On a quiet cove in Southern Maryland, a series of orange and white markers declares a stretch of water off limits to fishing. Under the surface sits spawning habitat for largemouth bass, a fish that contributes millions of dollars to the region’s economy each year and for whom two such sanctuaries have been established in the state. Here, the fish are protected from recreational anglers each spring and studied by scientists hoping to learn more about them and their habitat needs.
The largemouth bass can be found across the watershed and is considered one of the most popular sport fishes in the United States. While regional populations are strong, a changing Chesapeake Bay—think rising water temperatures, disappearing grasses and the continued arrival of invasive species—is changing bass habitat and could have an effect on future fish.
For decades, scientists with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) have collected data on the distribution of largemouth bass, tracking the species and monitoring the state’s two sanctuaries in order to gather the knowledge needed to keep the fishery sustainable. Established in 2010 on the Chicamuxen and Nanjemoy creeks, both of which flow into the Potomac River, these sanctuaries have been fortified with plastic pipes meant to serve as spawning structures. And, it seems, these sanctuaries are in high demand during spawning season.
On an overcast day in April, three members of the DNR Tidal Bass Survey team—Joseph Love, Tim Groves and Branson Williams—are surveying the sanctuary in Chicamuxen Creek. Groves flips a switch and the vessel starts to send electrical currents into the water, stunning fish for capture by the scientists on board. The previous day, the team caught, tagged and released 20 bass; this morning, the men catch 19, none of which were tagged the day before.
“This [lack of recaptures] indicates that we have quite a few bass out here,” said Love, Tidal Bass Manager.
Indeed, the state’s largemouth bass fishery “is pretty doggone good,” Love continued. “That said, we recognize that the ecosystem is changing. And I don’t think anybody wants to rest on the laurels of a great fishery.”
As Love and his team learn how largemouth bass are using the state’s sanctuaries, they can work to improve the sanctuaries’ function and move to protect them and similar habitats from further development or disturbance.
“We can speculate where the best coves are, but this is the ground truthing that we need to do,” Love said.
In the fall, the team will return to the cove to count juvenile bass and report on juvenile-to-adult population ratios. While the assessment of the state’s sanctuaries is a small-scale project, it is one “aimed at the bigger picture,” Love said.
Love’s team is “doing what we can to improve the use of these coves by bass.” And protecting bass habitat and improving water quality will have a positive effect on the coves overall, creating healthier systems for neighboring plants and animals.
“By protecting these important areas, we are also protecting the larger ecosystem,” Love said.
Photos by Jenna Valente. To view more, visit our Flickr set.
When cold weather arrives, blue crabs up and down the Chesapeake Bay stop their scurrying. The summertime rush of food-hunting and mate-finding is over, and the crustaceans will spend the winter months buried in sand and sediment. It is at this moment that researchers in Maryland and Virginia must strike: to count the crabs while they are still.
Known as the winter dredge survey, this annual count of the Bay’s blue crab population is a critical part of blue crab management. Without an accurate estimate of blue crab abundance, fisheries managers cannot set harvest limits for the season ahead.
“The winter dredge survey is the most vital tool that we have in crab management,” said Chris Walstrum, a natural resources biologist with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR). “This is the best chance we have to assess the [blue crab] population, because the crabs are stationary.”
Walstrum and his team are responsible for counting crabs in Maryland waters; the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) conducts the winter dredge survey in the Virginia portion of the Bay. Between the two agencies, a total of 1,500 Bay sites are visited over the course of three and a half months before the numbers are crunched and fisheries managers can make recommendations on how blue crab harvests should or shouldn’t change.
On a warmer-than-normal January morning, Walstrum is aboard a boat in Broad Creek, a tributary of the Choptank River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The DNR vessel has been captained for more than a decade by Roger Morris, a fifth-generation waterman who used to dredge for crabs commercially and whose skills are invaluable to the success of the survey.
“Whether people like it or not, the winter dredge survey is the whole basis for our [blue crab harvest] limits,” Morris said. “That’s why I try to do the best I can do at it. It takes experience. You just can’t walk on a crab dredge boat and expect to catch crabs.”
At each survey site—six of them in this particular waterway—Morris will line up his boat and drop its so-called Virginia crab dredge into the water. The metal dredge is towed along the bottom for one minute before it is hoisted back on board, where the newly caught contents of its mesh liner are dumped out and sorted through. In each catch, there are brown leaves, oyster shells, little fish and, more often than not, a collection of blue crabs.
Each crab is weighed, measured and sexed before it is tossed back into the water. This provides an accurate picture of the blue crab population, as researchers track the number of young crabs that will form the backbone of the fishery next fall and the number of females that will produce the next generation of blue crab stock.
“The winter dredge survey provides us with a cornerstone piece of data from which to operate our [blue crab] management,” said Brenda Davis, chief of the DNR Blue Crab Program.
“It’s a long-running survey, and it’s been consistently accurate,” Davis said. “It gives us a good, static picture of the number of crabs in the Bay.”
Video produced by Steve Droter.
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."
The blue crab population in the Chesapeake Bay has dropped, but a substantial boost in the number of spawning-age females has offered officials a piece of good news in spite of this disappointing decline.
According to the results of the annual winter dredge survey, which measures the blue crab population in Maryland and Virginia, the number of spawning-age females in the Bay has risen 52 percent. The Chesapeake Bay Program tracks this number as an indicator of Bay health, and an increase is a sign that management methods to conserve adult female crabs are working. But an overall decline in the Bay’s blue crabs—from 765 million in 2012 to 300 million in 2013—could lead to the tightening of commercial harvest restrictions.
Image courtesy Benjamin Wilson/Flickr
Scientists have attributed the decline in blue crabs not to overfishing, but to high mortality rates among juveniles. While last year’s winter dredge survey measured an unprecedented number of juvenile crabs in the Bay, last summer and fall saw an alarming loss of blue crab habitat and a large influx of red drum, which often feed on young crabs. Young blue crabs are also known to feed on each other when population densities are high.
“It is important to keep these results in perspective,” said Jack Travelstead, commissioner of the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC), in a news release. “Five years ago this fishery was declared a federal disaster. That is no longer the case: overfishing is no longer occurring, a good fisheries management framework is in place, the stock is healthy and spawning-age females are doing well. If not for the disappointingly small reproductive year class we would have much to celebrate.”
In an effort to make up for this shift in blue crab abundance, Maryland, Virginia and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission (PRFC) are pursuing strategies to establish a 10 percent cut in the commercial harvest of female blue crabs. Both Maryland and the PRFC will consider adjusting or enacting daily bushel limits, which have been put in place in Virginia. Maryland and Virginia will also consider shortening their crab seasons, and it seems likely that Virginia’s winter dredge fishery will remain closed.
The Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee (CBSAC) will draft their 2013 Blue Crab Advisory Report over the next few weeks.
Read more about the 2013 winter dredge survey results.
Maryland Public Television (MPT) will celebrate the nation’s largest estuary with a week of Chesapeake Bay-related programming, to begin on Sunday, April 21.
Image courtesy Maryland Sea Grant
During Chesapeake Bay Week, a dozen programs will explore some of the most pressing issues facing the watershed, from the future of the agriculture and seafood industries to the health of iconic critters and waterways. An hour-long special called “Who Killed Crassostrea virginica?” will take a look at the demise of the Bay’s native oyster, while a 30-minute program called “The Last Boat Out” will follow a family of Virginia watermen as they question staying in the business of seafood harvesting.
Bay history, too, will be part of the annual event: “Black Captains of the Chesapeake” will highlight African Americans who have captained on the Bay, while “Growing Up on Tilghman” will explore what it was like to grow up in this quiet watermen’s community on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
“There is really rich content within these shows,” said Betsy Peisach, MPT’s managing director for education marketing and outreach. Peisach encourages teachers, in particular, to bring these programs into their classrooms where possible. And for those who teach middle-school science, MPT has developed an online interactive that allows students to explore the Bay, whether it is through a virtual tour of the Bay’s varied ecosystems or an online cinema that features clips from Outdoors Maryland.
MPT will wrap up Chesapeake Bay Week with a concert and volunteer-a-thon to connect viewers with volunteer opportunities across the watershed.
The Chesapeake Bay Program is a sponsor of Chesapeake Bay Week this year. Learn more.
According to the results of a survey conducted by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), oyster abundance has increased in state waters for the second consecutive year and more of the bivalves are withstanding pressures from pollution and disease.
The 2012 Fall Oyster Survey, which has monitored the status of the state’s oyster population since 1939, found a 93 percent oyster survival rate—the highest since 1985—and a lower-than-average prevalence of MSX and dermo, two diseases that have decimated the Chesapeake Bay’s native oysters in recent decades.
In a news release, DNR Fisheries Service Director Tom O’Connell attributed these successes to the establishment of oyster sanctuaries, which are closed to harvest and which could allow oysters to build up a natural disease resistance.
Maryland is currently restoring oyster reefs in the Harris Creek and Little Choptank River sanctuaries, as part of a federally mandated effort to restore oyster populations in 20 Bay tributaries by 2025.
Read more about the 2012 Fall Oyster Survey results.
Harris Creek is a tributary of the Choptank River. Located on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, the waterway has been thrust into the spotlight as the first target of the oyster restoration goals set forth in the Chesapeake Bay Executive Order: to restore oyster populations in 20 Bay tributaries by 2025. Existing reefs will be studied, bars will be built, larvae will be raised and spat-on-shell will be planted in this federally mandated attempt to boost populations of the native bivalve.
Already home to productive and protected oyster reefs, Harris Creek’s good water quality and moderate salinity should allow for high rates of reproduction and low rates of disease—both critical factors in ensuring oyster survival. Indeed, natural “spat set,” or the settling of wild oysters on reefs, was observed in Harris Creek last year, and continued natural spat set could reduce the number of hatchery-raised oysters that are needed to complete the restoration plan.
Over the past two centuries, oyster populations across the Bay have experienced a dramatic decline. Habitat loss, disease and historic over-harvesting have taken their toll, and populations now stand at less than one percent of historic levels. But as filters of water and builders of reef habitat, oysters are critical to the health of the Bay.
As of December 2012, reef construction and seeding for more than a quarter of Harris Creek’s 377 targeted acres were complete, and partners project that more than half of the construction and seeding for the rest of the creek’s reefs will be complete by the fall of 2013.
But it will take a lot for a reef and a tributary to be deemed “restored.” Partners will look not just for the presence of oysters, but for the expansion of oyster populations in the years following restoration efforts. The goal is an ambitious one, but many believe the Harris Creek project will serve as a model for the restoration of other tributaries in support of the Executive Order goal.
Video produced by Steve Droter.
This winter saw an increase in waterfowl along Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay shoreline and Atlantic coast.
While pilots and biologists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) counted fewer diving and dabbling ducks this winter than they did in the 2012 Midwinter Waterfowl Survey, these same crews counted more geese.
According to a DNR news release, both Canada geese and snow geese were “noticeably more abundant during this year’s survey,” with crews counting 462,000 Canada geese—a three-year high—and 83,300 snow geese—a five-year high. Biologists have attributed the boost in goose numbers to two factors: last spring’s successful nesting season and December snow cover in New York and southern Canada, which encouraged geese to migrate into the Bay region right before the survey was taken.
While more geese could mean more damage to area farms—as the birds forage on green cover crops and grain crops—most farmers “have learned to deal with the problem,” said Larry Hindman, wildlife biologist and Waterfowl Project Leader with DNR. Fluttering plastic flags, bald eagle effigies placed in the middle of fields and the loud bang of a rifle or shotgun have all proven effective at deterring persistent geese, Hindman said, and those farmers who need extra help can find assistance and advice in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Damage Management program.
Resident Canada geese can pose a problem for rural, suburban and urban residents alike, and are considered overabundant in the region. While the birds do provide hunters with a chance for recreation, resident geese can overgraze wetlands and lawns and leave their droppings to pollute local rivers and streams. While the Midwinter Waterfowl Survey does not make a distinction between resident and migratory geese—as both stocks look the same during an aerial survey—DNR researchers do monitor the resident population using leg bands recovered from hunters.
The Midwinter Waterfowl Survey is used as an index of long-term wintering waterfowl trends. The estimates measure waterfowl populations along the Atlantic Flyway, which is a bird migration route that follows North America’s Atlantic Coast and Appalachian Mountains.
Read the full waterfowl survey results on the DNR website.
Most of us who live in urban or suburban settings really don’t know what a healthy stream looks like. In some cases, we can’t even see the streams that run under our roads and shopping centers because they’ve been forced into pipes; out of sight, out of mind. The remnants of streams we can see have often been filled with sediment and other pollution, their ecology altered. The plants and animals that used to live there have long since departed, their habitat destroyed. This didn’t happen overnight. The environment is suffering “a death by a thousand cuts.”
I recently got the chance to visit the Cabin Branch stream restoration project, not far from my neighborhood in Annapolis, Md. The project is being undertaken by Underwood & Associates on behalf of the Severn Riverkeeper Program, and is one of many stream restoration projects taking place across the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
In 2005, a volunteer cleanup removed 40 tons of tires and debris from Cabin Branch. Image courtesy Severn Riverkeeper Program.
Cabin Branch discharges to the streams and wetlands of Saltworks Creek and the Severn River, which bring water into the Bay. Aerial photos taken after a modest rain are dramatic testament to a severely damaged ecosystem that causes the Severn to run the color of chocolate milk. This same phenomenon—one of sedimentation and stormwater runoff—is repeated in streams and rivers that run through thousands of communities throughout the watershed.
Image courtesy Severn Riverkeeper Program.
It was gratifying to see the Cabin Branch project firsthand—one of many efforts to heal the damage done unknowingly by many decades of development. Like many projects of this nature, the Severn Riverkeeper Program had to overcome some bureaucratic red tape to get the permits they needed, but their perseverance will be worth the impact in helping clean local waters and the Bay.
Image courtesy Tom Wenz/EPA CBPO.
Fortunately, we are learning better ways to manage stormwater runoff through low impact development and the use of green infrastructure, which help to mimic the cleansing functions of nature. It will take some time before this patient is restored to good health, but we are on the mend.
On private piers up and down Harris Creek, hundreds of metal cages hang from ropes into blue-green water. Inside each cage are countless little oysters, which will grow here, safe from predators and sediment, during their first nine months of life. Once the spat are large enough, they will be pulled out of their short-term shelters and put onto boats to be replanted on protected reefs just a few short miles away.
The cages—along with the bivalves inside them—are cared for by volunteers with the Tilghman Islanders Grow Oysters (TIGO) program, itself a local branch of the Marylanders Grow Oysters program that is managed by the Phillips Wharf Environmental Center (PWEC).
Now in its second season, TIGO has recruited more than 80 volunteers across the so-called “Bay Hundred” region—from Bozman and Neavitt to Wittman and Tilghman Island—to further oyster restoration efforts in the Chesapeake Bay.
Over the past two centuries, native oyster populations have experienced a dramatic decline, as habitat loss, disease and historic over-harvesting have taken their toll. But programs like this one give hatchery-grown oysters a head start before they are put into the Bay to replenish critical underwater reefs.
The TIGO program has attracted a wide range of restoration enthusiasts, from the middle-school student who has tracked her oysters’ growth for a science fair project to the neighbors who have competed against each other to grow more and bigger oysters. The main draw? What little effort is involved.
“Growing oysters is an effort, but it’s a really easy effort,” said TIGO coordinator Carol McCollough. “And we remove as many of the roadblocks as we possibly can for people who want to do this.”
Aside from a promise to keep cages free of excess sand and silt, the program doesn’t ask too much of its volunteers—and this has worked to its advantage.
H. Truitt Sunderland is a Wittman resident whose cages are filling up fast after six months of growth. The oysters have gone from mere millimeters to one and two inches in size, and a host of other critters—like grass shrimp and gobies, mud crabs and skillet fish—have taken up residence on this makeshift reef just as they would do on oyster bars in the Bay.
Sunderland’s home sits on Cummings Creek, and Sunderland has used the ease of the work involved—“I don’t even know how they can call this volunteer work,” he laughed—to involve his neighbors. Now, there are 24 cages on 12 piers in this single stretch of water.
Tilghman Island resident and fellow volunteer Steve Bender has had a similar experience. “The process is simple,” Bender said, standing on a wooden pier that juts into Blackwalnut Cove. “It’s not that demanding. It’s not that difficult to care for [the oysters].” And in response to his encouragement, Bender’s neighbors have been “glad” to join.
While projects like this one are a small drop in the restoration bucket, McCullough hopes that TIGO can cast a personal light on conservation for all those who are involved.
“We [at PWEC] inform, inspire and involve,” McCullough said. “We’re all about getting people to commit to [changes in] behaviors. It’s very easy to give money. It’s less easy to write letters. And I think in many ways, it’s even less easy to do something personal—to do restoration work on your own.”
But for McCullough, it’s possible that the simple act of caring for a cage of oysters could act as a stepping stone toward further involvement in the Bay.
“Oysters have become very exciting to people,” McCullough said. “They recognize that every single additional oyster in the Bay is a positive thing. That oyster restoration is something that’s bigger than they are.”
For more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program Flickr page.
Photos by Multimedia Coordinator Steve Droter.
On a winter morning in Annapolis, Md., a snow-covered truck pulls into the parking lot of a local seafood restaurant. A man in white boots and rubber gloves steps out of the cab, a metal door swings open behind the building and plastic trash cans full of oyster shells are exchanged between restaurant chef and shell recycler.
The trade is just one stop on a route that connects the 130 members of the Shell Recycling Alliance: a group of restaurants, caterers and seafood wholesalers that save their unneeded shells—some in five-gallon buckets, some in 14-gallon trash cans, some in 55-gallon wheeled bins—for pick up by Tommy Price.
Price is a Special Programs Specialist with the Oyster Recovery Partnership, a conservation group that has for two decades worked to restore oysters in the Chesapeake Bay. As a driver in the partnership’s fleet of trucks—which are complete with shell recycling logos and oyster-themed license plates—Price has watched the Shell Recycling Alliance grow, generating more than 1,000 tons of shell that are an integral piece in the oyster restoration puzzle.
Sent to an environmental research lab and oyster hatchery on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, the shells are cured, power-washed and put to work as settling material for the billions of oyster larvae that are planted to replenish reefs across the Bay.
Over the past two centuries, native oyster populations have experienced a dramatic decline as habitat loss, disease and historic over-harvesting have taken their toll. But by filtering water, forming aquatic reefs and feeding countless watershed residents, the bivalves have become an essential part of the Bay’s environment and economy.
It is this link between businesses and the Bay that inspired Boatyard Bar and Grill to sign on to the Shell Recycling Alliance.
“The Bay is a huge economic engine for this area,” said restaurant owner Dick Franyo. “Look at what we do here—it’s all about fishing, sailing, ‘Save the Bay.’ It’s where we come from. It’s what we think about.”
Franyo, who sits on the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s board of trustees, has upheld a conservation ethic in much of what his restaurant does. It donates at least one percent of its annual revenue to environmental organizations; it composts all of its food waste; it recycles oyster shells alongside glass, metal and plastic; and it spreads the word about the restoration efforts that still need to be made.
All Shell Recycling Alliance members are given brochures, table tents and “Zagat”-style window stickers to use as tools of engagement, teaching customers and clientele about the importance of saving shell.
“Shell is a vital ingredient in oyster restoration,” said Stephan Abel, executive director of the Oyster Recovery Partnership. “It’s like flour in bread.”
Indeed, it has become such a valuable resource that a bill has been proposed that would give individuals and businesses a $1 tax credit for each bushel of shell recycled.
“The Bay, restoration and oysters—it’s all one story,” Abel said. And without oyster shells, the story would be incomplete.
A recent assessment of Superstorm Sandy shows the hurricane did less damage to the Chesapeake Bay than some feared, thanks in large part to its timing and track.
According to a University of Maryland report, the late-October hurricane whose path traveled north of the Bay had “ephemeral” impacts on Bay water quality—especially when compared to past storms.
The summertime arrival of Tropical Storm Agnes in 1972, for instance, coincided with a critical growing period for oysters, crabs and underwater grasses, and had a damaging effect on all three. But because Sandy arrived in the fall, the nutrients and sediment that it sent into the Bay were unable to fuel harmful algae blooms or damage the underwater grasses that had already begun to die back for the season. And while Tropical Storm Lee in 2011 brought heavy rainfall and a large plume of sediment to the Susquehanna River, the bulk of Sandy’s rainfall was concentrated elsewhere, meaning minimal scouring of sediment from behind the Conowingo Dam and “virtually no sediment plume” in the Upper Bay.
These findings echo those released in November by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).
Read more about the ecological impacts of Sandy on the Chesapeake Bay.
Imagine a summer afternoon spent on Tuckahoe Creek. As the waterway narrows, the branches of streamside trees form a canopy over paddlers, painting the sky green from one shore to another.
