, Mayor Rowe and the other volunteers discussed the idea of posting bilingual signs to explain the ditch's importance in controlling the mosquito population, and to warn of health risks associated with litter and water pollution. Omar Fuentes and Jordy Cordova agree that signs in Spanish might help curb the littering problem, and promised to talk to their neighbors about the ditch. For first-time cleanup volunteer Wilbur Levengood, Jr., this point made the purpose of the day's effort overwhelmingly clear: "This project puts all aspects of people together working for the better, and we just need more of that."
Farmers, foresters and an active coalition of landowners and citizens have been honored for their efforts to conserve, restore and celebrate Chesapeake forests.
From planting native trees and shrubs to engaging students in forest conservation, the actions of the winners from across the watershed crowned them Chesapeake Forest Champions in an annual contest sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service and the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.
Image courtesy Piestrack Forestlands LLC
Three farmers were named Exemplary Forest Stewards: Ed Piestrack of Nanticoke, Pa., and Nelson Hoy and Elizabeth Biggs of Williamsville, Va. Ed Piestrack and his wife, Wanda, manage 885 acres of forestland and certified Tree Farm in Steuben County, N.Y. The Piestracks have controlled invasive plants and rebuilt vital habitat on their property, installing nest boxes, restoring vernal pools and planting hundreds of trees on land that will remain intact and managed when it is transferred to their children.
Image courtesy Berriedale Farms
Close to 400 miles south in the Cowpasture River Valley sits Berriedale Farms, where Nelson Hoy and Elizabeth Biggs manage land that forms a critical corridor between a wildlife refuge and a national forest. Hoy and Biggs have integrated their 50-acre Appalachian hardwood forest into their farm operation, protecting the landscape while finding a sustainable source of income in their low-impact horse-powered forest products business.
Image courtesy Zack Roeder
Forest Resource Planner Zack Roeder was named Most Effective at Engaging the Public for his work as a forester in Pennsylvania’s largely agricultural Franklin and Cumberland counties. There, Roeder helped farmers manage and implement conservation practices on their land and helped watershed groups plant streamside forest buffers. Roeder also guided a high school in starting a “grow out” tree nursery and coordinated Growing Native events in local communities, using volunteers to collect native hardwood and shrub seeds for propagation.
Image courtesy Savage River Watershed Association
The Savage River Watershed Association in Frostburg, Md., was commended for the Greatest On-the-Ground Impact. In a watershed whose streamside trees have shaded waterways and provided critical habitat to Maryland’s rare reproducing brook trout fisheries, the organization has worked to conserve area forests, removing invasive plants and putting more than 4,000 red spruce seedlings into the ground.
Four projects and individuals in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia have been recognized as Chesapeake Forest Champions for their contribution to Chesapeake Bay restoration through the promotion of trees and forests.
The inaugural Chesapeake Forest Champion contest honored recipients in four categories: most innovative, most effective at engaging the public, greatest on-the-ground impact and exceptional forest steward/land owner.
The "most innovative" award went to Adam Downing and Michael LaChance of Virginia Cooperative Extension and Michael Santucci of the Virginia Department of Forestry for their Virginia Family Forestland Short Course program. The team tackled a critical land conservation challenge: intergenerational transfers of family farms and forests, and the need to educate land owners on how to protect their land. Through the land transfer plans developed in this program, more than 21,000 acres of Virginia forests are expected to remain intact, family-owned and sustainably managed.
The "most effective at engaging the public" champion was ecologist Carole Bergmann from Montgomery County, Maryland. Bergmann created the Weed Warrior program in response to a significant invasive plant problem in the county's forests. To date, approximately 600 Weed Warriors have logged more than 25,000 hours of work removing and monitoring invasive weeds.
The "greatest on-the-ground impact" award went to David Wise of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation for his leadership in restoring riparian forest buffers through the Pennsylvania Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) partnership. Since 2000, Pennsylvania CREP has restored more than 22,000 acres of forest buffers -- more than all the other Chesapeake Bay states combined.
The "exceptional forest steward/land owner" champion was Susan Benedict of Centre County, Pennsylvania, for her work running a sustainable tree farm. Benedict has implemented many conservation projects on her family's land, such as planting habitat to encourage pollination in a forested ecosystem.
The Chesapeake Forest Champion contest was sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service and the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay as part of the International Year of Forests. The four Chesapeake Forest Champions were honored earlier this month at the 2011 Chesapeake Watershed Forum in Shepherdstown, W.Va.
Visit the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay's website to learn more about the Chesapeake Forest Champions.
Image: (from left to right) Sally Claggett, U.S. Forest Service; David Wise, Chesapeake Bay Foundation; Michael LaChance, Virginia Cooperative Extension; Susan Benedict, land owner, Centre County, Pa.; Carole Bergmann, Montgomery County, Md.; and Al Todd, Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay. Image courtesy Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.
The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have launched the Native Plant Center, an online guide to help homeowners identify and choose plants that are native to the Chesapeake Bay region.
Users to the website, www.nativeplantcenter.net, can search for native plants by name, plant type, sun exposure, soil texture and moisture. Users can even find native plants with the same characteristics as some of their favorite non-native plants. The website also includes a geo-locator feature to identify plants suited to a user’s specific location.
Planting native plants is an important part of restoring the Chesapeake Bay. Residents who replace their typical backyard landscaping with native plants use less fertilizer and pesticides, provide critical habitat for pollinators, and reduce polluted runoff to storm drains.
The portal uses the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service’s native plant database, associated with the publication Native Plants for Wildlife Habitat and Conservation Landscaping: Chesapeake Bay Watershed.
To learn more about native plants, visit www.nativeplantcenter.net.