Image courtesy Serafin Enriquez/Flickr
Located on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Tuckahoe Creek borders Caroline, Queen Anne’s and Talbot counties. Much of the 21-mile tributary to the Choptank River is bordered by wooded marshland. In Tuckahoe State Park, visitors can launch canoes and kayaks into the creek, hikers and horse-lovers can walk or ride 20 miles of scenic trails and fishermen can press their luck in a 60-acre lake.
When you think of the Baltimore-Washington corridor, you don’t often think of rock climbing, trout fishing or horseback riding.
But you can find all of that and more in the 1,400 acres that surround Morgan Run, a stream that begins near Eldersburg, Md., and flows into Baltimore County’s Liberty Reservoir.
Image courtesy Evan Parker/Flickr
In the Morgan Run Natural Environmental Area, miles of trails will transport you to a place far from beltways and buses. Be prepared to weave in and out of different habitats, from open fields to aging forests. Birders can spot songbirds and raptors, and climbers can find bouldering opportunities along streamside trails.
Image courtesy Jive/Flickr
Fishing is a popular sport in Morgan Run. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) stocks the stream with eastern brook trout to keep the important fish in our tributaries.
Equestrian trails attract solitude-seeking horseback riders. Local riders created these trails in the early 1990s. Today, there are 11 miles of open field and woodland trails to enjoy.
A yearlong survey of anglers along the Anacostia River has confirmed that many fishermen are catching, sharing and consuming contaminated fish.
While fishing advisories in Maryland and Washington, D.C., have been in place for more than two decades, these warnings are often not seen, understood or listened to—and as many as 17,000 residents could be consuming fish caught in the Anacostia.
Image courtesy Len Matthews/Flickr
Located less than one mile from the nation’s capital, the Anacostia River has long suffered environmental degradation. Polluted runoff from urban streets and hazardous waste sites has caused toxic chemicals to build up in the water and in the bodies of fish, which could cause disease or development disorders in those who consume them.
According to the results of a survey that studied the social behavior of Anacostia anglers, a complex set of factors is driving the sharing and consuming of locally caught and potentially contaminated fish: past experience and present beliefs, a lack of awareness of the health risks involved and an overriding desire to share their catch with those who might otherwise go hungry.
Image courtesy LilySusie/Flickr
Research conducted through hundreds of interviews along fishing “hotspots” and a community survey that canvassed the lower Anacostia watershed found that 40 percent of fishermen had never heard that fish from the Anacostia could make them sick. Some anglers thought visual cues—like obvious lesions, cloudiness in the eyes or the color of a fish’s blood—would help them determine the health of a fish, or that related illnesses would soon be apparent rather than chronic or long-term. If a fisherman had not fallen ill from a meal of fish before, then he might perceive the fish to be healthy or think that his preparation methods made it clean.
Research also found that current advisories do not resonate among diverse anglers. Just 11 percent of fishermen had seen a sign or poster, and even fewer had received warning material with a fishing license or reviewed related information online. And English-only outreach is not effective among a population in which one-quarter speaks a language other than English at home.
Image courtesy 35millipead/Flickr
But how can Anacostia anglers be reached?
"The answer to this problem will be far more complex than simply telling anglers not to share their catch,” said Steve Raabe, principal of the Maryland-based research firm that conducted the survey.
The Anacostia Watershed Society, among the partners behind the survey, agrees. While the non-profit’s director of public policy acknowledged this study is not a “silver bullet solution,” he hopes it will bring about positive change.
“We are hoping [the study] will be the catalyst to engage all stakeholders—federal and local governments, food security and hunger organizations, environmental and health organizations, as well as residents—to come up with answers,” Brent Bolin said.
“Through this research effort, we have already begun identifying potential solutions,” Bolin continued, from directing better messaging to affected populations to expanding urban gardens, farmers markets and other programs that will address the long-term challenges of clean water, food security and human health.
Impaired by trash, rated poor for nutrient pollution and listed as unsafe for human contact much of the time, Baltimore Harbor scored a failing grade on its most recent Healthy Harbor Report Card.
Image courtesy Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore
While community engagement in conservation is on the rise—volunteers have planted trees, picked up trash and even painted murals around storm drains to make a connection between streets and streams—algae blooms, dead zones and fish kills remain a problem for the urban watershed.
According to the Healthy Harbor Report Card, water quality in Baltimore Harbor did not improve in 2011, when spring and fall rains pushed pollutants into the water.
From a spring shower to a fall hurricane, the flow of pollutants into Baltimore Harbor is closely tied to regional rainfall. The amount of litter collected in the Harbor in 2011, for instance, spiked when water flow was at its highest after Tropical Storm Lee. Sewage overflows, too, were linked to large storms, when rainwater seeped into sewer pipes and pushed harmful bacteria into the Harbor.
Image courtesy Blue Water Baltimore/Flickr
To combat these problems, the non-profits behind the Healthy Harbor Report Card have engaged students and citizens in a mission to make the Harbor swimmable and fishable within the next decade. Blue Water Baltimore, for instance, has curbed stormwater runoff on school grounds and helped Clean Water Communities develop plans for cleaning and greening their neighborhoods. And the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore has published a Healthy Harbor Plan to provide Baltimoreans with a roadmap for Harbor clean-up.
Learn more about the Healthy Harbor Report Card.
Striped bass spawning success is at an all-time low in the Chesapeake Bay.
Image courtesy Eddie Welker/Flickr
To track striped bass reproduction rates, biologists take a series of summer seine net samples at more than 20 sites in four striped bass spawning areas. This year, the average number of juvenile striped bass caught in each sample was 0.9. Last year’s juvenile striped bass index was 34.58; the long-term average is 12.
Biologists have blamed unfavorable weather for the decline.
“Generally, warm winters and dry springs are unfavorable conditions for fish that return to freshwater to spawn,” said DNR Striped Bass Survey Project Leader Eric Durrell. Like the striped bass, white perch, river herring and other anadromous fish also experienced low reproductive success this year.
But biologists “do not view this low value as an imminent problem,” said DNR Fisheries Director Tom O’Connell. “Three consecutive years of poor reproduction would be necessary to trigger mandatory conservation measures.”
According to the 2011 Striped Bass Stock Assessment released by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, striped bass along the Atlantic coast are not overfished and overfishing is not occurring.
This Halloween, thrill-seeking river rats can take a trip to a graveyard—a ship graveyard! Mallows Bay, located on the Maryland shore of the Potomac River, contains the largest known shipwrecked fleet in the Western Hemisphere. A quick search on Google Maps or a look at this image from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) shows the fleet’s massive imprint on the waterway.
This steamship fleet was intended to be used during World War I. But faulty construction and the war's end rendered the fleet useless. The steamship vessels, totaling more than 200, were towed to Mallows Bay, where they were packed together so tightly that you could, according to reports, walk for a mile without touching the water.
Local watermen protested, afraid that such a high concentration of “garbage” would affect their livelihoods. Some vessels were burned, but many others were left to sink and rot.
Today, many are visible above water, but some 140 more lurk beneath the Potomac’s surface.
The above-water steamships are now home to non-human inhabitants. Great egrets can be found nesting on the decks, while vegetation peeks out from beneath the rust. On some vessels, trees as high as 50 feet tall have sprouted!
Perhaps the “haunting” nature of Mallows Bay is not one of humans that have been left behind, but resources that have been ill-disposed and forgotten.
Want to see this ghost fleet for yourself? Launch a canoe or kayak at Charles County’s Mallows Bay Park to explore the ships up close!
Sometimes, even a single tree can make a difference. And it helps when that tree is a big one.
For six seasons, Baltimore County has held a Big Trees sale in an effort to put big, native trees in Maryland backyards. Since its inception in 2009, the program has sold more than 750 trees to Maryland residents, augmenting the state’s existing forests and moving Baltimore County closer to its pollution reduction goals.
Big trees are integral to the health of the Chesapeake Bay. Forests clean polluted air and water and offer food, shelter and rest stops to a range of wildlife.
But big trees can be hard to find. To provide homeowners with the native trees that have high habitat value and the heft that is needed to trap polluted runoff, species like pin oak, sugar maple and pitch pine are grown in a Middle River, Md., reforestation nursery. The one-acre nursery, managed by Baltimore County’s Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability (EPS), began as a staging ground for large-scale plantings but soon expanded to meet a noticeable residential need.
“We used to give incentives to homeowners to buy large trees at retail nurseries,” said Katie Beechem, Environmental Projects Worker with the EPS Forest Sustainability Program. “But we found that homeowners were buying smaller species—flowering dogwood, crape myrtle—that didn’t achieve the same benefits…that large native trees like oaks and maples and river birch can provide. We were able to fill this big tree niche.”
Emails, signs and word-of-mouth spread news of the sale to homeowners. Some travel from the next town over, while others come from as far as Gettysburg, Pa., to walk among rows of seedlings in black plastic pots.
Staff like Jon-Michael Moore, who supervises the Baltimore County Community Reforestation Program, help residents choose a tree based on growth rate and root pattern, soil drainage and sunlight, and even “urban tolerance”—a tree’s resistance to air pollution, drought, heat, soil compaction and road salt.
One Maryland resident picked up 15 trees to line a fence and replace a few that had fallen. Another purchased two trees to soak up stormwater in his one-acre space. And another chose a chestnut oak simply because she had one when she was a kid.
Out of the 12 tree species that are up for sale, oaks remain the favorite.
Whether red, black, white or pin, oaks are often celebrated as the best big tree. Oaks thrive in a range of soils, drop acorns that feed squirrels, woodpeckers and raccoons and create a home for thousands of insects.
Discussing the oak, Moore mentions University of Delaware professor Doug Tallamy. The entomologist once wrote that a single oak tree can support more than 500 species of caterpillars, which will in turn feed countless insect-loving animals.
But can one big tree make a difference for the Bay? Moore nodded: “Every little bit helps.”
Restoration partners in Maryland have put more than 600 million oyster spat into the Chesapeake Bay in the largest targeted restoration effort the watershed has ever seen.
While habitat loss, disease and historic over-harvesting have contributed to a dramatic decline in native oyster populations, the peculiar bivalves that filter water, form aquatic reefs and feed countless watershed residents are critical to the Bay’s environment and economy.
According to a report from the Oyster Recovery Partnership, a portion of the 634 million oyster larvae that partners planted in 2012 went into the Upper Bay, where last year an influx of fresh water from spring rains and late-summer storms led to widespread oyster death.
But most of the “spat on shell”—or young oysters “set” onto large oyster shells—went into Harris Creek, a tributary of the Choptank River that was declared an oyster sanctuary in 2010. There, partners hope to restore 360 acres of oyster reef, constructing new reefs and seeding this habitat with spat; close to one-third of this goal has been planted so far.
To fuel restoration efforts, the Horn Point Laboratory Oyster Hatchery produced a record-breaking 880 million spat in 2012, marking the fifth year in a row that spat production has exceeded half a billion. The largest hatchery on the (east coast), the Cambridge, Md., lab produces disease-free oyster larvae for use in research, restoration, education and aquaculture.
Horn Point Laboratory will host an open house on Saturday, October 13.
Kelley Cox knows what it takes to bring fresh seafood to the table—and to keep fisheries thriving in the Chesapeake Bay. Cox is part of a family of watermen that has worked for five generations out of Tilghman Island, Md. When Hurricane Isabelle destroyed 200 feet of their seafood buying dock in 2003, Cox did not want her heritage to be destroyed with it. She envisioned a place where she could preserve her family's legacy while teaching the public to steward the environment and the Bay. Two years later, Phillips Wharf Environmental Center (PWEC) was born.
Image courtesy PWEC/Facebook
Named after Cox's father, Garland Phillips, owner and operator of Phillips Wharf Seafood, PWEC now hosts educational programs and tours of the Bay. The center also coordinates a tree planting project and oyster growing program for residents of the three-mile long Tilghman Island. A marine biologist by profession but a waterman by blood, Cox makes sure the center’s educational efforts address both Bay ecology and Bay heritage.
Image courtesy PWEC/Facebook
Mobile Marine Fun
From preschoolers to third-graders, students can hold horseshoe crabs and diamondback terrapins or play predator, prey and pollution games to better understand how the Bay ecosystem works—all on board a converted school bus better known as the Fishmobile. This traveling marine science center visits schools, summer camps and even birthday parties! Other educational programs at PWEC allow students to race crabs, dress up as a waterman and cruise the Choptank River and the Bay to watch watermen work.
Image courtesy PWEC/Facebook
If you have residential or commercial waterfront property or keep your boat in a marina on Tilghman Island, you can volunteer for Tilghman Islanders Grow Oysters (TIGO)! Participants place PWEC-provided cages of oyster spat into the water and give them a shake once every week or two. After nine or 10 months, the growing oysters are transported to a sanctuary and replaced with new spat. The program has placed 200 cages in the water, but PWEC won’t stop until every pier on the island is growing spat.
Ecology cruises allow participants to see Tilghman Island in a new light—from the water! Excursions for local artists allow participants to paint or draw the island from an evening ride aboard the Express Royale.
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.
The University of Maryland has received close to $700,000 in federal funding to help communities reduce stormwater runoff.
Using a software program to pinpoint pollution hot spots and an innovative brand of social marketing to boost citizen engagement, the university will embark on a multi-year project to increase the adoption of conservation practices in two watershed communities: the Wilde Lake watershed in Howard County, Md., and the Watts Branch watershed in Washington, D.C., whose waters flow into the Patuxent and Anacostia rivers, respectively.
Stormwater runoff, or rainfall that picks up pollutants as it flows across paved roads, parking lots, lawns and golf courses, is the fastest growing source of pollution into the Chesapeake Bay. Best management practices can reduce the flow of stormwater into creeks, streams and rivers, from the green roofs that trap and filter stormwater to the permeable pavement that allows stormwater to trickle underground rather than rush into storm drains.
But best management practices cannot work without the citizens who put them into action.
"We need to work with communities, rather than take a top-down approach [to stormwater management]," said project lead and assistant professor Paul Leisnham. "For the long-term successful implementation of these practices ... we need communities to be involved."
The university has partnered with local schools, religious organizations and grassroots associations (among them the Maryland Sea Grant, the Anacostia Watershed Society and Groundwork Anacostia) in hopes of breaking down barriers to the adoption of best management practices and increasing community involvement—and thus, investment—in local, long-term environmental conservation.
From left, U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, University of Maryland assistant professor Paul Leisnham and U.S. EPA Region 3 Administrator Shawn M. Garvin
U.S. Senator Ben Cardin commended the project at a Bladensburg Waterfront Park event as a creative and results-driven way to reduce stormwater runoff.
"It's going to allow us to make a difference in our [local] watershed, which will make a difference in the Chesapeake Bay," Cardin said.
The funding, which totaled $691,674, was awarded through the Sustainable Chesapeake Grant program administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
What comes to mind when you hear the words “Chesapeake Bay?” Maybe you remember childhood summers spent mostly under water, on the shore making mud pies or even on the dock, catching crabs. Maybe you think of long days of crabbing with your grandfather, a recent kayaking adventure or something less glamorous, like the trash in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.
Each of the watershed’s 17 million residents has a different relationship with the Bay, and a different reason for protecting it. We rarely share these reasons in everyday conversation, but hearing why our friends and neighbors value this tremendous resource will help us realize the multiple reasons for Bay restoration.
Image courtesy Beth Filar Williams/Flickr
Hear what water quality in the Bay means to poultry farmers, watermen, developers and more Eastern Shore residents in a series of video interviews, part of “Let’s Be Shore,” a project recently launched by Maryland Humanities Council.
For more information, visit the Chesapeake Bay Trust’s Blog.
The Chesapeake Bay was among the first regions settled by European explorers, and at one point, much of it was up for grabs. In the 1650s, Dutch conquistadors wanted to extend their rule of New Amsterdam (New York) into Maryland. They sent a man named Augustine Herrman to Maryland’s colonial capital, St. Mary’s City, to present their case to the governor. Herrman’s expedition left from New Castle, Delaware, and sailed down the modern day Bohemia River, to the Elk River, and then into the Chesapeake Bay. Although Herrman and his team weren’t able to convince the Maryland governor to allow the Dutch to move east, Herrman was so impressed with the region’s beauty that he himself decided to settle there.
(Image courtesy William Johns/Flickr)
After striking a deal with Maryland leaders, Herrman received 4,000 acres in northeast Maryland, between the Elk River and the Bohemia River (formerly named the Oppoquermine River). Since Herrman was a native of Prague, which was then Bohemia, he named his new home “Bohemia Manor” and renamed the river.
As part of the deal, Herrman agreed to create a map of the Chesapeake Bay. The detailed account of the region was used throughout the next century.
(Image courtesy Maps of Pennsylvania)
Herrman and his surveying crew predicted the concept of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, constructed nearly 150 years later. In 1661, he wrote, “the Mingaskil and aforesaid Bohemia River run there within a league [3 miles] from each other from where we shall in time have communication with each other by water."
As Herrman’s reputation and importance grew, he convinced Maryland leaders to make northeastern Maryland its own county; as a result, Cecil County was born, and the region was separated from Baltimore County.
Although the Bohemia was navigable in Herrman’s time, today, the 5-mile tributary to the Elk River in southwestern Delaware and northeastern Maryland has since filled with sediment from agricultural operations, rendering it unsuitable for boat navigation.
A drawbridge, known as the “Bohemia River Bridge,” allowed people and farm goods to cross the Bohemia until the late 1990s, when it was demolished. Today, Maryland Route 213 crosses the river in its place, providing gorgeous views of the meandering river.
More from the Bohemia River:
A trip through the forested hills of Allegany County, Maryland may take you back to a time before interstate highways and blog posts like this one. Nestled between the largely uninterrupted landscapes of western Maryland, the Evergreen Heritage Center (EHC) honors the region’s past while showcasing environmental efforts of the future.
(Image courtesy Chesapeake Bay Trust)
The Evergreen Museum features the foundation of a home built by an early settler in the late 1700s, and the Evergreen Coal Trail traces the path of coal cars from the early 1900s.
The center’s environmental education programs encourage students to get outside and explore, rather than sit in front of their television or computer. Through partnerships with Allegany County Board of Education, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Chesapeake Bay Trust, Maryland teachers can attend workshops that introduce ways to involve their students in interdisciplinary environmental activities. Also, students can participate in on-the-ground learning projects.
The center is also working with 300 students and experts to develop a “green” site project plan that integrates outdoor learning stations, gardens, trails, nature play spaces and wildlife habitats into EHC’s 130-acre campus.
To learn more about Evergreen Heritage Center, read this blog post by EHC’s environmental education coordinator on the Chesapeake Bay Trust’s blog.
Finally – school’s out and warm weather is here! We know you’re eager to get away to your nearest beach and bury yourself in the sand with a new book. But did you know there are dozens of beautiful parks and natural areas on the way to major beaches such as Rehoboth Beach, Virginia Beach and Ocean City? Here are eight places you can enjoy the beauty of the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers along the way to your summer destination. After all, some of life's greatest joys are in the journey, not in the destination!
1. Hoffler Creek Wildlife Preserve (Portsmouth, Va.)
Just 20 minutes west of Virginia Beach, Hoffler Creek Wildlife Preserve provides urban wildlife in the Norfolk/Portsmouth metro region with 142 acres of tidal and non-tidal habitat. Expect to encounter foxes, river otters, oysters and crabs along the preserve's trails. Before you go, check out Hoffler Creek’s events listings for specialties like sunset kayak tours, night owl kayak paddles by moonlight, and early morning bird walks!
2. Dutch Gap Conservation Area (Chester Va.)
(Image courtesy John.Murden/Flickr)
Just south of Richmond, Dutch Gap Conservation Area surrounds Henricus, the second successful English settlement in Virginia. Bordered by the James River, the 810-acre area contains a blue heron rookery and has been described as a "birder's dream." A diversity of habitats attract a range of flying friends: in wetlands, look for pintails and kingfishers; in meadows, you'll find goldfinches, indigo buntings and kingbirds; and in forests, expect to see scarlet tanagers and red-eye vireo. Hike or bike the 4.5 mile Dutch Gap Trail, which circumnavigates a tidal lagoon. Kayak or canoe the Lagoon Water Trail (perfect for beginner paddlers), or schedule a night to camp under the stars at the area's primitive camp site.
3. Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge (Cape Charles, Va.)
(Image courtesy Xavier de Jauréguiberry/Flickr)
Drive over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Bay Tunnel near Virginia Beach to arrive at the southernmost tip of the Delmarva Peninsula. Here, nearly 1,300 acres of tidal wetlands and hiking trails sport colorful views of sunsets and sunrises; enjoy being surrounded by water on three sides! The area is one of the most important avian migration funnels in the country, meaning it provides vital stopover habitat for birds and butterflies migrating south for the winter and north for the summer. Return in the winter for a trip to Fisherman Island, a remote island home to sensitive bird species and untouched shoreline.
4. Nassawango Creek Preserve of the Nature Conservancy and Furnace Town (Snow Hill, Md.)
Just south of Salisbury, Maryland, one of the northernmost stands of bald cypress trees leak tannins into the Nassawango Creek, giving this pristine Chesapeake Bay tributary a deceptive tea-like color. Bald cypress trees grow completely in the water, and are most abundant in swamps in the deep southeast United States. Visitors to the 15,000-acre Nassawango Creek Preserve can paddle among these green giants or explore upland forest habitat on the preserve's many trails. Expect to see rare plants like indian pipe and pink lady slipper, and migratory birds such as scarlet tanagers and prothonotary warblers.
Along the edge of the preserve, hidden in the Pocomoke State Forest, a brick structure stands tall among the trees. It is the remnants of an iron furnace that at one time attracted hundreds of people – miners, firemen, bargemen and sawyers – to the area. From 1831 to 1850, village residents gathered iron ore from the bogs surrounding Nassawango Creek and loaded iron bars onto barges that were floated down the creek to the Pocomoke River and the Chesapeake Bay. Today, you can get a glimpse of what life was like in the 1830s mining village by visiting the Living Heritage Museum.
5. Pickering Creek Audubon Center (Easton, Md.)
(Image courtesy Pickering Creek Audubon Center)
If you're driving to Ocean City or Assateague Island, you'll likely pass hundreds of cornfields, strawberry fields and trucks full of chickens. Farming is a significant part of the heritage of Maryland's Eastern Shore, but the agricultural industry is often blamed for polluting the Chesapeake Bay.
At Pickering Creek Audubon Center in Easton, 270 acres are farmed according to "best management practices" that reduce the amount of animal bacteria, chemicals and pesticides that end up in the bay. Visitors can learn the past and future of farming in the region, or hike through hardwood forests, fresh and brackish marshes, meadows and wetlands. A Children's Imagination Garden will let your little ones connect to nature, and a display of live reptiles allows them to get up close and personal with our scaly friends!
6. Trap Pond State Park (Laurel, Del.)
Trap Pond was created in the late 1700s to power a sawmill during the harvesting of bald cypress trees from these southwestern Delaware freshwater wetlands. Fortunately, not all of the trees were harvested, and today, Trap Pond provides a home for the northernmost stand of bald cypress trees in the United States. The thick bald cypress marsh envelops visitors in a blanket of shade, making this park the perfect destination for a hot summer day.
Within the park, Trussum Pond is the best place to view the largest of these trees. Biking, camping, boating and disc golf are just some of the recreational opportunities available at the 2,700 acre park.
7. James Branch Nature Preserve and Water Trail (Laurel, Del.)
Unlike Trap Pond, which, as a state park, exists primarily for recreational purposes, James Branch Nature Preserve's first priority is protecting and enhancing a delicate ecosystem for future generations. As the largest of the state's nature preserves, James Branch's 685 acres are mostly composed of bald cypress trees – the oldest-growth in the state! Visitors can canoe and kayak the James Branch Water Trail. Since there is the chance of encountering downed trees, low-hanging branches, and floating and submerged logs, the trail is only recommended for intermediate to advanced paddlers.
8. Adkins Arboretum (Ridgely, Md.)
For some people, it's difficult to imagine your garden untouched by invasive, exotic weeds aggressively overtaking native vegetation. But at Adkins Arboretum, you can explore 400 acres of native plant gardens and wildflower meadows. Adkins is the only public garden or arboretum that focuses solely on plants native to the mid-Atlantic coastal plain. Located at the intersection of the piedmont and coastal plain, and the junction of the north and south, Adkins supports more than 600 species of native shrubs, trees, wildflowers and grasses. Visitors can understand nature through the lens of art and history; an ongoing art exhibit features natural themes by regional artists, and Adkins describes nature's relationship to the Underground Railroad throughout the region. Before you visit, be sure you check the arboretum’s list of programs and guided walks.
A trip down the Manokin River in Somerset County, Maryland, is like taking a trip back in time. Many area residents make a living harvesting and selling fish and shellfish. Restaurants, highways and shopping centers are hard to come by. At least one large property (at the mouth of the river) has been nearly untouched since the 17th century.
(Image courtesy Wayfarer Cruiser/Flickr)
The 17-mile long Chesapeake Bay tributary cuts through farm fields and small towns as it flows southeast from Princess Anne and into Tangier Sound. A large portion of that land is designated as habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife, ensuring that the river remains abundant with critters. On the north side of the Manokin, Deal Island Wildlife Management Area’s 9 miles of trails and scenic roads offer views of great egrets and colorful summer sunsets. To the south, Fairmont Wildlife Management Area is home to waterfowl in the winter and migratory shorebirds in spring and autumn.
At the river’s mouth, historic buildings dating from the early 18th to the mid 20th centuries paint a picture of the Manokin’s past inhabitants. The buildings are located on a property known as the “Manokin Settlement,” and are united by a web of family connections. Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, the Manokin Historic District offers a vista downriver to Tangier Sound and upriver to Princess Anne that’s believed to remain unchanged from the 17th century.
Surrounded by preserved forested marshes, early 18th century town buildings, and residents that understand the tides the way most of us understand a clock or a calendar, the Manokin seems to be a river out of the past. Unarguably, it’s a past worth protecting.
(Image courtesy forest_choir/Flickr)
More from the Manokin River:
When I moved to Annapolis last August, I wanted to be located near water and close to where I work at the Bay Program’s Eastport office. I moved into an apartment adjacent to Truxtun Park on Spa Creek. I enjoy kayaking, and the park has a boat ramp. In pretty short order, I met several people from the Spa Creek Conservancy, a local volunteer group working to restore and protect the creek. The Conservancy may be small in numbers, but it is huge in heart and enthusiasm.
(Image courtesy Spa Creek Conservancy)
On Saturday, April 14, I had the opportunity to join with other Conservancy members in a Project Clean Stream cleanup. When we assembled at the Chesapeake Children’s Museum, we were joined by a troop of Daisy Scouts out for a day of learning about the environment. They were as energetic as a swarm of bumble bees buzzing around a patch of wildflowers.
Along with the water, coffee, donuts, gloves and plastic bags at the volunteer sign-in table, we also set up a great aerial photo of the Spa Creek watershed that showed our location and all the areas that drain into the creek. The world looks a lot different from that vantage point. It was interesting to see how much of the area was covered by roads, rooftops and parking lots. These hard surfaces prevent rainwater from soaking into the soil to recharge streams and groundwater supplies.
During the cleanup, there was evidence everywhere of our consumer-based economy: plastic bottles, aluminum cans, fast food wrappers, plastic shopping bags, certain unmentionables, and even an occasional tire or two. As Aldo Leopold, a noted naturalist and conservationist once said, “We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” Those words are perhaps even more meaningful now than when he first spoke them more than 70 years ago.
What I’ve witnessed working with the incredible members of the Spa Creek Conservancy, the Watershed Stewards Academy, the South River Federation and other local, civic-minded environmental groups throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed is a strong desire to re-establish that sense of community where we live, work, play and pray – to think about how nature functions and why we need to find ways to live in harmony with it. We get lost in our own sense of self-importance as we travel at 60 miles per hour (or more) trying to get from one place to another. Often, we don’t allow ourselves to spend a few hours a week seeking to understand nature. To paraphrase another great thinker, “We don't value what we don't know; we don't protect what we don't value."
The Spa Creek cleanup was a good way to reconnect with nature and see firsthand how, perhaps unintentionally or unconsciously, we abuse it. Once we understand that, we will all be motivated to do something about it.
“The smallest ripples are often the largest fish,” Matt Sell tells me as he waves his fishing line back and forth over a dimple in the water. The scene may seem appropriate for a Saturday afternoon, but it’s actually a Wednesday morning, and Matt is at work as a brook trout specialist for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) Inland Fisheries Division.
Clad in chest waders and a t-shirt, Matt is armed with a fishing pole and the instincts of someone who’s been angling most of his life. His fishing efforts are rewarded with a 6-inch brook trout – exactly the species he was looking to catch.
In most parts of the state, a brook trout would be a rare catch. More than 55 percent of Maryland’s sub-watersheds have lost their entire brook trout population, and only 2 percent of the state’s sub-watersheds have a healthy population.
Why the sudden and steep population decline? Brook trout have very specific habitat requirements that are threatened by development, urbanization and poor land management.
“Brook trout need cold, very clean water with no sediment,” explains Alan Heft, biologist with Maryland DNR’s Inland Fisheries Division. “They need specific sizes of gravel in certain areas of the stream to reproduce. If they don’t have these conditions, they can’t exist.”
When excess sediment erodes from stream banks and construction sites, dirt gets into the gravel beds where brook trout spawn, hardening the bottom into a concrete-like material. And when water temperatures rise above 68 degrees due to factors such as hot summers and lack of a tree canopy along the edge of a stream, a brook trout’s internal system shuts down.
“Brook trout are kind of like the canary in the coal mine,” Alan says. “When you have a large brook trout population, you know that you have good water, clean water and a protected watershed. When you lose the brook trout, you know that you have problems.”
Because brook trout have such steep habitat requirements, they are used as an indicator species: their presence indicates whether or not a watershed is healthy. By closely monitoring brook trout populations, scientists can learn not just about the fish, but about water quality in a river system.
But monitoring brook trout requires more than just fishing. Although there are many methods used to monitor the fish, Matt and Alan have chosen radio tags, which they insert into each fish’s skin through a quick, painless surgery. The radio tags allow Matt, Alan and other scientists to follow the movements of brook trout for the next year or so.
When I follow Matt and Alan on their Wednesday morning fishing excursion, they bring me to a dense forest of eastern hemlocks. Mountain laurels hug the shallow stream banks, blocking the sun and forming a blanket of shade over the river. With the lush layers of forest, the serenity of fishing and the absence of human influence, it feels as though we’ve traveled back in time. But we’re actually on western Maryland’s Savage River, a 30-mile-long tributary of the Potomac River and the largest remaining native brook trout habitat in the mid-Atlantic.
Although brook trout have been eliminated from the majority of Maryland’s waterways, these fish have remained in the Savage River for a few reasons. With just 1,500 residents, the Savage River watershed has not been subjected to the fast-paced development taking place in other parts of the Chesapeake Bay region. About 80 percent of the watershed is state-owned, meaning that the vast majority of the land around the river is safeguarded from development and managed to enhance water quality and brook trout habitat. (Plus, who wouldn’t want to live in a traffic-free, forested oasis in the Appalachian mountains?)
“Typically with brook trout habitat in the east, outside of Maine and a few places in New York, all of the tributaries are disconnected. There’s damage or dams or pollution, and they can’t go from one spot to another,” Alan explains. “But these fish can go up to 30 miles in one direction. They can go up Poplar Lick six miles; they can go down to the reservoir. It’s incredibly unique and there’s hardly anything like this left. It’s our gem.”
Sure, there’s plenty of room for the fish to travel, but Alan, Matt and others with the Eastern Brook Trout Venture want to know exactly where the Savage River’s brook trout swim throughout the seasons. “In order to answer our questions, we implemented this radio tagging study last year,” Matt tells me. “Last year, we had one fish move about three miles overnight. I had one fish that moved about four miles from where it was tagged.”
These sudden movements tell Matt and Alan that some factor encouraged the fish to move far – and fast. “It seems the impetus for these fish to leave the river in the summer months was an increase in water temperature,” Matt says. “In the winter months, they move back.”
By identifying the fish’s preferred habitats, biologists will be able to manage the land to imitate these favored spots, which will help keep the river’s brook trout population healthy.
The large-scale decline of brook trout is not due to overfishing. However, harvesting these fish certainly won’t help rebuild populations. That’s why Maryland DNR decided to create a special regulation for brook trout harvesting in sections of the Savage River watershed.
“You can fish for brook trout with an artificial lure only, and you can’t keep them,” Alan says. “The result so far has been phenomenal, for both the population and for the quality of the fishing.”
(Image courtesy Jon David Nelson/Flickr)
It may be difficult to understand how Matt and Alan’s brook trout restoration efforts in the Savage River – 200 miles from the shores of the Chesapeake Bay – are connected to the Bay’s health. After all, western Maryland is a far cry from the crabs, oysters and sailboats associated with the nation’s largest estuary.
“Water rolls downhill,” Matt says simply. “It has since the beginning of time and it will continue to do so. If we can protect the water quality here, as it continues to move downstream, it has a better chance as it flows on towards the bay.”
So the restoration efforts Matt, Alan and other brook trout scientists dedicate their careers to aren’t so far removed from the Chesapeake after all. “These streams out here 200 miles from the Bay are vital,” Alan says. “When you add up all the water in these small headwater streams, it’s an amazing amount of water.”
The Chesapeake Bay’s blue crab population increased 66 percent in 2012 to its highest level since 1993, according to the annual blue crab winter dredge survey conducted by Maryland and Virginia.
The enormous increase was fueled by a “baby boom” – an almost tripling of the juvenile crab population, from 207 million last year to 587 million. This figure smashed the old record of 512 million juvenile crabs set in 1993.
Overall, the Bay’s crab population has risen to 764 million, more than triple the record low of 249 million set in 2007. That deep decline set in motion four years of concentrated efforts to rebuild the stock.
“Just a few short years ago, the future did not look bright for our blue crab population,” said Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. “Our female crabs were being overfished, and our fishery was at risk of complete collapse. We teamed up with our neighbors in Virginia and at the Potomac River Fisheries Commission to make the tough choices, guided by science, to reverse that population decline.”
Bay-wide, the crab harvest has increased substantially since 2008, when 43 million pounds were caught. In 2011, an estimated 67.3 million pounds of crabs were harvested from the Bay.
Not all news from the survey was bright: the number of spawning-age females dropped by roughly 50 percent to 97 million. However, this figure is still above the health threshold. Maryland and Virginia will work together to produce a management strategy to avert another stock decline for this segment of the crab population.
Visit the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ website for more information about the winter dredge survey and the 2012 blue crab figures.
An unusual sequence of weather events, including a wet spring, a hot, dry summer, and two tropical storms, caused the Chesapeake Bay’s health to decline in 2011, according to the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
(Image courtesy Chesapeake EcoCheck)
Scientists gave the Bay a D+ on the latest Chesapeake Bay Report Card, an annual assessment of the health of the Bay and its tidal rivers. The score of 38 percent was the second lowest since assessments began in 1986 and down from a C- in 2010.
Only two areas – the lower western shore and the Patapsco and Back rivers – improved last year. The rest of the Bay’s segments remained the same or got worse. Scientists recorded lower scores in the Patuxent River, Rappahannock River, James River, Tangier Sound, and the upper and middle Bay.
"The spring rains and hot, dry summer followed by Tropical Storm Lee and Hurricane Lee led to poor health throughout Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries," said Dr. Bill Dennison of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. "While we have been making considerable progress in various restoration activities, these results indicate we still need to do much more to reduce the input of nutrients and sediments from stormwater runoff into the Bay."
The Bay’s health is largely affected by weather conditions. Rainfall carries pollution from farms, cities and suburbs to storm drains, streams and eventually the Bay. Even as the government, communities and citizens work to reduce pollution, an increase in stormwater runoff can mask the effects of these improvements.
Wet weather last spring washed more nutrient pollution into the water, fueling the growth of algae blooms that blocked sunlight from reaching bay grasses. Hot, dry weather allowed these algae blooms to persist through summer, leading to low-oxygen “dead zones” in the Bay’s bottom waters. In late summer, the Bay was slammed by the effects of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, both of which worsened water clarity.
"The report card clearly indicates that the Chesapeake Bay watershed is a dynamic ecosystem subject to severe weather events," said Bay Program Director Nick DiPasquale. “The silver lining is that the Hopkins-UMCES study of 60 years of water quality data concluded that a decrease in the frequency and severity of dead zones in the Bay is the direct result of implementing measures to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus pollution. We know what works; we just need to do more of it."
The Chesapeake Bay Report Card, produced by the EcoCheck partnership, offers a timely and geographically detailed assessment of the health of the Bay’s water quality and aquatic life. Visit EcoCheck’s website for more information about the report card, including region-specific data and downloadable graphics.
Growing up, Carol McDaniel spent a summer or two playing in northeast Ohio’s streams. Catching salamanders and crayfish helped her develop affection for the outdoors. After working 30 years as a nurse in Baltimore, McDaniel is now reliving her childhood in western Maryland, where she monitors streams, searches for macroinvertebrates and mobilizes volunteers with the Savage River Watershed Association (SRWA).
“We were always into the outdoors even though we didn’t work outdoors,” McDaniel says. Her husband, Joe, is a retired scientific computer programmer. “When it got to the point where we were trying to retire, we wanted to pick a place that our kids would want to visit.”
The place they chose was a home on top of a ridge in the Youghiogheny River watershed. The Youghiogheny is not part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed (the “Yough” – pronounced yah-k – flows to the Mississippi River), but it borders the Savage River watershed, one of the most pristine corners of the Chesapeake region.
The Savage River watershed is the largest natural remaining native brook trout habitat in the Mid-Atlantic. Brook trout are able to live in the majority of the 30-mile-long Savage River and its tributaries because the water is highly oxygenated and stays cool (below 68 degrees) year-round. Because brook trout have such steep habitat requirements, they are used as an indicator species. More brook trout in a stream tells scientists that the water is healthy.
But the watershedmay not be healthy much longer. What McDaniel describes as the “inevitable” Marcellus Shale drilling poses a threat to the region. One spill, she says, and the brook trout would be gone.
Another constant issue is landowner habits, such as allowing cows to defecate in steams. Such actions spread beyond private property and into the river system. This problem is particularly serious in rural areas such as Garrett County, where residents may own large parcels of land.
Fortunately, residents involved with SRWA are working together to mitigate and monitor the river system. Since the organization first began (in 2006, with an ad in the local paper calling for “stream monitoring volunteers”), members have grown to include trout fishermen, professors and students at nearby Frostburg State University, part-time residents who vacation in the region, farm landowners, and interested streamside property owners. These diverse perspectives are a tremendous benefit to the organization, as input from every one of watershed's 1,500 residents is essential if the Savage River is to remain healthy.
“We're trying as an organization to walk a delicate line, and not be perceived as a radical tree hugging group,” explains Annie Bristow, SRWA treasurer. “We really want landowners to be on board and for us to be perceived as an organization that can help them.”
Most recently, a couple came to a SRWA meeting asking for the group’s assistance. Their property along the Savage River had begun to rapidly erode due the massive snowmelt during the winter of 2010. SWRA received a grant, and restoration is to begin in spring of 2013.
(Image courtesy Savage River Watershed Association)
“I try to have hope, but everyone keeps telling me that this is going to happen.” Bristow is referring to natural gas extraction from the Marcellus Shale region in western Maryland. “I guess it is inevitable.”
The Marcellus Shale is a sedimentary rock formation in the Appalachian province that contains deep underground deposits of natural gas. Its use is fairly widespread; according to USGS, in 2009, 25 percent of the energy consumed for electricity, cooking and heating the United States came from natural gas.
As the demand for affordable energy sources increases, energy companies have begun to drill through the rock to extract natural gas. Widespread concern about the environmental effects of this “fracking” process has led to regulations against it in Maryland. Although this protects Maryland's water resources, the bordering states of Pennsylvania and West Virginia have fewer natural gas drilling regulations.
“There are sections of Garrett County where there are only nine miles between Pennsylvania and West Virginia, so Maryland (in between) is still affected greatly,” explains Bristow. “There's drilling sites in West Virginia and Pennsylvania that affect our tributaries, and those streams are already being monitored.”
SRWA seeks to monitor the health of streams before drilling occurs to develop a “baseline” for post-drilling comparison. After undergoing rigorous training by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Bristow and McDaniel trained SRWA volunteers to measure water quality indicators such as temperature, pH and conductivity on 13 sites along the Savage River and its tributaries.
While SRWA and Maryland DNR have been monitoring streams long before the Marcellus Shale debate began, the potential effects of natural gas drilling serve as a new incentive to keep an eye on the Savage River.
“I think when they do begin drilling, we are going to see people concerned about the watershed coming out of the woodwork,” says McDaniel.
One reason the Savage River's water temperature is cool enough for brook trout is the shade provided by eastern hemlock trees along its banks. But these dense hemlock forests may not survive much longer; a tiny insect known as the hemlock woolly adelgid is sucking sap from hemlock trees and killing them. Just as SRWA is preparing for the inevitable Marcellus Shale development, volunteers are also expecting streamside hemlocks to disappear due to this invasive sap-sucker.
To avoid eroding soil, increased water temperatures and other perils that come with bare stream banks, SRWA has planted 4,000 red spruce trees along the Savage River’s shoreline. This spring, they plan to plant 500 more.
(Image courtesy Savage River Watershed Association)
If you drive on Interstate 68 into Garrett County, you'll see a number of farms, each with its own accompanying man-made pond.
“When this area was turned into farmland after it was logged at the turn of the last century, every farmer dug a pond,” explains McDaniel.
Ponds and other unshaded, open areas quickly heat up in warmer months. When these ponds are attached to the Savage River and its tributaries, they dump warm water into the system. This affects water quality, water temperature, and consequently, brook trout.
“One of the things we would like to start doing is to take these ponds off the stream at no expense to the farmer or landowner,” explains McDaniel.
SWRA supported a project that rerouted a pond belonging to the City of Frostburg. “We turned the pond into a three or four acre wetland and re-routed the stream,” says McDaniel. “Within two or three months, there were baby trout in the stream!”
Six of the seven Chesapeake Bay jurisdictions – Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia – have submitted their final cleanup plans as part of the Chesapeake Bay TMDL, a “pollution diet” that aims to put in place all restoration measures needed for a clean Bay by 2025.
The final cleanup plans, officially known as Phase 2 Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs), were submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last Friday. New York submitted its draft plan, and is working with the EPA to finalize that plan.
The cleanup plans were developed by each individual state and the District, working closely with counties, municipalities and other local partners. The cleanup plans identify specific restoration measures each jurisdiction will take to reduce nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution to the Bay and its local rivers.
According to the guidelines set in the TMDL, at least 60 percent of necessary pollution reductions must be achieved by 2017. Chesapeake Bay Program partners have committed to putting all needed pollution control measures in place no later than 2025.
Visit the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay TMDL website to review and learn more about the cleanup plans.
When a tornado hit John Long's home in June 2009, the last thing on his mind was the Chesapeake Bay. He lost the entire back half of his home, as well as ten trees on his property. After a few weeks of waiting for insurance proceedings, Long was permitted to pick up the debris scattered across his backyard, which just so happened to border Bread and Cheese Creek, a tributary of the Back River in Dundalk, Maryland.
When Long ventured down to the creek to gather the pieces of his broken home, he found more than he was expecting.
"Beneath my shingles and siding was several years of shopping carts, fast food trash, and just about anything else you can imagine," Long explains.
(Image courtesy Michael Wuyek/Flickr)
The trash wasn’t limited to Long’s property. "As I walked through more of the stream, I discovered it was the same everywhere. I was saddened because the beautiful little stream I remembered from my childhood was gone."
Long transformed his devastation into action. He contacted Baltimore County officials, who repeatedly told him that there was no money for a cleanup operation. But he didn't let that stop him. Eventually, the Baltimore County Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability loaned him a dumpster, trash bags and a small crew. Clean Bread and Cheese Creek was born.
At the group’s first-ever cleanup, Long and 40 volunteers roamed a small portion of the creek, using their own tools to clear brush and their own bags to collect trash. Long’s parents grilled hamburgers and hot dogs for the hungry workers.
"Since then we have grown to generally draw about 140 people each cleanup, but we are still entirely funded through donations and staffed entirely by volunteers," explains Long.
Clean Bread and Cheese Creek's goal is as simple as its name states. However, funding the cleanups and enforcing illegal dumping policies isn’t quite as easy.
"Garbage bags, tools, first aid kits, flyers, posters, gloves, bottle water, food and other supplies are all from donations," Long explains. "We have the volunteers and the will, but the resources keep becoming more difficult to come by."
The group’s biggest source of funding is bake sales, courtesy of Michelle Barth, the group’s treasure and an acclaimed baker. Gold’s Gym has also been the group’s biggest sponsor, donating bottled water and advertising for cleanups.
While bottled water and bake sale profits may seem insufficient, Long explains that his “Type A thriftiness” allows a little go a long way.
“If I’m not at a cleanup, I’m at a flea market or yard sale, picking up supplies. You can buy shovels for five bucks, instead of thirty at the Home Depot.”
One may think that witnessing the overwhelming amount of trash in Bread and Cheese Creek (and often hauling it up stream banks) would change Long's view of his neighbors. But he does not speak of Dundalk residents as inconsiderate, lazy or lacking in environmental stewardship. Rather, he says that his volunteers' hard work outweighs the illegal dumping activities of others.
(Image courtesy Thomas Schwab/Flickr)
"I have volunteered at other cleanups throughout the state and you will never find people more dedicated and proud of their community," Long says. "I have worked with these people in the heat, the cold, and in the rain and they continue to laugh and joke while digging out shopping carts or pulling plastic bags from briars."
Of course, there’s only so much volunteers can do by themselves. A challenge occurs when the group hauls tires and shopping carts out of a section of the creek on Saturday, only to find a washer and dryer in their place on Sunday.
In addition to cleaning up after dumping events, Clean Bread and Cheese Creek is working to prevent them. "The illegal dumping we encounter seems to be from contractors and businesses more than individuals," Long says. "This dumping occurs primarily at night and behind business bordering the creek. We are currently working with businesses to have cameras installed in areas where the dumping occurs."
(Image courtesy John Long/Flickr)
Another challenge to Bread and Cheese Creek is Dundalk’s stormwater management system. When rain falls on lawns, parking lots, shopping centers and other paved surfaces, it carries trash and toxins (such as oil, gas, antifreeze, pesticides and fertilizer) directly into Bread and Cheese Creek.
"The only way to stop this from occurring is for there to be a complete overhaul of the stormwater managements systems in the Dundalk area so we can meet modern standards," Long says. Sustainable stormwater management techniques such as rain gardens allow stormwater to soak into the soil, rather than running off into streams.
"Unfortunately, every time this problem is addressed with Baltimore County, we are told there is no money for this. However, how much will this cost everyone in our efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay?”
The Bread and Cheese Creek of Long's childhood was rarely affected by litter; but its pristine condition in the early 1800s is unimaginable today. British and American troops camped along the creek's banks during the War of 1812's Battle of North Point. The creek got its unusual name from these soldiers, who would sit by the stream as they ate their rations of bread and cheese.
The creek is perhaps best known for the heroic sacrifice of two young American soldiers. In 1814, Daniel Wells (age 19) and Henry McComas (age 18) waded through the stream to sneak up on British General Robert Ross. They shot and killed the general, but were killed with the British's return fire.
"American soldiers died along this creek defending our county in our nation’s second war for independence," explains Long. "This important part of our history should not be left the eyesore it currently is."
Long sees honoring the creek’s past as one way to create hope for the future. To commemorate the stream's significance in the War of 1812, Long and volunteers are attempting to clean the entire length of Bread and Cheese Creek by 2014, just in time for the War of 1812 Bicentennial Celebration.
Because the creek played such a significant role shaping America's history, it will be added to the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail.
Since Long organized the first cleanup in 2009, 608 volunteers have removed a total of 52 tons of trash, including some odd and "vintage" items like bathtubs, part of a tombstone and an unopened bottle of Pepsi from the 1980s.
(Image courtesy John Long/Flickr)
From these numbers, it may seem like Long and his team must work 40 hours a week collecting trash. But like all Clean Bread and Cheese Creek members, Long has a day job.
Clean Bread and Cheese Creek understands that other commitments may prevent residents from thinking they can offer any help.
"Everything makes a difference, no matter how small," Long says. "We have volunteers who call on the phone and say 'I can only volunteer for an hour, is that okay?’ We are happy to have their help for fifteen minutes! During those fifteen minutes they are picking up trash someone else would need to clean up!"
The smallest efforts add up; over the last three years, streamside residents have noticed a significant improvement in Break and Cheese Creek.
"Minnows, crayfish and frogs which were once abundant in the stream are coming back – at night we can hear the bullfrogs singing again," Long testifies.
As wildlife reappears along the creek and eyesore trash is removed, Dundalk residents have come to appreciate the group that tramples through their backyard creek on Saturday mornings. This community support has led Long to transform what was initially a simple cleanup effort into an official 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Long is completing the process in the next few months, and is eager to acquire a label that will enable him to apply for grants.
(Image courtesy John Long/Flickr)
With this potential for additional funding, Long will expand the group’s effort beyond trash pickup. Invasive plant removal and native planting projects are at the top of his list. Such projects will help enhance wildlife habitat and protect water quality along Bread and Cheese Creek.
If you live in the Dundalk area, you’ve probably already seen signs along Merritt Boulevard advertising Clean Bread and Cheese Creek’s April 14th cleanup. If you can’t make that event, the group has several other upcoming cleanups and fundraising events listed on its website.
Don’t want to get dirty? Don’t sweat it. There’s plenty of ways businesses, schools, groups and individuals can help.
If you’re not sure what you’re getting yourself into, be sure to check out Long’s extensive photo library of volunteers, trash and the creek.
Fewer acres of bay grasses grew in the shallows of the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal rivers in 2011, according to scientists with the Chesapeake Bay Program. Bay grass acreage fell to an estimated 63,074 acres in 2011, down from 79,664 acres in 2010. This is the lowest Bay-wide acreage measured since 2006.
Because of heavy rainstorms that led to cloudy, muddy conditions that blocked monitoring efforts, only 57,956 acres of bay grasses were actually mapped in 2011. However, scientists believe about 5,119 acres of bay grasses may have been present during the height of the growing season, leading to the final estimated Bay-wide figure of 63,074 acres.
Bay grasses – also known as submerged aquatic vegetation or SAV – are a critical part of the Bay ecosystem. These underwater meadows provide fish, crabs and other aquatic life with food and habitat, absorb nutrients, trap sediment, reduce erosion, and add oxygen to the water. Bay grasses are also an excellent measure of the Bay's overall condition because their health is closely linked with the Bay’s health.
“2011 was the year that bucked two trends we’ve seen over the last decade,” said Lee Karrh, chair of the Bay Program’s Submerged Aquatic Vegetation (SAV) Workgroup. “The Upper Bay had major decreases after years of increasing or sustained high acreages. On the other hand, the brackish parts of the Middle Bay witnessed dramatic increases in 2011, after prolonged decreases since the turn of the century.”
Experts agree that extreme weather conditions in 2010 and 2011 led to the substantial decrease in bay grasses. According to Bob Orth, scientist with the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) and coordinator of the annual bay grass survey:
In the upper Bay (from the mouth of the Susquehanna River to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge), bay grasses covered approximately 13,287 acres, down from 21,353 acres in 2010. This is most likely an underestimate because scientists did not monitor the area until November, once muddy conditions improved but well past the end of the growing season. One bright spot in the upper Bay was the more than doubling of bay grass acreage in the Chester River and near Eastern Neck.
In the middle Bay (from the Bay Bridge to Pocomoke Sound and the Potomac River), bay grasses decreased 4 percent to an estimated 34,142 acres, down from 35,446 acres in 2010. (Only 29,023 acres were mapped, but scientists estimate that an additional 5,119 acres may have been present.) Large eelgrass losses were observed in Tangier Sound. These were offset by widgeon grass gains in many areas, including Eastern Bay and the Choptank River.
In the lower Bay (south of Pocomoke Sound and the Potomac River), bay grasses covered 15,645 acres, down 32 percent from 22,685 acres in 2010. Hot summer temperatures in 2010 led to this significant drop in acreage, which offset any gains that followed in 2011. Eelgrass in many parts of the lower Bay had been recovering from similar heat-related losses that took place in 2005.
Despite Bay-wide losses, there were a few bits of good news for bay grasses last year. The huge, dense bed on the Susquehanna Flats – which has increased threefold in size over the past 20 years – survived the late summer tropical storms, showing how resilient healthy bay grass beds can be to natural disturbances. Also, scientists recorded the first-ever bay grass bed in the mainstem James River since the area was first surveyed in 1998.
Annual bay grass acreage is estimated through an aerial survey, which is conducted from late spring to early autumn. Residents can do their part to help restore bay grasses by not fertilizing in the spring and planting more plants to reduce polluted runoff from backyards.
For detailed information about 2011 bay grasses acreage, including aerial photos and year-to-year comparisons, visit VIMS' SAV blog. For more information about the aerial survey and bay grass monitoring efforts, visit VIMS’ SAV website.
In Maryland’s Washington, D.C. suburbs, Beaverdam Creek flows past agricultural fields, an abandoned airport, the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and parts of the University of Maryland campus before flowing into Indian Creek, and then the Anacostia River.
(Image courtesy thisisbossi/Flickr)
The diverse suburban surroundings of Beaverdam Creek bring many challenges, including litter, polluted stormwater runoff and eroding stream banks. Luckily, the area’s dense population provides lots of volunteers to plant trees and organize cleanups that help improve habitat and water quality in and around this beautiful stream.
Although Beaverdam Creek may be a lesser-known Anacostia River tributary, it is one of the most scenic. The stream flows through Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, acres of federally owned farm fields used for experimental composting, weed control and honeybee projects. Beaverdam Road, which runs through this facility, offers an excellent view of the area. The road is a favorite of bike commuters traveling between Laurel and Greenbelt.
Beaverdam Creek’s 14-square-mile watershed is home to plants and wildlife you might not expect to see just a few miles outside the nation’s capital. Pitcher plants – large, insect-eating plants – grow in bogs near the creek. You may also see river otters flirting along the banks, great blue herons hunting for fish, and bald eagles swirling overhead.
(Photo courtesy taoboy49/Flickr)
More from Beaverdam Creek:
Don’t go chasing waterfalls along Gwynns “Falls,” the 25-mile-long stream that originates in Reisterstown, Maryland, and empties into the Patapsco River in Baltimore City. You won’t find any. Despite the stream’s name, there are no natural waterfalls along Gwynns Falls’ course.
(Image courtesy Jim Carson/Flickr)
The term “falls” was first used by Captain John Smith, the first known Englishman to navigate the stream. Smith wrote how the stream tumbled over “felles,” or large rocks and boulders. This confusing reference to rocky streams as “falls” was also applied to Baltimore’s Jones Falls and Gunpowder Falls, neither of which have natural waterfalls.
Although Gwynns Falls’ rocky bottom prevented the stream from being used for navigational purposes, its fast-flowing waters powered 26 mills that boosted Baltimore’s industry into the 20th century. Perhaps the most successful of these mill operators was the Ellicott family, which built a series of millraces and a dam that diverted more water towards their mills. Several historic mill sites are located along the Gwynns Falls Trail, one of the largest urban wilderness parks on the East Coast. The 15-mile-long greenway connects 30 Baltimore neighborhoods and transverses five public parks.
(Image courtesy Jim Carson/Flickr)
An afternoon along the Gwynns Falls Trail is a lesson in both history and nature. Go back in time as you explore the site of the historic Windsor Mill; awe at the miniature railroad and Crimea mansion at Leakin Park; look for a waterwheel that pumped water to the Crimea mansion; and walk among tulip poplars, sycamores and sweetgum trees. It’s all just a few miles from the Inner Harbor, but you’ll feel worlds away from urban life.
Gwynns Falls also cuts through Owings Mills, an area that has experienced a high rate of development in recent years. Fortunately, additional public land holdings have allowed a portion of this area to remain forested. Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area consists of 1,900 acres of unique serpentine habitat that protects rare insects and endangered wildflowers. Soldiers Delight’s seven miles of trails are open to hikers and hunters most of the year.
More to see and learn about Gwynns Falls:
Just over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, residents in Centreville, Md., spent Saturdays building rain gardens, installing native plants and talking to their neighbors about improving the health of the Corsica River, a tributary of the Chester River.
(Image courtesy Corsica River Conservancy)
Volunteers with the Corsica River Conservancy (CRC) are seeking to remove the Corsica from the official list of impaired waterways. This goal requires major pollution reduction and habitat enhancement projects.
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways for Corsica River area residents to help. All watershed residents are eligible to apply for a free rain garden valued at up to $2,000. Volunteers can also get involved with CRC’s oyster gardening and shoreline restoration projects. Take a look at this interactive map to find a project near you.
Check out this blog post from the Chesapeake Bay Trust to learn more about the Corsica River Conservancy.
The number of ducks, geese and swans wintering along Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic shorelines was down slightly in 2012 compared to 2011, according to scientists with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
(Image courtesy Dominic Sherony/Flickr)
Survey teams counted 633,700 waterfowl this winter, as compared to 651,800 during the same time in 2011.
An unusually mild winter in the Mid-Atlantic region likely contributed to the lower population. Scientists counted fewer Canada geese, but more diving ducks, particularly scaup. Canvasback totals were the second lowest level ever recorded; however, more birds of this species were observed arriving after the survey was finished.
Maryland survey results are ultimately pooled with results from other states to measure the population and distribution of waterfowl up and down the Atlantic Flyway, according to Larry Hindman, DNR’s waterfowl project leader.
Visit DNR’s website for more information about the waterfowl survey, including a complete list of species and survey population figures.
Maryland farmers planted nearly 430,000 acres of cover crops in fall 2011 through the state’s Cover Crop Program, the largest planting in Maryland history, according to the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA). The 2011 figure exceeds Maryland’s 2013 Chesapeake Bay pollution reduction milestone for cover crop plantings by 21 percent.
Cover crops are widely considered one of the most cost-effective and environmentally sustainable ways to control soil erosion and reduce nutrient pollution to the Bay and its rivers in winter. Collectively, the 429,818 acres of cover crops planted in 2011 will prevent an estimated 2.58 million pounds of nitrogen (60 percent of Maryland’s total pollution reduction milestone goal) and 86,000 pounds of phosphorus from entering the state’s waterways.
Farmers plant cover crops such as rye, wheat and barley in the fall after summer crops are harvested. As they grow, cover crops recycle unused plant nutrients remaining in the soil, protect fields against wind and water erosion, and help improve the soil for next year’s crop.
To learn more about Maryland’s cover crop program, visit MDA’s website.
Agricultural ditches in Kent County, Delaware, flow through farm fields and into Marshyhope Creek, a 37-mile-long tributary of the Nanticoke River. This scenic waterway begins in Harrington, Delaware and runs across the Maryland state line, meandering through Caroline and Dorchester counties before emptying into the Nanticoke River at Sharptown.
(Image courtesy WWJB/Flickr)
Outdoor enthusiasts should explore the 3,800-acre Idylwild Wildlife Management Area, located east of the Marshyhope in Caroline County. A mix of agricultural fields and forests attract red-crested pileated woodpeckers, as well as bluebirds, beavers, wild turkeys, woodcocks, gray foxes and more. Idylwild will please anglers, hunters and wildlife watchers alike. Bring your bike, ATV or hiking shoes and hit the trails.
Marshyhope Creek also winds through Federalsburg, a quaint Maryland town whose slogan is “Pride in the Past, Hope in the Future.” The town’s name comes from a Federalist Party meeting in the early 19th century. If you’re fond of hiking and biking, you’ll want to check out the 2.5 mile Marshyhope Hike and Bike Trail in town. Be sure to cross the Harrison Ferry Bridge to get an excellent view of the Marshyhope.
(Image courtesy of Nathan Bolduc/Bridgehunter)
Have you been to Marshyhope Creek? Tell us what you thought about it!
More of the Chesapeake Bay’s baby oysters appear to be surviving threats from pollution and disease, according to new data from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The 2011 Fall Oyster Survey shows a 92 percent survival rate, the highest figure since 1985.
“This is more than double the survival rate in 2002, when record disease levels killed off 58 percent of the population,” DNR Fisheries Service Director Tom O’Connell said. “The overall biomass index — which measures population health by volume — is also up 44 percent over last year. Not only did these baby oysters thrive under ideal growing conditions, this year we also found a new, high spatset in high-salinity areas such as the Tangier Sound.”
High flows from heavy rain storms last spring and late summer affected oysters above the Bay Bridge; however, that represents a relatively small part of the total oyster population. The lower salinities that resulted from higher freshwater flows actually proved beneficial to the majority of Maryland’s oysters because less-salty water keeps diseases at bay.
The survival rate is the percentage of oysters found alive in a sample. Sampling took place at 263 oyster bars in the Bay and its tributaries over two months last fall. Maryland’s oyster survey is one of the longest running resource monitoring programs in the world; the state has been keeping track of oyster population survival, reproduction and disease levels since 1939.
In another positive bit of news, scientists at the Cooperative Oxford Laboratory report that the frequency and intensity of the oyster diseases MSX and Dermo are low. Both of these once-devastating diseases now occur at the lowest levels on record.
For more information about the oyster survey, visit Maryland DNR’s website.
The Chesapeake Bay Trust, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the state of Maryland will award more than $400,000 to cities and towns throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed through the newly expanded Green Streets, Green Jobs, Green Towns grant initiative.
The Green Streets grants will help communities that want to accelerate greening efforts to improve livability, economic vitality, and protection of local waterways and natural areas. Projects selected will improve watershed protection and stormwater management through low-impact development practices, renewable energy use and green job creation.
“Green streets and green infrastructure are investments that create jobs and save money while also providing multiple environmental and quality of life benefits,” EPA Regional Administrator Shawn Garvin said.
Grant assistance of up to $35,000 is available for infrastructure project planning and design. Grants of up to $100,000 will be awarded for implementation and construction.
Last year, 10 cities and towns in Maryland were awarded grants to fund the planning and design of green infrastructure projects. This year, the program is providing double the overall funding.
The Green Streets grant program is open to local governments and non-profit organizations in urban and suburban areas throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed, including Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.
For more information about the Green Streets, Green Jobs, Green Towns grant program, visit the Chesapeake Bay Trust’s website. The deadline to submit proposals is March 9, 2012.
You may recognize the name “Sideling Hill” from the impressively steep mountainside interrupted by Interstate 68 in western Maryland, about two hours outside of Washington, D.C. If you’re the type that’s impressed by scenery, a westward trip means stopping at the Sideling Hill Rest Stop and Visitors Center to explore the mountainside, which is almost desert-like in its lack of forests.
(Image courtesy dlhdavidlh/Flickr)
Despite its barren appearance, Sideling Hill Creek, which runs through this mountain, is one of the healthiest streams in the entire state of Maryland. With 287 stream and tributary miles and only 2,200 residents in its watershed, this Potomac River tributary is a fortunate one because it suffers from few human impacts.
Here’s a few ways to explore Sideling Hill Creek:
Look out for rare wildflowers
Sideling Hill is so pristine that it supports an endangered wildflower called harperella (Ptilimnium nodosum). In fact, harperella can only be found in ten places in the world! It’s rumored that this flower also grows in West Virginia along Sleepy Creek and a few Cacapon River tributaries.
Trout, turkey and more
The 3,100 acre Sideling Hill Wildlife Management Area provides opportunities for hunters, anglers and anyone else who enjoys beautiful mountain scenery. In the spring, look out for turkey gobblers as they display their colorful feathers. Old logging roads challenge hikers with a variety of terrains. If you love to canoe or kayak, be sure to visit Sideling Hill in spring to explore one of the Chesapeake Bay watershed’s most scenic local waterways.
Learn about what you’re viewing
With its steep ridges and deep valleys, Sideling Hill is home to unique plants, wildlife and geologic formations. So when you visit, take some time to learn about what you’re looking at! The Nature Conservancy offers a Sideling Hill Creek audio tour that will introduce you to the specific types of rocks and plants found in the area. When your trip is over, you’ll not only be refreshed from the beautiful scenery, but also more knowledgeable about the creek’s link to the greater Bay watershed.
(Image courtesy mdmarkus66/Flickr)
Have you been to Sideling Hill? Tell us how you liked it in the comments!
Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has proposed more than $52 million for Chesapeake Bay restoration in fiscal year 2013, nearly double last year’s allotted amount. The money would fund the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Trust Fund, which supports projects that reduce polluted runoff and other types of nonpoint source pollution to the Bay and its rivers.
The trust fund provides dedicated funding for the most cost-efficient restoration practices, targeted in areas where pollution reductions will be most effective. It is made up of money generated through motor fuel and rental car taxes.
Since its creation in 2007, the trust fund has provided $58 million for pollution reduction projects throughout Maryland. According to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), this funding has prevented more than 3.5 million pounds of nitrogen, more than 330,000 pounds of phosphorus and more than 470 tons of sediment from entering local streams, creeks, rivers and the Bay.
Some restoration highlights for the proposed funding include:
For more information about the proposed funding, including a county-by-county breakdown of funding and a complete 2013 workplan, visit Maryland DNR’s website.
Named after the nearby Catoctin Mountains, Catoctin Creek begins near Myersville, Maryland, and flows south for 28 miles, entering the Potomac River near Brunswick. Frederick County residents and National Park Service employees have dedicated the last few years to restoring bridges and waterfowl habitat in the creek’s watershed.
(Image courtesy Chesapeake Bay Foundation/Flickr)
Little Catoctin Creek converges with Catoctin Creek near Doub's Meadow Park in Myersville, a spot that's a favorite of Little League Baseball teams and residents looking to take a nature walk. Close by, a stream restoration project funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation improved the creek's streamside habitat. The location now serves as a place for local students to learn about stream ecology.
Catoctin Creek transverses the quaint town of Middletown, Maryland, and the new Catoctin Creek Park and Nature Center. The nature center's activities run throughout the year. An upcoming Green Roof Astronomy Series leads visitors in star-gazing and marshmallow roasting. A springtime nature festival celebrates Catoctin Creek with family-friendly activities.
Nearby, you may be able to watch waterfowl thanks to potholes constructed by the Potomac Watershed Partnership. When it rains, the potholes fill with water and provide ducks a place to breed in spring and migratory birds a place to stop for food in winter. Before it was restored as a wetland, the property was a poorly drained agricultural area.
Further south, where the Catoctin flows into the Potomac, the restored 140-year old Catoctin Aqueduct spans the creek. Of the 11 stone aqueducts on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, the Catoctin Aqueduct was known to be the most beautiful. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
(Image courtesy Steve 1828/Flickr)
After a series of storms and floods collapsed two of its three arches in October 1973, the aqueduct was replaced by a steel frame bridge that allowed C&O Canal bikers and hikers to cross the creek. The Catoctin Aqueduct Restoration Fund began raising funds to restore the aqueduct in 2006; the aqueduct restoration was completed this past October.
More near Catoctin Creek:
Maryland will provide more than $19 million in grants to reduce nutrient pollution to the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers by upgrading technology at four wastewater treatment plants in the state. Upgrading wastewater treatment facilities to remove more nitrogen and phosphorus from treated sewage is a critical part of meeting Bay cleanup goals.
The four facilities that will be upgraded are:
Biological nutrient removal (BNR) uses microorganisms to remove nitrogen and phosphorus from wastewater during treatment. Wastewater treated at facilities using BNR contains less than 8 milligrams per liter (mg/l) of nitrogen. Enhanced nutrient removal (ENR) improves upon the nutrient reductions achieved through BNR. Wastewater treated at facilities using ENR contains 3 mg/l of nitrogen and 0.3 mg/l of phosphorus.
Funding for the upgrades comes from Maryland’s Bay Restoration Fund – also known as the “Flush Fee.” To learn more about wastewater treatment plant upgrades in Maryland, visit the Maryland Department of the Environment’s website.
Spend a Saturday morning walking along the Sligo Creek Trail in Takoma Park, Maryland, and you'll likely see at least one family trekking through the brush with a trash bag, picking up discarded aluminum cans and plastic grocery bags. These are the members of Friends of Sligo Creek (FOSC), a community volunteer organization that has worked since 2001 to clean up this tributary of the Anacostia River. The organization has now swelled to more than 500 members – an impressive figure for a nine-mile-long creek, even in this densely populated Washington, D.C., suburb.
(Image courtesy Mark Ames/Flickr)
Sligo Creek’s watershed is ethnically and economically diverse, encompassing everything from million dollar homes to public housing. This diversity is both a challenge and an opportunity for FOSC, which aims to be an environmental organization that genuinely reflects the interests and values of its eclectic community.
Stormwater Committee Leader Ed Murtagh reveals that although Sligo Creek's watershed is home to a varied population, a number of residents are professional environmental experts. "We have EPA employees, natural history experts, Smithsonian workers living in this area. There's a lot of folks who care about these things."
Also unique to Sligo Creek is its urban setting. Flowing through the D.C. suburbs of Silver Spring, Takoma Park and Hyattsville, the creek faces challenges specific to high-density areas, where human impacts are everywhere. Polluted stormwater runoff, land development, and the spread of invasive weeds are some specific challenges Sligo faces.
"It’s pretty common now to see rain barrels and rain gardens," Murtagh says. But when he started volunteering with FOSC in 2002, stormwater infrastructure wasn't so cool. "We try to make it a social thing," he explains, holding education and outreach activities for the community to learn more about beneficial landscaping.
For example, FOSC has sponsored sustainable gardening tours to showcase rain gardens and native plants that homeowners have planted along the creek. According to Murtagh, it's an excellent opportunity to reach out to friends and neighbors interested in gardening.
Additionally, FOSC’s website provides an excellent description of stormwater basics to explain "what happens when it rains" to those who can’t make an event.
When a developer proposed building a cell phone tower on Sligo’s oak-hickory uplands, FOSC knew the project would not only destroy woodlands, but increase erosion and sediment pollution in the creek. Working with neighbors, FOSC members organized successful protests that led to the project being abandoned in early 2011.
Additionally, the cell phone tower proposal would have contradicted Takoma Park’s interest in increasing wildlife habitat in the community. This year, the city became the first in Maryland to be certified by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) as a Community Wildlife Habitat.
NWF’s Backyard Wildlife Habitat certifications are popping up across the country (look for these yard signs). A Community Wildlife Habitat certification, however, is a larger undertaking. Food-bearing plants and water sources must be installed throughout the community so critters can travel throughout different neighborhoods, rather than being isolated to small areas.
In Takoma Park, the certification required that four schools, four public spaces and 150 backyards provide native wildlife with food, water, shelter and a place to rear young. FOSC’s Bruce Sidwell worked with the Takoma Horticulture Club and the Takoma Foundation to garner community support and provide technical assistance to participating neighbors.
(Image courtesy Friends of Sligo Creek)
Invasive weeds grow at much higher rates in urban areas (like the Sligo Creek watershed) than in rural areas. That’s because of us: humans spread seeds and disturb soil when we hike and bike through natural areas, allowing harmful weeds to invade new areas.
How is FOSC battling the somewhat overwhelming invasive weed problem? By splitting up the job. The group has designated a "Sligo Steward" for each of the creek’s 15 stream tracts. Sligo Stewards organize invasive weed removal days, as well as litter pickups. It’s each Sligo Steward’s job to make sure his or her section of the creek is in good health. The Sligo Steward program helps build community, gives neighbors a common goal and fosters a sense of ownership of the creek.
But FOSC volunteers know the fight against invasive weeds reaches beyond their organization. That’s why FOSC has joined forces with the Montgomery County Parks Weed Warriors program, which trains volunteers how to properly remove invasive weeds and sponsors group work days in natural areas.
The partnership between FOSC and the Weed Warriors has been successful at teaching members about invasive weeds and increasing participation in weed removals in the community. This November, a record number of volunteers participated in a Weed Warrior work day at Sligo Creek.
What else is special about Friends of Sligo Creek?
With separate committees for stormwater, invasive plants, water quality, litter, outreach and even natural history, Friends of Sligo Creek is structured in a way that covers all "environmental bases."
In addition to its many neighborhood events, FOSC holds a "Sweep the Creek" trash cleanup twice a year. During last fall’s Sweep the Creek, 222 FOSC volunteers collected 167 bags of trash. According to Murtagh, the amount of trash that volunteers have picked up at each event has decreased significantly over the past 10 years, even as the region’s population has grown.
It seems like all the great work FOSC volunteers are doing is making a difference toward a cleaner Sligo Creek, Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay.
(Image courtesy Friends of Sligo Creek)
More from Friends of Sligo Creek:
Here in the Chesapeake Bay region, it’s easy to use winter as an excuse for, say, drinking lattes, neglecting your exercise regimen and catching up on your favorite television show instead of getting outdoors. These indulgences provide me with some comfort in the face of frigid temperatures, high winds and slick road conditions.
But as my jeans get tighter and my skin gets paler, I’ve become inspired to conquer the season and all its hazards (realistically speaking, that is). Rather than hibernating like an animal, I’m putting my four-wheel-drive to use and showing winter who’s boss!
From cross country skiing to bird watching to doing donuts on frozen lakes, there are some outdoor experiences you can only have during our coldest season. We’ve compiled a list of six great places across the Bay watershed to experience winter. Just think how much better that hot cocoa will taste after you’ve felt the winter wind in your face!
If a winter flu’s got you down, a dip in Berkeley Springs may save your health. George Washington himself frequented Berkeley Springs to bathe in the warm mineral waters that flow from five main sources in the town. The springs discharge 2,000 gallons of clear, sparkling water per minute. The water remains at 74.3 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. It isn’t quite hot tub temperature, but it’s still warmer than a typical winter day.
The town even holds a Winter Festival of the Waters each year to celebrate the springs!
(Image courtesy @heylovedc/Flickr)
A drive through rolling hills, orchards and farmland will bring you to Catoctin Mountain Park and Cunningham Falls State Park, located the base of the Appalachian Mountains. Rock climbing, trout fishing, cross country skiing, winter hiking and horseback riding are just a few of the activities these recreational areas offer.
(Image courtesy Compass Points Media/Flickr)
The forests covering the parks are known as “second growth.” The “first growth” forest was logged extensively in the 18th and 19th centuries to support local agriculture and produce charcoal for the nearby Catoctin Ironworks Furnace. In the 1930s, the land was set aside and reforested by President Roosevelt’s Work Progress Administration.
Hikers and cross country skiers will come across waterfalls and large, 500 million-year-old boulders. These rocks have been exposed as the Appalachian Mountains have flattened out over time. Trails at Cunningham Falls center around the waterfall for which the park is named. Known locally as McAfee Falls, it is the largest cascading waterfall in the state of Maryland.
Venture to Hills Creek State Park, near the Pennsylvania/New York border, and you’ll find yourself surrounded by nothing but forests. Four hundred acres of state park land are bordered by nearly 13,000 acres of state game lands, making the park an ideal destination for trappers and hunters. Winter sports fanatics will be in heaven – the park’s five and half miles of trails are open to hiking and cross country skiing in winter.
(Image courtesy Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources)
Take the kids sledding on the hill near the seasonal beach; with adequate snow cover, you’ll be able to fly! If you’re lucky, you may be able to ice skate on the 137-acre Hill Creek Lake. (The park doesn’t monitor ice thickness, but does provide updates on winter conditions.)
In the winter, scenic mountain vistas are all the more impressive; without any greenery in the way, you can see for miles. For breathtaking winter views, visit Loyalsock State Forest, part of Pennsylvania’s Endless Mountain region. The park’s elevation is relatively high for the Chesapeake Bay watershed, which means you can count on winter conditions every year.
The park manages two trails specifically for cross country skiing, but skiers are welcome anywhere. Thirty-five miles of trails transverse the park, connecting visitors to a 130-mile regional trail system. Snowmobiling is also popular here.
(Image courtesy Richban/Flickr)
(Image courtesy Patuxent Research Refuge)
If winter travel isn’t in the cards for you, look no further than Patuxent Research Refuge, the 13,000-acre wildlife refuge halfway between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, Maryland. You’ll be surprised by how secluded you’ll feel just 20 minutes off I-295 (Baltimore/Washington Parkway).
Borrow binoculars and birding guides from the visitor center and walk the family-friendly trails to catch a glimpse of cardinals, tundra swans and Canada geese. The visitor center also hosts public programs for kids and houses life-sized “stuffed” animals and interactive exhibits that explain the National Wildlife Refuge system.
Seasonal hunting is also popular on the refuges’ North Tract.
If you’re still itching to get a little snow, head to the southernmost selection on our list. During this time of year, Shenandoah’s weather is unpredictable – often 10-20 degrees cooler than temperatures in the valley. Leafless trees allow you to see for miles across the park’s nearly 200,000 acres. Portions of Skyline Drive and visitors’ services are closed through March, but hiking, backcountry camping and simple Sunday drives are still welcomed! Look for bobcat tracks in the snow along the trails. If you’re brave and fit, check out the magnificent view at the top of Old Rag.
(Image courtesy Brandon Feagon/Flickr)
Now you tell us: what’s your favorite Chesapeake Bay place to explore in winter?
Owl handler, goat walker, Monarch butterfly tagger…these are just a few of the roles volunteers take on with the Howard County Conservancy. The conservancy is headquartered in a 300-year-old farm house on a 232-acre property near Woodstock, Maryland, making it an ideal location for Howard County residents to escape from the hustle and bustle of their daily lives.
Image courtesy Chesapeake Bay Trust
The Howard County Conservancy’s mission is two-fold. Like most conservancies, it is dedicated to preserving natural areas. But the Howard County Conservancy is also committed to educating and engaging the public. The property’s historic buildings, four miles of trails and 140 species of birds make it a must-see for any Marylander. Who knows – you may enjoy it so much that you decide to become a volunteer!
For more information about the Howard County Conservancy, visit the Chesapeake Bay Trust’s blog to read how one man became an “accidental” conservancy volunteer.
Bald cypress trees emerge from the water, their branches convoluted and their greenery draping, haunting and lush. Their structure is impressionistic, and somehow looks more like a painting than a photograph. The scene seems to belong in Louisiana, Mississippi or any other place you’d expect to find alligators, Cajun river monsters and Spanish moss…
But this is Delaware – Sussex County, home of the Great Cypress Swamp. This forest – the largest of its kind on the Delmarva Peninsula – forms the headwaters of the 73-mile-long Pocomoke River, the Chesapeake Bay’s easternmost tributary. With depths ranging from 7 to 45 feet and a width of less than 100 feet, the Pocomoke is rumored to be the deepest river for its width in the world.
At the Great Cypress Swamp, you can walk (or boat) among the northernmost stands of bald cypress in the United States. How do these swamp giants survive in high water? Their “knees,” of course! Bald cypress trunks have “knees,” or knots near the water’s surface, which allow the trees to send oxygen from the air down into their root system underwater…kind of like a snorkel!
Acid from the bald cypress roots contributes to the Pocomoke’s dark, tea-stained color. This may be what gave the river its name; locals will tell you that Pocomoke means “black water.” However, experts will tell you that it means “broken ground,” referring to the indigenous tribes’ farming methods. I’m not sure who’s right or wrong, but the color of the water is unique. As one writer put it, the Pocomoke’s water offers the perfect reflection surface for cypress and other trees that line the river banks.
As the Pocomoke flows south into Maryland, it forms the boundary between Wicomico and Worcester counties. At Porter’s Crossing, the river begins to narrow as it flows southwest. It runs through Snow Hill and Pocomoke City before emptying into Pocomoke Sound in the Chesapeake Bay.
Along the way, you can find birds – and lots of them! One hundred seventy-two different species have been recorded in the area. The Pocomoke’s marshes are some of the best places in the Atlantic Flyway to observe both warblers and waterfowl.
If you’d like to take to the “black water” yourself, check out local canoe and kayak rental companies in Pocomoke City and Snow Hill. Hiking trails in Pocomoke River State Forest, Pocomoke River State Park and the Nassawango Preserve of The Nature Conservancy reveal views of the swamps surrounding the river. If you’re lucky, you can get up-close and personal with some of the river’s non-human residents!
For you history buffs, be sure to visit the Furnace Town Living History Museum, a nature and archeology site dedicated to preserving the history of the Nassawango Iron Furnace, started in 1829 near Snow Hill.
(Image courtesy Uncommon Fritillary/Flickr)
Fishing is also excellent in the Pocomoke. Expect to find largemouth bass and panfish, but keep a lookout for pickerel and longnose gar. Since the Pocomoke is a tidal tributary, figuring out the tides is key to having a good fishing experience!
Have you been to the Pocomoke River? Tell us all about it!
Natural Resources Specialist Paul Carlson reaches up a red oak tree, his eyes fixated on the 3-inch-diameter vine that has wrapped itself around the oak’s trunk.
The vine is known as Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) and its effect on the red oak is comparable to a boa constrictor’s on a human: it strangles the tree and prevents the bark from receiving sunlight, which all trees need to survive. Sometimes the bittersweet vine’s weight will even uproot the tree.
In other words, if this vine is left alone, it’s very likely that the red oak will die. Along with it will disappear the wildlife habitat, forest cover, carbon absorption, erosion control, shade and other important benefits the tree provides.
“Once you recognize it, you’ll see it everywhere,” Carlson says, in reference to the bittersweet vine. He pulls out a pruner and a folding saw and slashes away at the bittersweet. I can almost hear the red oak take a breath.
You may not realize it, but not all plants are good. Oriental bittersweet is one of dozens of non-native weeds, trees, shrubs and grasses that are aggressively invading the Chesapeake Bay watershed’s delicate ecosystems.
As their name suggests, non-native weeds are not originally from this region. Therefore, they do not have any predators, parasites or pathogens here to limit their spread. Invasive weeds:
It’s estimated that invasive weed damage and control costs the United States $138 billion annually.
Ecologists, conservationists, gardeners and park maintenance staff across the Chesapeake Bay watershed are constantly looking for cost-effective ways to control these plant invaders.
Carlson and Montgomery County Parks Forest Ecologist Carole Bergmann – who can provide the name and origin of any plant I point to without consulting a field guide or iPhone app – have found an economically feasible and environmentally effective solution to the non-native weed invasion in Montgomery County, Maryland.
It’s called “Weed Warriors”: a county parks volunteer program that trains and certifies volunteers to identify and remove invasive weeds. Since the program began in 1999, Montgomery County’s Weed Warriors have put in more than 40,000 hours of volunteer service.
As the forest ecologist for all 36,000 acres of parks in Montgomery County, Bergmann realized she needed volunteers if she wanted to make a dent in the problem. “I knew that I couldn’t possibly do all the things I wanted to do without getting more people involved and giving them more responsibility and control.”
Last month, the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay named Bergmann a 2011 “Chesapeake Forest Champion” for her work engaging more than 800 volunteers through the program.
At the final Weed Warrior training of the year in early November, volunteers follow Bergmann and Carlson through the forest surrounding Rockville’s Meadowside Nature Center, where the program is headquartered. Bergmann instructs her new volunteers to focus on vines during the winter season, and Carlson wrestles with the fall foliage to demonstrate correct vine removal tactics. The group passes around each vine and shrub, touching the bark, counting leaf lobes, and even smelling berries. It’s essential for Weed Warriors to correctly identify these plants.
“If you don’t know, don’t pull,” Bergmann implores. A plant may look like an invasive weed at first glance, but it could be an important native species that birds and squirrels depend on.
While removing all of the invasive weeds in Montgomery County is not feasible, Bergmann insists that isn’t her goal.
“The benefit of Weed Warriors isn’t just technical assistance. It’s that these volunteers understand enough to tell their neighbors, ‘Don’t buy English ivy.’”
The aggressive nature of invasive weeds requires that entire communities get on board with their extermination. In high-traffic and urban areas, such as Montgomery County, seeds of invasive plants such as kudzu and Japanese barberry often enter parks on the soles and bike tires of families and recreationists. Home owners are usually unaware that the exotic ornamental plants in their yard can invade parks and forests, overwhelming native vegetation and wildlife habitat.
“What’s really important is getting people to understand these things,” Bergmann says. “And in a way, to love the natural world.”
Bergmann knows that a sense of attachment to the natural world is what drives many Weed Warriors to volunteer. She has designed her program to foster this connection. Once volunteers complete a one-hour interactive computer training and attend a two-hour field workshop, the new Weed Warriors receive leather gloves, a hat and a “green card” that allows them to remove weeds at any Montgomery County park, whenever they want.
“People don’t always want to work in a group on the third Saturday of the month in a park across the county from where they live,” Bergmann explains. “They want to work in their park, the park that they watch their kid play baseball in every Saturday.”
Vincent Bradley of McKenney Hills decided to become a Weed Warrior after he participated in his neighborhood’s biannual cleanup this fall.
“At the cleanup, I saw this plant, porcelainberry, just taking over all of the others,” Bradley recalls.
Like many other invasive weeds, porcelainberry was planted by millions of unknowing gardeners because of its pleasant, ornamental beauty: berries ranging in color from deep purple to brilliant turquoise. But to Bradley, the plant’s destruction in his neighborhood park was anything but beautiful.
Bradley began to pull on the bittersweet vines that elevated the porcelainberry. One day, a cleanup supervisor stopped him to explain that he was using the wrong technique: tugging on the vines instead of simply cutting them. Bradley decided he had more to learn if he wanted to make a difference.
“I always appreciated nature,” he says. “My father taught me about trees when I was a kid, and ever since, I’ve been interested.”
Bergmann advises Bradley and other Weed Warrior volunteers to maintain this sense of curiosity. “Come back every season,” she says. “You need to keep learning about your surroundings. It will make you happier.”
As invasive weeds continue to spread, policies are catching on. Many invasive plants are no longer sold in garden stores. Some municipalities, cities – even entire nations – are enacting legislation to limit their distribution.
For example, England has outlawed the cultivation of Japanese knotweed since 1981. In 1990, the UK classified the plant as a “controlled waste,” meaning that even the soil that once contained the plant must be disposed of at a licensed landfill.
Bergmann has some simple advice for all Weed Warriors, certified or not.
Want to get involved?
You can help stop the spread of invasive plants by signing up to become a Weed Warrior. Training takes place on the last Wednesday of the month from April to October. If you can’t make the commitment to become a certified Weed Warrior, you can still make a difference. Special Project Weed Warrior events offer community members the chance to learn about and remove invasive plants in their local county parks.
No matter where you live in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, you can still help stop the spread of invasive weeds. Here are a few invasive plant resources that can help you do your part:
(Porcelainberry image courtesy Steve Guttman/Flickr)
The Potomac Conservancy has awarded the Potomac River’s health a barely passing “D” grade in its fifth annual State of the Nation’s River report.
Population growth and poor land use practices are the primary causes for the river’s pollution, according to the report. The Potomac River’s “two worlds” – rural farms and mountains to the west and the urban landscape to the south – pose different challenges.
Throughout the report, the Potomac Conservancy provides a vision of greater accountability, efficiency and enforcement actions to improve land use practices and water quality. These include strong federal and state stormwater laws, and changing local codes to protect riparian forest buffers, promote well-managed farms, better regulate large farm operations and treat pollution before it enters local waterways.
“We know what needs to be done, but this region is going to have to find the political will to make the hard choices,” according to Potomac Conservancy President Hedrick Belin. “Investing a dollar today to reduce pollution will return clean water dividends for years to come.”
For more information about the state of the Nation’s River report, visit the Potomac Conservancy’s website.
Image courtesy Michael Renner/Flickr
A new study analyzing 60 years of water quality data shows that efforts to reduce pollution from fertilizer, animal waste and other sources appear to be helping the Chesapeake Bay’s health improve.
The study, published in the Nov. 2011 issue of Estuaries and Coasts, was conducted by researchers from The Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES).
The research team found that the size of mid- to late-summer low oxygen areas, called “dead zones,” leveled off in the Bay’s deep channels during the 1980s and has been declining ever since. This is the same time that the Bay Program formed and federal and state agencies set the Bay’s first numeric pollution reduction goals.
“This study shows that our regional efforts to limit nutrient pollution may be producing results,” said Don Boesch, president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. “Continuing nutrient reduction remains critically important for achieving bay restoration goals.”
The study also found that the duration of the dead zone – how long it persists each summer – is closely linked to the amount of nutrient pollution entering the Bay each year.
For more information about the dead zone study, visit UMCES’s website.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has purchased 825 acres of land along the Nanticoke River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore to expand Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.
The purchase conserves two tracts of land: one along a section of the Nanticoke River near Vienna and another to the north on Marshyhope Creek near Brookview.
The land has been identified as prime habitat for migratory waterfowl such as black ducks, blue-winged teal and wood ducks, as well as for bald eagles and the endangered Delmarva fox squirrel. Additionally, the southern land tract is located along the Nanticoke section of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Water Trail.
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is one of the nation’s premier national wildlife refuges. It consists of more than 27,000 acres, including one-third of Maryland’s tidal wetlands and some of the most ecologically important areas in the state.
Visit Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge’s website to learn more about the refuge and the expansion.
When you think of the Anacostia River, you may not think of it as being a place that’s abundant with wildlife. But did you know that more than 170 species of birds call the Anacostia River and its watershed their home?
(Image courtesy Anacostia Watershed Society)
From the American Crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos), a notable species during this time of the year for its Halloween symbolism, to all the raptors, herons, chickadees, warbles, vireos, ducks and turkeys, the lands and waters of the Anacostia watershed have lot to offer for birdwatchers and wildlife enthusiasts.
To learn more about the Anacostia’s important role as wildlife habitat and see some great bird photos, visit the Anacostia Watershed Society’s blog.
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.
Biologists with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) recorded the fourth highest success rate for striped bass spawning in the Chesapeake Bay in 58 years, according to the 2011 Young of the Year Striped Bass Survey.
The survey figure of 34.6 is well above the long-term average of 11.9 and 2010’s 5.9. Striped bass spawning success varies from year to year due to factors such as water temperature, winter snowfall, spring river flow rates and weather conditions. The strong 2011 figure shows that when conditions are right, striped bass are capable of producing a large population of young.
During the 2011 survey, DNR biologists counted 47 different species among the more than 59,000 fish collected at 22 sites in the upper Bay and on the Choptank, Potomac and Nanticoke rivers. The survey also documented an increase in the abundance of juvenile blueback herring, a species that had decreased dramatically, and white perch, another important food and sport species.
Visit Maryland DNR’s website for more information about the striped bass spawning survey.
This is the fourth year the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s oyster hatchery has produced more than 500 million disease-free baby oysters, called spat. The Oyster Recovery Partnership works with the university, as well as the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other partners to collect and plant oysters in the Bay and its rivers.
The Oyster Recovery Partnership also processed more than 70,000 bushels of oyster shell in 2011. About 10,000 bushels were collected through the Shell Recycling Alliance, a program that takes used oyster shells from more than 100 restaurants, caterers and seafood distributors in the region. Baby oysters must attach themselves to other oysters to grow and survive, so it’s critical to collect as many used oyster shells as possible to reuse in oyster reef restoration efforts. The Shell Recycling Alliance now provides 15 percent of the oyster shells Maryland needs for its restoration efforts.
Visit the Oyster Recovery Partnership’s website to learn more about the group’s oyster restoration efforts.
The University of Maryland won top honors at the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2011 by designing, building and operating a solar-powered model house that helps reduce pollution to the Chesapeake Bay.
The house, named “WaterShed,” is a model of how development can help preserve the health of waterways like the Chesapeake Bay by managing stormwater runoff onsite, filtering pollution from greywater and minimizing overall water use. The house also includes solar features that make it less dependent on fossil fuels.
The Department of Energy deemed WaterShed the most cost-effective, attractive and energy-efficient house during the Solar Decathlon, held on the National Mall on Oct. 1.
The Solar Decathlon is a two-year project that challenges college students from around the world to design, build and operate solar-powered houses that are affordable, highly energy efficient, attractive and easy to live in.
Visit the WaterShed website to learn more about the winning house design.
Image courtesy Stefano Paltera/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon
The Maryland Department of Agriculture has received $650,760 from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service to implement progressive management practices for drainage systems on the Eastern Shore.
The funding, awarded through a Conservation Innovation Grant, will help the state meet its Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) goals. The state will use the funding to use the most advanced technology available to protect the Bay and help reduce pollution while meeting modern drainage needs.
“There are 820 miles of public ditches on the Eastern Shore that were originally designed to manage agricultural drainage,” said Agriculture Secretary Buddy Hance. “Today, those ditches also support storm water drainage from urban town centers, state highways, and commercial and residential development. As a result, many of these ditches are very seriously stressed.”
Most of the Eastern Shore’s ditches were constructed in the 1960s and 1970s in Caroline, Worcester, Wicomico and Somerset counties. Collectively, they drain 220,000 acres of land.
Over the past ten years, MDA has worked with the University of Maryland to develop technologies and management recommendations that reduce pollution and improve drainage ditch function. Using the NRCS grant, Maryland will identify and target the most stressed ditch systems. It will them implement management practices to reduce runoff and improve water quality, including water control structures, phosphorous absorbing materials, weed wiper technology, and algal turf scrubber technology.
Visit the Maryland Department of Agriculture’s website to learn more about the funding and the project.
Plumes of sediment were observed flowing down the Susquehanna River into the Chesapeake Bay this week after the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee brought heavy rainfall to Pennsylvania and Maryland.
The large rainfall totals caused rivers to swell, washing dirt and pollution off the land and carrying it downstream to the Bay. Record flooding and water levels were recorded at Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna River last week.
Image courtesy NASA/GSFC/MODIS
A new study by researchers with the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science recommends that Maryland place a moratorium on commercial oyster harvest from the Chesapeake Bay.
According to the study, Maryland’s oyster population is only 0.3 percent of what it was at its peak in the late 1800s. The population decline is due to a number of factors, including disease, pollution and overfishing.
Twenty-one young people will volunteer with watershed organizations, county governments and other non-profits throughout Maryland as part of the second class of the Chesapeake Conservation Corps, an environmental career and leadership training program led by the Chesapeake Bay Trust.
The Chesapeake Conservation Corps was established by the Maryland Legislature in 2010. The program matches young people ages 18-25 with organizations throughout the state for paid, one-year terms of service. Participants gain valuable work experience and partner with local communities to advance conservation initiatives in Maryland.
“In today’s challenging economic times, it is important that we invest in our young people and provide them with the skills and training necessary for jobs that create a smarter, greener future for Maryland,” said Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, the lead sponsor of the legislation that created this initiative.
Visit the Chesapeake Bay Trust’s website to learn more about the Chesapeake Conservation Corps.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation have placed 306 reef balls planted with millions of baby oysters in the Choptank River near Cooks Point.
Reef balls are three-dimensional structures that provide habitat for oysters and other aquatic organisms, including worms, mussels, striped bass and black sea bass. Reef ball plantings help restore oyster populations and promote thriving aquatic reef communities. Many reef-dependent species have not been seen in the Choptank River for many years.
Visit Maryland DNR’s website to learn more about the agency’s artificial reef initiative.
More than 1,700 Maryland farmers will plant a record 550,000 acres of winter grains this fall through the state’s Cover Crop Program.
This acreage represents 155 percent of Maryland’s cover crop goal in its Phase 1 Watershed Implementation Plan, which spells out how the state will meet federal pollution reduction requirements. Cover crops are considered one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce pollution and help restore the Bay.
Maryland’s Cover Crop Program provides farmers with grants to plant cover crops on their fields immediately following the summer crop harvest.
Cover crops are grains such as wheat, rye and barley that are planted in the fall. Once established, cover crops recycle unused nutrients, helping to improve the soil for next year’s crop. Cover crops also control soil erosion and reduce the amount of nutrients that run off the land into nearby waterways.
Visit Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s website to learn more about the cover crop enrollment figures.
“Video guy” Matt and I hop in his truck one Monday morning. It is 85 degrees outside (and it’s only 9 a.m.), and although an air conditioned office can offer some relief, Matt’s idea sounds much better. Today’s adventure? Chasing waterfalls. (That’s right, just like that TLC song, circa 1995).
Annapolis has plenty of water, but most of it is too still and too calm (although, as a newcomer to the area, I am constantly surprised by the number of bridges I cross on my daily errands). We are headed to Cunningham Falls State Park in the Catoctin Mountains, an area just where the farmland surrounding Route 15 meets the Appalachians.
Before I know it, we have left the bustle of the DC-Baltimore-Annapolis area behind and we are climbing up a hill so steep that other hikers are using some sort of ski-pole-like device to help them grab the terrain. Gigantic rocks surround us on both sides. They were probably formed during some Ice Age, Matt and I decide – a dramatic environmental event that has left its remnants for us to climb! It’s not long before I am covered in sweat.
Eventually, the terrain levels out and we hear the sound of water…running water!
I rush towards it, following Matt down the path. He stops me short, making a SHHH! signal. He is taking photos of two pileated woodpeckers. The birds are larger than I had expected, and there are two them, pecking away at a log. It is a rare opportunity for me to run into a creature in its natural state like this, and we shoot away (with the camera, that is).
We are joined by others at the falls, most of them children. I feel like one as I crawl up the gigantic rocks, which have been smoothed out by years of water running over them. The water is trickling down from somewhere I cannot see, but it is clearer than any water I’ve seen in a long time. I take off my shoes and soak it up. This beats air conditioning.
On our way home, we pass farm stand after farm stand, and with a little bit of memory from my college days (Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Md.) and a little luck, we find our way to a few local orchards. One displays a “calendar” of pears and apples that are scheduled to appear; I make note of “pink lady” and promise the lady selling us peaches that I will be back.
As I strode to the front of Ms. Molly Moran's second grade class at Annapolis Elementary School one June morning, I was confident in my lesson plan, so elegantly simple that I didn't even need the 3X5 index card in my shirt pocket on which I had it drawn out.
My former boss at EPA's Wetlands Division, John Meagher, had invited me to talk about what I do in my work through the ReSET program he directs. ReSET is a D.C.-based non-profit volunteer organization that partners working and retired scientists, engineers and technicians with elementary school teachers to improve science motivation and literacy. ReSET's goal is to introduce children in the classroom to science, engineering and technology as being enjoyable and exciting (i.e., fun!).
John did his lesson first. I had scoped out his topic and identified a meaningful connection between his talk and mine. He was going to teach a hands-on, desk-top laboratory lesson about buoyancy, including a key vocabulary word: "gravity." (Did you know that a lacrosse ball sinks in fresh water but floats in salt water?)
I decided that was my link. The audience would be primed. I had decided on the audience participation approach, to put the pen into their little hands.
It was my turn. On the flip chart at the front of the class, I drew a hillside – a single black line – with wavy blue water at the bottom of the hill: the Bay, just like right outside the classroom window. A stick-figure person. A lolli-pop green tree. A cloud. A fish in the water. A swimmer. Rain.
I asked the class: "Where does the water go when it rains?"
The class: "Down to the Bay!"
One smart kid got it right: "Gravity!"
"How many of you have or know people who have dogs?" All the hands went up. Another volunteer drew a red dog on the hillside.
Then the clincher: "What do dogs do when you take them out to walk in the morning?"
The entire chorus: "THEY POOP!"
Ms. Moran interrupted: "Oh, Mr. Mike, you just got them to say their favorite word!" The audience, giggling, was wrapped. "Wait!" I said, fumbling around the front desk, "There's no brown marker!" Ms. Moran stopped the lesson until she could find one.
There was no shortage of volunteers to draw the little brown pile behind the dog. It was not exactly to scale.
"Where does that poop go when it rains?" "To the Bay" "Why?" "Gravity!"
"How do you think the fish and the swimmer feel about that?" "Yech!"
"What do you think you can do about that?" They knew that answer too.
And the lesson was over. I haven't had that much fun since the last time I caught a steelhead on a fly rod in a snowstorm.
Seriously, if you like kids half as much as I do and care about the future of the world, combine the two by volunteering with John for the ReSET program. John has the lesson plans; you and the kids have the fun.
The northern snakehead – an invasive fish native to Asia – has been discovered for the first time in several Maryland and Delaware rivers that flow to the Chesapeake Bay.
This month, a team with the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center found a mature, egg-bearing snakehead in the Rhode River, just south of Annapolis. It was the first snakehead ever found in the Rhode River.
After the discovery of the Rhode River snakehead, officials with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) confirmed that another snakehead had been found in the Northeast River in Cecil County this spring.
Also this month, a Delaware angler caught a snakehead in Marshyhope Creek, a tributary of the Nanticoke River. According to the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC), this was the second snakehead found in the Nanticoke region. Last fall, DNREC staff found a snakehead in Broad Creek, near Laurel.
The northern snakehead was first discovered in the Bay watershed in a pond in Crofton, Maryland, in 2002. Since then, it has become established in the Potomac River and several of its tributaries in Maryland and Virginia. Snakeheads have the potential to be invasive because they breed rapidly and prey on native fish.
Snakeheads are freshwater fish, so the Bay’s brackish waters usually prevent them from leaving the Potomac River. But scientists believe it is possible that unusually low salinity in the Bay this summer allowed snakeheads to travel to new rivers.
It is illegal to move, possess or release snakeheads in Maryland and Delaware. It is also illegal to transport snakeheads across state lines without a federal permit. If you catch a northern snakehead in Maryland or Virginia, you are required to kill it. These laws are intended to help prevent this potentially invasive fish from spreading.
For more information about snakeheads, visit Maryland DNR’s website.
Walking my two high-spirited Boykin Spaniels, Rosebud and Daisy, has special meaning to me. I have become the self-appointed advocate for picking up pet waste in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. Many call me the “queen of poop” (with a chuckle); it’s a title of distinction, as far as I’m concerned! But you might wonder how I earned that title and why I think it is a good thing? (My parents certainly do!)
I encourage everybody to walk with their four-legged friends. It’s good for both your health and your dog’s. Many popular routes in Anne Arundel County now have pet waste stations to encourage you to pick up your dog’s poop. Picking up pet waste is critical to achieving a healthy Chesapeake Bay. Pet waste can be carried by rainwater and groundwater to the Chesapeake Bay, where it becomes harmful pollution.
I developed an interactive web site called Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Pet Walks, which maps the locations of pet waste stations in the area. You can even visit the website from your mobile device while you’re out walking your dog to find the nearest pet waste station.
If you know of a pet waste station that isn’t included on the map, or if you’d like to learn how to set up a pet waste program in your community, please contact me at email@example.com.
Meanwhile, please take a walk with your dog today. And remember: POOP HAPPENS…Deal with it!
Eleven federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture, have joined together in a new initiative to revitalize the Anacostia and Patapsco rivers.
The Urban Waters Federal Partnership will focus on the two Chesapeake Bay region rivers, as well as five other waterways throughout the United States, as pilot locations for the new initiative. The partnership’s goal is to help underserved communities access and benefit from their local waterways.
Urban waterways like the Anacostia and Patapsco rivers provide local residents with drinking water and opportunities for fishing, boating and swimming. Cleaning up and restoring these rivers is essential to protecting human health, improving quality of life, and connecting people to their local natural areas.
For more information, visit www.urbanwaters.gov.
The early summer dissolved oxygen forecast (called an “anoxia forecast”) is based on nitrogen loads to the Bay during winter and spring, as well as high river flow in May due to heavy rainfall. According to scientists, the Bay’s 2011 low-oxygen area – commonly called the “dead zone” – could be the fourth-largest since 1985.
The annual summer ecological forecast uses data such as nitrogen loads, wind direction and sea level to predict dissolved oxygen levels in the Bay’s mainstem. The forecast is split into early summer (June to mid-July) and late summer (mid-July to September) because scientists have observed a significant change in oxygen levels following early summer wind events.
The forecast is supported through research at the Chesapeake Bay Program, Johns Hopkins University, Old Dominion University, and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science Horn Point Lab.
For more information about the dissolved oxygen forecast, visit Chesapeake Eco-Check’s website.
Former Maryland State Senator Bernie Fowler saw his white sneakers through 31.25 inches of water at the 24th annual Patuxent River wade-in on June 12. This was down three inches from last year and a far cry from the 60-plus inches of water Fowler could see his sneakers through during his youth.
About 100 government officials, environmental leaders and members of the community joined Fowler at Jefferson Patterson Park, where the annual Patuxent River wade-in is now held. Fowler had previously hosted the wade-in near his childhood home on Broomes Island.
The Patuxent wade-in is held on the second Sunday of June each year to draw attention to the muddy, polluted waters of the river and Chesapeake Bay. Fowler speaks of the days of his youth when he could wade up to his shoulders in his beloved Patuxent and still see the river's bottom, teeming with crabs and fish swimming among the grasses and oyster shells.
The "sneaker index" is a measurement of the deepest point at which Fowler can still see his white sneakers as he wades into the Patuxent River.
The Patuxent River wade-in has spawned community wade-ins on many creeks and rivers throughout Maryland.
Maryland will provide more than $29 million in grants to upgrade wastewater treatment plants and septic systems, improve sewer systems, and restore stream banks to reduce pollution to the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers.
As much as $8.9 million will go toward Bay Restoration Fund grants to upgrade septic systems with nitrogen-reducing technology. Traditional septic systems do not remove nitrogen, instead delivering about 30 pounds of the pollutant each year to groundwater. Upgraded septic systems reduce nitrogen pollution discharges by half.
The La Plata wastewater treatment plant and the Broadneck water reclamation facility will both receive Bay Restoration Fund grants to implement Enhanced Nutrient Removal. After the upgrades, the facilities will reduce their nitrogen discharge by 62.5 percent. The La Plata wastewater treatment plant will receive $8.8 million and the Broadneck water reclamation facility will receive $7.5 million.
Other funded projects include:
Maryland has passed a law that will reduce pollution from lawn fertilizer applied to homes, golf courses and businesses.
The Chesapeake Bay Commission, whose members introduced the legislation, estimates that the Fertilizer Use Act of 2011 will reduce phosphorus pollution from urban sources by 15 percent compared to 2009 levels. This equates to 20 percent of the phosphorus reduction Maryland needs to achieve its pollution reduction goals for the Chesapeake Bay TMDL.
Turf grass is now the largest “crop” in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, exceeding the amount of acres planted in corn and fast approaching all row crops combined. As the amount of lawns in the region increases, so does fertilizer use.
The legislation limits the amount of nutrients in fertilizer used by homeowners and lawn care professionals. Nitrogen will be limited and phosphorus will be banned in most types of lawn fertilizer.
Additionally, professional fertilizer applicators will have to be trained and certified in proper fertilizer application, such as keeping fertilizer off paved surfaces and not applying before heavy rain or when the ground is frozen. Areas along waterways, drainage ditches and near storm drains will be designated as “no-fertilizer zones.” (Read a full list of the lawn fertilizer bill provisions.)
The commission worked with soil scientists, environmental groups, fertilizer manufacturers, the Maryland Department of Agriculture, and associations representing lawn care professionals and golf courses to develop the provisions. Similar legislation passed in Virginia this winter, and is expected to be introduced in Pennsylvania this year.
Calling this bill “one of the nation’s most comprehensive and protective standards for lawn fertilizer content and use,” Chris Wible, director of environmental stewardship for the Scotts Miracle-Gro Company, pledged to work with Bay groups to teach homeowners about protecting the Bay from their own backyards.
Another important part of the legislation is increasing and improving homeowner outreach. Within one year, the Maryland Department of Agriculture and the University of Maryland will develop and distribute consumer guidelines to help homeowners better understand how to reduce pollution from lawn fertilizer.
To be honest, I was kicking myself a little bit after our latest photo trip. I realized how dumb I have been for not visiting Patapsco Valley State Park in the one and a half years I've lived here.
When living in an urban environment, you sometimes forget what clean, fresh air feels like. I definitely felt healthier the day of the trip, being surrounded by so many trees and other living things.
I wasn't the only one trying to get out and enjoy the nice weather. We saw a number of hikers, bikers, fisherman and families taking to the trails. The park has multiple waterfalls, picnic areas, and plenty of walkways to check out.
I would strongly recommend visiting Patapsco Valley State Park if you live nearby. They are actually having a volunteer fair this Saturday (May 7th) from 10-1. According to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources website, you will be able to “Explore all the volunteer opportunities available including volunteer rangers, photographers, camp hosts, trail workers, naturalists and much more!”
We want to hear from you! What are your favorite Chesapeake Bay-region parks to visit when the weather is nice?
Ten Maryland communities have been awarded a total of more than $230,000 to design “green streets” that will reduce polluted stormwater runoff to the Chesapeake Bay and local rivers while creating green jobs in urban areas.
Baltimore City, Bladensburg, Capitol Heights, College Park, Colmar Manor, Cottage City, Edmonston, Hyattsville, Mount Rainier, University Park each received grants of $25,000-$35,000 to plan and design “green streets” in their communities.
A “green street” is a street that:
Communities can save $27 for every $1 invested in green infrastructure, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The Green Streets-Green Jobs Initiative grants are funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Chesapeake Bay Trust. For more information, visit the Trust's website.
The Chesapeake Bay has received a C-minus on the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s (UMCES) 2010 Bay Health Report Card. The 2010 grade is a 4 percent decrease from 2009, when the Bay’s health received a C.
Higher rainfall – which led to increased stormwater runoff from the land – drove down scores for water quality and biological heath indicators. Researchers believe that two closely timed, large-scale weather events in winter 2010 played a role in the decrease.
The Bay’s health is affected by many factors, including human activities and natural variations in rainfall, which is the major driver of runoff from farms, cities and suburbs. Even as pollution is reduced, higher rainfall and associated runoff can mask the effects of these improvements.
“One of the main drivers of annual conditions in Chesapeake Bay is river flow related to weather patterns,” said UMCES-EcoCheck scientist Dr. Heath Kelsey. “While efforts to reduce pollution have been stepped up in recent years, nature overwhelmed those measures in 2010 and temporarily set the Bay back a bit.”
The declines are the first observed since 2003 and are on par with conditions observed in 2007. Annual weather-related variability in scores, even as more pollution-reduction measures are put into place, is to be expected in a highly complex ecosystem like the Bay, according to Dr. Kelsey.
Overall, the Lower Bay’s health score stayed relatively steady from 2009, while the Mid- and Upper Bay regions declined slightly. Results were fairly consistent in that declines were seen in most indicators.
The report card, based on data collected by state and federal agencies through the Chesapeake Bay Program, provides an independent analysis of Chesapeake Bay ecosystem health. It is expected that Bay Health Index scores will increase over time, as restoration and pollutant reduction activities are increased.
The report card analysis is conducted through the EcoCheck partnership between UMCES and the NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office. In addition to the Bay-wide reportcard, UMCES works with local watershed organizations to develop river-specific report cards to give residents a creek-by-creek look at their local waters.
For more information about the 2010 Chesapeake Bay Health Report Card, including region-specific data, visit the Chesapeake EcoCheck website.
We've been getting a lot of rain in the Chesapeake Bay region this spring. One day after a rain storm a few weeks ago, we decided to go around the neighborhood to see what trash we could find on the street.
After an hour, we had picked up about half a garbage bag full of trash. Our route along an Annapolis street led us to a storm drain that was located directly above a small creek. All of the trash we picked up that day would eventually have gone into the storm drain and then into the creek it flows to. How? Rain!
Rain picks up trash and other pollutants and washes them into storm drains, which flow to our local streams, creeks and rivers. And our local waterways flow to the Chesapeake Bay. This is why you should always pick up your trash!
Underwater bay grasses covered 79,675 acres of the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal rivers in 2010, according to data from scientists with the Chesapeake Bay Program. This is a 7 percent decrease from 2009, when bay grasses covered 85,914 acres of the Bay’s shallows.
Despite the drop, the 2010 bay grass acreage estimate ranks as the third-highest Bay-wide acreage since 1984, when the annual survey began.
"Even with the decreases in the 2010 bay grass coverage, the patterns are similar to previous years,” said Lee Karrh, living resources assessment chief with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and chair of the Bay Program's SAV Workgroup. “Many of the fresh and low salinity areas have very high abundances, including 16 that have reached their restoration targets. However, the saltier parts of the Bay continue to struggle, with most areas well below the restoration goals, with only the mouth of the James River exceeding the goal.”
Bay grass abundance is currently at 43 percent of the Bay Program’s 185,000-acre goal. This goal is based on approximate historic bay grass abundance from the 1930s to present.
“We were pleased that grasses remain healthy and abundant in two areas where nutrient pollution was reduced: the upper Potomac River and Susquehanna Flats,” said Bob Orth, scientist with the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and leader of the baywide annual survey. “However, the overall condition for bay grasses remains one of concern with many areas still having few, if any, grass beds.”
In the upper Bay (from the Susquehanna Flats to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge), bay grasses covered about 21,353 acres. This is a 10 percent decrease from 2009. Large increases were observed in the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal and part of the Sassafras River. However, these were offset by large decreases in local rivers, including the Bush, Bohemia and Magothy. The massive grass bed in the Susquehanna Flats continues to dominate this area.
In the middle Bay (from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to the Potomac River and Pocomoke Sound), bay grass acreage decreased 11 percent to 35,446 acres. Most segments in this part of the Bay lost grasses. The largest percentage decreases occurred in the middle and lower central Bay, as well as the Choptank, Honga, Patuxent and Potomac rivers. Increases were seen in Tangier and Pocomoke sounds and the Manokin and Big Annemessex rivers, where eelgrass continued to come back following a 2005 die-off.
In the lower Bay (south of the Potomac River), scientists mapped 22,876 acres, a 1 percent increase from 2009. This is the fourth year that bay grasses in this part of the Bay have increased since 2005, when hot summer temperatures caused a dramatic large-scale eelgrass die-off. Most of the gains were in the upper Rappahannock, lower Piankatank, and the upper section and mouth of the James River. These gains offset losses in other areas.
“In 2010, our big concern arose in the lower Bay where eelgrass appeared to suffer another setback from the incredibly hot summertime temperatures,” said Orth. “Since we had mapped those beds prior to the heat wave, losses there are not reflected in our final figures. We believe the really hot summer temperatures in the early part of the growing season may have just cooked the grasses before we were able to map them, e.g. parts of the Honga River. The changes also occurred in areas dominated by just one species, widgeongrass, which has been shown to be a boom or bust species. 2010 may have been the hottest on record but it was those summer time temperatures in June that may have tipped the scale for SAV in some areas.”
Bay grasses – also known as submerged aquatic vegetation or SAV – are a critical part of the Bay ecosystem. They provide underwater life with food and habitat, absorb nutrients, trap sediments, reduce erosion, and add oxygen to the water.
Bay grasses are also an excellent measure of the Bay’s overall condition. The health of bay grasses is closely linked with Bay health. Annual bay grass acreage estimates are an indication of the Bay’s response to pollution control efforts.
Annual bay grass acreage is estimated through an aerial survey, which is conducted from late spring to early autumn. For more information about the aerial survey, and to view an interactive map of bay grass acreage throughout the Bay and its tidal rivers, visit VIMS’ website.
It takes a lot of work to protect the critical land that borders the Chesapeake Bay and its streams, rivers and wetlands. Mary Owens, conservation and education coordinator for the Maryland Critical Area Commission, takes us through a typical day in her job in our latest “From the Field” feature.
The calendar tells me that it is spring, and I am looking forward to a day in the field. As a natural resources planner for Maryland’s Critical Area Commission, my days are varied and involve a combination of tasks and activities that frequently have me outdoors. I love this part of my job!
The Critical Area Program is a natural resources protection and conservation program. Through the Critical Area Program, Maryland works cooperatively with local county and municipal governments to regulate land use and development activity within the state’s “Critical Area.” The Critical Area includes all land and water within 1,000 feet of tidal waters and tidal wetlands. Because of the Chesapeake Bay’s irregular shoreline, as well as the Atlantic coastal bays and all of the tidal rivers and creeks that feed into the bays, this “strip” of land includes about 680,000 acres -- about 11 percent of the state.
After stepping outside and realizing that the weather has turned back to a wintry chill, I get a fleece vest, scarf and gloves (just in case). In this line of work, you soon realize that it is always colder and windier near the water. While this is great in August, it can be a little rough in early April. It’s difficult to review a proposed development project or evaluate a forested buffer when all you can think about is being cold.
My first task for the day is to talk with my boss about a problem with a development project in southern Maryland. The project I am reviewing is an 11-lot subdivision that involves clearing a mature forest, which has been identified as Forest Interior Dwelling Species (FIDS) habitat. This type of habitat is very important to Maryland songbirds. Many songbird species have experienced significant population declines in the last several decades. The dwindling numbers are largely due to fragmentation of the large forested tracts (usually 50 to 100 acres) that songbirds need to nest and breed. To offset the impacts associated with clearing FIDS habitat, developers are usually required to plant and protect similar habitat on another property.
The problem is that a suitable FIDS mitigation site has not been identified for this project. So we have to notify the planning staff that the project cannot proceed without addressing this requirement. We agree to send a letter to the planning director to request a meeting to resolve this issue before any additional permits are issued.
My next activity is also related to FIDS mitigation, and it involves a FIDS Mitigation Bank that we have been working on for over a year. Over the last two years, Commission staff have worked very closely with several local governments and the Department of Natural Resources Wildlife and Heritage to develop FIDS Mitigation Banks throughout the Critical Area. This effort is essential to the successful protection and conservation of FIDS species.
I have just obtained updated survey information, aerial imagery and a forest management plan for a proposed bank. I meet with DNR Heritage staff to go over the information as we move toward “certifying the bank” as suitable for FIDS mitigation. The meeting goes well, and it looks like we have just over the necessary 100 acres that we hoped to protect on this property. Hopefully this “bank” will be “open for business” in the next month or so.
After these two meetings, I finally get on the road and head out to a site visit in Historic St. Mary’s City (HSMC). It’s rainy, windy, and cold, so I am glad I have extra clothes in the car. The purpose of my field trip is to meet with a horticulturist and other HSMC staff to explore the possibility of using goats to remove invasive plant species. Yes – goats! Low tech perhaps, but highly effective, since they eat undesirables like poison ivy and multiflora rose.
Within the Critical Area and particularly within the buffer (the first 100 feet adjacent to tidal waters, tidal wetlands and tributary streams), maintaining natural vegetation is very important. Unfortunately, this is the area where most people want to clear all of the vegetation so they can have a panoramic water view. Massive clearing, grading and bushogging are not allowed in the buffer because they remove natural forest vegetation, which is extremely important to water quality and habitat. These activities can also create severe erosion and sedimentation problems in tidal waters and wetlands.
Fortunately at Historic St. Mary’s City, they aren’t proposing to “clear” large buffer areas to create a view. Rather, they are looking at creative ways to address a serious invasive species problem. We walk around several areas of the property to look at the condition of the landscape and assess topography, soils, vegetation, and existing uses and access. In various areas, the invasive species have literally taken over the natural forest. Without eliminating these undesirable species, it is impossible for the buffer to function optimally. Often, removing invasive species and judiciously pruning trees can create a great view without compromising the value of the forested buffer. This type of work requires a Buffer Management Plan to ensure that the work is properly managed and that mitigation, in the form of supplemental planting, is provided if necessary.
The meeting with the owner of Eco-Goats goes well. It seems like using the goat herd may be a cost-effective and ecologically friendly method of addressing the invasive species problem. The owner tells us that the goats especially like many of the species that are present. The goats can also get to steeply sloping areas that are generally inaccessible to equipment and dangerous for humans. Using the goats is definitely preferable to applying herbicides, especially close to streams, wetlands and waterways. In the roughly one-half to 1 acre area that is identified as a good test site, he estimates that it would take 30 goats less than a week to munch the invasive species down to stems.
After this meeting, the HSMC staff wants to show me a site where they are proposing to construct a special events pavilion. The proposed location is outside the 100-foot buffer, which is good. Unfortunately, it is located in an area where there is an existing stormwater management facility, so that facility will need to be relocated. Fortunately, there are many new stormwater treatment technologies available, so it is likely that we well be able to use several smaller practices such as rain gardens, submerged gravel wetlands or infiltration practices. It’s really beneficial to have the opportunity to discuss various options at the beginning of the design stage, because planning is very important when you are proposing projects in the Critical Area.
My day wraps up in a good way as the sun finally comes out, and it feels like spring. I’ve driven quite a few miles, walked a couple of miles, and learned a lot about goats! As I head homeI drive past the St. Mary’s River, and the sun sparkling on the water is absolutely beautiful! It reminds me that it often does take many small efforts to accomplish things. Small steps, taken together, can eventually take you somewhere. It’s always good to not just focus on the destination, but to enjoy the journey as well.
The Chesapeake Bay’s blue crab population is at its second-highest level since 1997, according to results from the 2011 Blue Crab Winter Dredge Survey. At 460 million crabs, the blue crab population is nearly double the record low of 249 million in 2007.
Additionally, the survey shows that there are 254 million adult crabs in the Bay, a figure that is above the 200 million population target for the third year in a row. This marks the first time since the early 1990s that there have been three consecutive years where the adult population was above the target.
These figures indicate that emergency crab management measures put into place in 2008 are helping the Bay’s blue crabs recover, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC).
“We continue to realize the benefits of the very tough decisions we made three years ago – decisions that are bringing us closer to our ultimate goal: a self-sustaining fishery that will support our industry and recreational fisheries over the long term,” said Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.
“The stock’s improved status from just a few short years ago is neither a random event nor a reflection of improved environmental conditions,” said Dr. Rom Lipcius, who directs the Virginia component of the dredge survey for the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS).
The unusually high crab abundance allowed watermen to harvest more than 89 million pounds of crabs, the largest amount since 1993. In addition, recreational crabbing license sales increased by 8 percent in 2010. However, the combined commercial and recreational blue crab harvest did not exceed the target of 46 percent. This shows that a healthy crab industry can coexist with stronger regulations, according to VMRC.
Despite these positive figures, overall crab abundance declined due to this past winter’s deep freeze that killed as many as 31 percent of Maryland’s adult crabs, compared to about 11 percent in 2010. Crab reproduction – which is heavily influenced by environmental conditions – was also lower in 2011.
“It was a harsh winter and crab mortality was higher than normal. In fact, it was the worst we’ve seen since 1996,” said VMRC Commissioner Steven G. Bowman. “Thankfully, we acted when we did in 2008 to begin rebuilding the crab population, or the crab census results we see today would be grim indeed.”
“The evidence indicates we’ve succeeded in rebuilding the stock to a degree that it can withstand a perfect storm of rapid temperature drop as crabs move into their overwintering grounds in the lower end of the Chesapeake Bay, followed by a prolonged bout of cold weather,” said VMRC Fisheries Chief Jack Travelstead.
Abundance estimates for young of the year, mature female and adult male crabs are developed separately. Together, these groups of crabs will support the 2011 fishery and produce the next generation of crabs.
The annual Blue Crab Winter Dredge Survey is the primary assessment of the Bay’s blue crab population. Since 1990, Maryland DNR and VIMS have sampled for blue crabs at 1,500 sites throughout the Chesapeake from December to March. By sampling during winter – when blue crabs “hibernate” by burying themselves in the mud – scientists can develop the most accurate estimate of the Bay’s blu crab population.
For more information about the blue crab survey results, view this presentation from Maryland DNR.
Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has signed an executive order to study septic system use in the state and find out how much pollution the on-site wastewater systems contribute to the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers.
The executive order forms a task force that includes representatives from science, business, government, agriculture and environmental advocacy communities.
The task force will review, study and make recommendations on a variety of septic and growth-related issues, including:
Approximately 411,000 Maryland households are currently on septic systems. During the next 25 years, new developments using septic systems are expected to account for 26 percent of growth in Maryland, but 76 percent of new nitrogen pollution. Maryland must reduce nitrogen pollution by 21 percent by 2020 to comply with the EPA's Bay pollution diet.”
"There's greater recognition now for the societal costs of sprawl development on septic,” said Governor O’Malley. “Continuing down the same path will undercut the progress we’ve made on restoring the health of the Chesapeake Bay and will overburden our farmers and other industries that are making changes to limit pollution in our waterways."
The task force will report its findings by December 1.
For more information about septic systems and pollution, view this presentation given by Gov. O’Malley to the Maryland General Assembly in March.
New tests by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) show lower levels of contaminants in the Chesapeake Bay’s striped bass (rockfish), prompting the agency to increase its recommendation for the amount of the popular fish residents can safely eat.
Revised fish consumption advisories increase the recommended meal limits for striped bass caught in the Bay for nearly every population group.
The recommended meal limits for the general population for smaller striped bass increased by 50 percent, from two meals to three meals per month
The advisories no longer include the recommendation that had existed for women and children for certain striped bass
The new recommendations stem from recent test results that show a significant decline in PCB levels in striped bass from Maryland waters. Median PCB levels fell by more than half in fish analyzed between 2001-2005 versus in 2009-2010.
Data also suggest that contaminant levels are even lower in striped bass fillets prepared without fatty portions of the fish.
“Contamination has decreased in the striped bass we tested,” said MDE Acting Secretary Robert M. Summers. “Although we do not have the data to identify a specific explanation for the decline, PCBs have been banned in the United States since 1979, and we’re encouraged by this positive indication of the improving quality of our waters.”
MDE has also released new consumption advisories for bluefish caught in the Bay. Based on new data, MDE recommends a limit of two meals per month for bluefish less than 15 inches long. Residents should avoid eating bluefish larger than 15 inches.
Fish consumption advisories provide recommended limits on how often certain fish can be eaten and still enjoy health benefits while minimizing risks. For Maryland waters, fish consumption advisories are available on MDE’s website and posted at many public fishing areas.
For more information about the revised striped bass consumption advisory, including detailed consumption advisory charts, visit MDE’s website.
I have come across quite a few hobbies and crafts in my day that I never knew existed. When we visited the Decoy Museum in Havre de Grace recently, I was introduced to yet another.
If you haven’t had a chance to check out the museum and you are in the area, I would suggest taking a few minutes out of your day to do so. The decoys really are works of art.
The museum displays hundreds of these creations, but also gives a detailed history of the art form itself. You can see a few examples in the photo slideshow below.
While we were there, we took some time to get out and take some pictures of the shoreline and wildlife. As the weather continues to warm, we look for more and more of these opportunities.
Do you have any memories associated with decoys or waterfowl? We’d love to hear from you, leave a response below.
A new report by Environment Maryland details the harmful effects of lawn fertilizer on the Chesapeake Bay and explains the steps that should be taken to reduce this pollutant and clean up local waterways.
Lawn fertilizer contains the nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus, which are major sources of pollution in the Bay and its rivers. When homeowners apply too much fertilizer to their lawns, the nutrients can run off into local storm drains when it rains. Excess nutrients can also seep into groundwater, which eventually makes its way into the Bay's streams and rivers.
Turf grass is now the largest crop in Maryland. In 2009, 1.3 million acres were planted with turf, compared with 1.5 million acres for all other crops combined. While farmers are required to develop nutrient management plans and control polluted runoff on their land, there are few rules for homeowners and lawn care companies to follow for fertilizer applications.
The Maryland Department of Agriculture reports that “nonfarm use” of fertilizer is quickly catching up with farm fertilizer sales. Estimates suggest that Maryland landowners apply approximately 86 million pounds of nitrogen fertilizer to their lawns each year. According to the report, researchers monitoring one suburban stream near Baltimore found that 56 percent of the nutrients in the water came from lawn fertilizer.
The report concludes that to reduce pollution for lawn fertilizer, lawmakers need to take two broad steps: limit the amount and type of nutrients in the fertilizer itself, and ensure that homeowners and lawn care companies apply less fertilizer to the ground.
For more information, download the full lawn fertilizer report, “Urban Fertilizers and the Chesapeake Bay: An Opportunity for Major Pollution Reduction.
Early March's heavy rains and snow melt caused a flood of nutrients and sediment to flow into the Chesapeake Bay from the Susquehanna River, according to scientists with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
This heavy runoff, which resulted in record poor water clarity in many areas, could harm bay grasses and cause more algae blooms to form in the Bay this spring and summer, especially if the wet weather continues.
Two days after a very heavy rainstorm that doused the region with 2+ inches of rain, the U.S. Geological Survey recorded a peak flow of 485,000 cubic feet/second (cfs) from the Susquehanna River at Conowingo Dam. This was well above the March average of 75,000 cfs and the highest average daily flow rate observed at the dam since September 2004, when floodwaters from Tropical Storm Ivan passed through.
Large amounts of fresh water flowing from the Bay’s rivers can erode stream banks and bring polluted runoff from the land into the Bay. Late winter and early spring are critical times for many of the Bay’s aquatic species. Bay grasses are just beginning to grow and many fish are starting to spawn.
Maryland DNR will continue to monitor water conditions to assess any short- or long-term storm effects of the wet weather.
For more information, visit Maryland DNR's website.
Scientists observed more than 640,000 ducks, geese and swans along Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay shoreline this winter as part of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ annual Midwinter Waterfowl Survey. This is a decline from 2010, when approximately 787,000 waterfowl were counted.
The decline is largely due to fewer Canada geese and snow geese being counted for the survey. Large numbers of geese likely went undetected because they were on farms and other inland habitats. Overall, the wintering Canada geese remained high.
More ducks were counted in 2011 (199,300) than in 2010 (173,700) due to snow and cold weather north of Maryland, according to DNR. In particular, there were more mallards and canvasbacks, as well as an exceptional number of gadwalls on the Susquehanna Flats.
The Midwinter Waterfowl Survey has been conducted annually throughout the United States since the early 1950s. Maryland survey results are ultimately pooled with results from other states to measure wintering waterfowl distribution and populations throughout the Atlantic Flyway, according to DNR Waterfowl Project Leader Larry Hindman.
“The survey is conducted in a coordinated manner across the Atlantic Flyway states to provide an annual index of the population size for important waterfowl species like black ducks, Atlantic brant and tundra swans,” Hindman said.
Visit Maryland DNR’s website to view the full survey results.
Don't shoot the messenger if I'm wrong, but I think spring is just around the corner. Recently we’ve been teased with a few days that may be a sign that this miserable cold weather really won’t last forever. One of those days happened a few Mondays ago.
There is nothing better than kicking your week off with a photo trip, especially when the weather cooperates. This time, we headed out to the Chesapeake Exploration Center on Kent Island at sunrise and followed the paths down to the water.
The plan was to capture some photos of wintering birds. However, it was a windy day so the birds must have been hanging out somewhere secluded.
Birds or no birds, I think we still managed to get a few high-quality shots to add to our online image library. You can see photos we captured in the slideshow below.
Some of the other photos featured were taken at the Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center, about 10 minutes away in Grasonville.
As you can see in some of our photos, there is quite a bit of trash in these beautiful places. This leads me to a perfect opportunity to plug the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay’s Project Clean Stream. On April 2, dozens of organized cleanups will take place throughout the Bay region to rid our local waterways of some of this pollution. Visit the Project Clean Stream website to see a map of all the cleanup locations and find the one that is closest to you.
Since we are sharing our photos with you, we would love to see links to some of your photos as well. Do you have any pictures of birds that winter the Chesapeake region? Or photos of you and a team participating in a stream cleanup? Leave links to them in the comments!
The Magothy River in Anne Arundel County, Md., received a D-minus on its latest health report card, the same grade as last year but a significant decline from several years ago, according to the Magothy River Association’s latest Magothy River Index.
The index assesses the river’s health according to three indicators: water clarity, dissolved oxygen and bay grasses. Bay grass acreage in the river decreased in 2007 and water clarity diminished in 2008. Scores for both have remained low ever since.
Low dissolved oxygen at the surface of several creeks is also a problem in the river. Upper Mill and Dividing creeks had the worst surface dissolved oxygen, suggesting that pollution problems that lead to low oxygen levels are worse in those areas.
Despite the low scores, the Magothy River Association is looking to the future to help restore the river. The group is working with scientists to explore if any native species of bivalves other than oysters could be used to help clean up the river. Bivalves can help filter algae out of the water as they feed, but oysters can’t live in many parts of the Magothy because the water is too fresh. One species that may help is dark false mussels, which helped improve water clarity and bay grass acreage in one Magothy River creek in 2005 when they were abundant.
The Magothy River Association also encourages its members and area residents to take small steps to help reduce pollution to the river. Planting more native trees and flowers, installing rain gardens, reducing use of lawn fertilizer and maintaining septic systems are a few of the tips the group suggests. These practices will help reduce pollution no matter where you live.
The Magothy River Index is an annual health report developed by Dr. Peter Bergstrom, a NOAA scientist and Magothy River Association member. The index uses scientific data from state agencies and volunteer water quality monitors. The Magothy River Association has released the index each year since 2003.
For more information, visit the Magothy River Association’s website.
We're getting ready for the annual Great Backyard Bird Count here in the Chesapeake Bay region! The Great Backyard Bird Count, taking place Feb. 18-21, creates a real-time snapshot of where all the birds are across North America. Bay Program monitoring coordinator and expert backyard birder Peter Tango helps us get into the bird-counting spirit with his two-part blog series on birding at his home in Deale, Maryland. Read part one of his blog entry to get caught up with his story.
Back to our yard. Regardless of bird name concerns, we use a bird bath with a heater to keep fresh water open on even the coldest days. Fresh water is a precious resource when it’s freezing cold and you are surrounded by salt water. This little pool brings in gorgeous flocks of bluebirds, our resident mockingbird, an occasional robin and small groups of spastic starlings – that can never seem to figure out if they want a bath, a drink, a walk in the water or a place to evacuate themselves. In the end they generally seem to do all of those things before quickly flying away. A squirrel even stops by for a drink sometimes. He’s the trouble maker, leaning on the heater to take a drink and sometimes popping it out of the water. Needless to say, the bird bath needs daily attention.
The transition from autumn to winter birds around the yard is magical. Ospreys leave, filtering south on northern breezes from late summer into autumn. The same breezes finally dive down out of the arctic and bring us wonderful flocks of northern-summering birds such as black ducks, hooded mergansers, then tundra swans. The “hoodies” mow through the creek, working together in search of small fish – the often abundant silversides and mummichogs of our shallow shoreline habitat. The tundra swans love to feed in the creek, sharing the water with mallards, the seasonal black ducks and the mixture of resident and migratory geese.
All that is fun to watch until the creek freezes over. Then it gets amusing as gulls, swans, ducks and geese track the thawing edge of the water daily. Some will inevitably sit upon the ice, seemingly waiting for it to thaw beneath them so they can get the best eats right there instead of where the crowds of birds are sharing the water. It’s kind of cute.
When the nasty weather hits, it usually gets really interesting at the feeders. Ground-feeding birds may be cut off from their food sources, forcing them to range out further from their typical hideaways. Twice I have encountered my favorite sparrow around our feeders: the chubby, rusty and gray, plump and cuddly fox sparrow. In the first case it was during the 12-20 inch storm that rocked Maryland in 1996; the second case was during 2010, when Maryland was buried under the blanket of three significant snowstorms. In each case, fox sparrows showed up at the home feeding station and for a few days and fed heavily on seed we provided. As the snow disappeared, so did the sparrows, presumably returning to their hideaways and preferred secluded dining spots.
Fox sparrows weren’t the only interesting visitors during those storms, though. We had an amazing diversity of sparrows at our feeders when feet of snow covered the Bay area. In a typical winter, we see good numbers of white-throated sparrows, and a token song sparrow or two around our feeding stations. During the storms last year, however, there were chipping sparrows, field sparrows, tree sparrows, white-throated sparrows and song sparrows along with the fox sparrows. The trick to identifying them is no trick at all, but rather being ready for likely but nonetheless surprising arrivals at the feeders. Studying bird guides (multiple guides if you have them) for identification clues and tips helps when you look out the window and think something looks different.
A common error I hear is people looking at birds in their yards and saying, “Oh yes, we have tons of purple finches.” Chances are they are not purple finches, but rather the non-native house finches that are now common, hungry visitors at the feeder. Might you get purple finches? I look all the time. Last winter, again during the snowstorms, a single female purple finch stood out like a sore thumb among the house finches. The plumage patterns on the face are distinctly different in the two species. I was tickled inside to see the real deal.
Yet another surprise showed up last year during the storms. Among the grayish little birds that are picking at the thistle seed are goldfinches and female house finches. But then there appeared a goldfinch-like bird, except it had stripes on its flanks and belly. Ohhhhhhh yeah, I know this one. I use to spend time in the Adirondacks and Catskill Mountains of New York, and pine siskins are a bit more common there than here. During irruption years coupled with the bad weather, the birds may range farther south in greater numbers. And there outside the house was a pine siskin among the LGJs (little gray jobs) flitting and feeding. Shortly after the really cold weather hit this winter, pine siskins once again arrived at our feeders, vying with the goldfinches for their share of thistle seed. Growing up a good part of my life north of the Mason-Dixon line, I feel a sense of home from my youth when my familiar northern feathered friends visit me now in the south.
Up north, where I grew up, I had little problem identifying big, black, crow-like birds. American (Common) crows ruled. When I went to Adirondacks, I had to contend with ravens versus crows. Not too tough for most birders, I would say. In Maryland, around the creek and therefore in the yard, there might be fish crows, there might be American crows. Looking at them is mostly useless; however, listen for their calls and presto! They give themselves away. There is the very nasal call of the fish crow contrasted against the deeper, more guttural call of the American crow. And when they don’t call? Call it “Crow sp.” for “crow – species unknown.” It’s ok to be honest if we don’t know what some bird is and we do the best we can with the identification.
You probably don’t see as many crows as you used to either. When West Nile Virus was introduced into the U.S. in 1999, it swept across our country’s bird community. American crow populations were severely affected by the virus and their numbers took a nose dive. Fish crow populations experienced a lesser but no less significant decline. Most people will remember hearing about dead birds here and there, maybe even encountered some themselves. It wasn’t just crows; it was robins, chickadees, titmice and more. The toll has been large. Why should you care? An introduced pathogen has changed the face of bird communities in our country in our lifetimes. Additionally, mosquitoes had fewer birds to feed on and we warm-blooded humans were a more frequent target. The dead crows preceded and were an indicator of the human epidemic that followed from West Nile Virus. Birds died, but people died too.
Programs like the Christmas Bird Count and Great Backyard Bird Count, with their thousands of volunteers across the country, provide insight into bird community makeup, patterns of bird movements, changes in response to climate shifts, irruptions and species stability and declines. Up until this year, we commonly had small flocks of doves at our feeders. Sure, the overwintering Cooper’s hawk got one now and then. How amazing it can be to watch such a hawk take off from a couple of hundred yards away, gliding low almost skimming across the water, and taking dead aim at the bird feeding station for a potential meal. One day, however, the Cooper’s hawk landed right in front of a squirrel. The squirrel not only stood his ground to protect his food source, he chased the hawk! Cooper’s hawks are generally bigger than squirrels, mind you. Not only did he chase the hawk once, he chased it again until it flew onto a bush. Not satisfied with that result, he chased it completely out of the yard following behind it as it flew across the street. We called him ‘psycho squirrel.’
As for the doves, we have almost none this year. Not coincidently, we have been chasing not one but two neighborhood cats from our yard. The cats now seem to think our bird feeding station is a great part of their daily walk through the neighborhood. Aside from random flights into buildings, windows, cars, trucks and buses, untethered cats are a common issue because they kill thousands of birds each year. Feral cats have reduced or led to extinction of bird species, mammals and even lizards, specifically on islands. Restoration activities on islands across the globe now include efforts to eliminate feral cat populations in order to reintroduce native species that can’t survive the predatory pressure of the cats. Since I haven’t seen more than a sharp-shinned hawk in the yard lately looking for a meal of junco or house finch, the two new cats prowling the neighborhood are the most significant negative change in predator-prey relationships around our area.
I have come to dearly love our town of Deale, its land, its water, its people. But over a decade ago, moving from my homeland of the north to my new homeland in the south, my body ached for spring flocks of warblers I was so accustomed to moving through the woodlands. Along the creekshore, migration is more subtle in some ways, more robust in others, and my senses have adapted and integrated with the new surroundings. As spring gets closer, the tundra swans will sound off more and more, day and night, night and day, they’ll get all fired up into a frenzy and then…silence. They are on their way to their arctic summer home. However, soon after the wing beats of the swans magic liftoff fade in the distance there will be the cries of osprey overhead. White-throated sparrows will bridge the divide, sometimes hanging on until the real warmth of season arrives. Junco’s will go, and most black ducks will leave the creek, except for an occasional hen bird that gets romanced by the grunt-whistle of a male mallard and decides to raise its young here down south. Perhaps we have all been a bit romanced by the calls of the Bay and just can’t leave its shores now either.
We're getting ready for the annual Great Backyard Bird Count here in the Chesapeake Bay region! The Great Backyard Bird Count, taking place Feb. 18-21, creates a real-time snapshot of where all the birds are across North America. Bay Program monitoring coordinator and expert backyard birder Peter Tango helps us get into the bird-counting spirit with his two-part blog series on birding at his home in Deale, Maryland.
January 29th. 40 degrees. There are house finches singing and mourning doves flying by. A roadrunner is perched on a fence just a dozen yards away, preening in the morning sun. For the first time ever, I watch one make a really cool deep-toned call. On the ground below the roadrunner, green-tailed towhees feed. In another area, gila woodpeckers sound off. There is a bit of a surreal sight when a pair of cactus wrens go dumpster diving. There are plenty of saguaros around, but alas, the dumpster seems to be more attractive to them this morning.
I've taken a break from the snow and cold of our Chesapeake Bay area and landed in southern Arizona for a few days. There is a little sunshine, and the late spring-like temperatures are chilly by night and sometimes cozy, sometimes t-shirt weather by day. It’s a brief but invigorating reprieve from the incessant frosty weather and bulky clothes I’ve needed at home this winter.
Home is, after all, along the Bay, south of Annapolis, in a little house my wife and I call "The Loveshack" out on Carr's Creek. From a birding perspective, creekside living is wonderful because it is a transition zone. The woods and wetlands melt into shallow, protected coves. You can sit on the dock and hear rufous-sided towhees or Carolina wrens while looking out at a flock of ducks that may include a bufflehead visiting with the mallards. Flocks of geese move off the Bay into the creek shortly after sunrise, then lift off and head for their daily feed in the surrounding farm fields. They return at dusk, flying over our home and navigating down the gut of the creek back to the Bay for the night. It's a great rhythm of Bay life to be in tune with.
It's winter. It's cold. There's snow. The groundhog gave us his prognostication that we might see spring come early. Even with his message, winter will linger with us a bit longer and so will some of our favorite birds.
We love to watch our feeders and track the bird community through the year here in Deale. Feeders of thistle seed, another with a coarse seed mix of peanuts and sunflowers, and third safflower-only feeder cater to the likes of goldfinches, house finches, energetic chickadee pairs, noisy tufted titmouse duos, cardinal families, white-throated sparrows, and more. An occasional downy woodpecker stops to grab a seed, while generally only the male red-bellied woodpecker will come in and grab a nut.
My wife constantly feels that those who originally gave names to birds must have been drunk while doing it. Red-bellied woodpeckers, for example, have barely a wash of red on their bellies but wonderfully brilliant red plumage on their heads. "Why isn't it called a red-headed woodpecker?" she asks.
I seize on the opportunity to spin a story answering this question -- sort of – and start in…
"Well honey, a long, long time ago there was this guy, Linnaeus. He liked organizing things. So he decides to organize the plant and animal kingdom under one system."
"Kind of like Noah and the Ark, eh?"; she says.
I continue, "Yeah, kind of like that, without being limited to two of everything. OK, and for this organization effort, Linnaeus gives things names, Latin names."
So far my wife is on board. She knows botany, she knows Linnaeus. The hook is set, so I continue.
"Well, a couple of hundred years after Linnaeus, there are a couple of guys roaming the American countryside, also very interested in naming things. They were JJ and Rahg. That was how Roger Tory Petersen and John James Audubon referred to each other."
"Bingo!"; I said, "Yes. So you see, binoculars weren't particularly good back in the day, and these guys needed to see things up close. They collected birds to figure out what they were and decide on names.
"Not so good for the birds, eh?"; she says.
"Not so much." I replied. "Then, one day they come upon some birds clinging to the sides of the trees. JJ says to Rahg, "Rahg, you see those birds pecking away at the trees? Let's collect some of them today. We'll name them Dendrogapus or Picoides or something like that." Rahg replied, "I am so dang tired of these Latin names, let's give them some English names. They peck wood so let's call them wood peckers. Whaddya think?"
JJ asks, "Can we just combine that into one word, woodpecker?; Rahg replies,"Yes, woodpeckers. One word. Write that down."
And that's how they got to be named woodpeckers.
My wife is on the edge of her seat, intrigued. I move along in the story.
"OK, now it gets really interesting. You see, that night they got back to the campfire, sipped a little local shine together, and pulled out their collection of birds to continue naming them. JJ pulls out a bird and says, "Rahg, this one has a red head, let's call it a red-headed woodpecker." Rahg says, "JJ, that head is crimson-colored, it's not really red! You sure you want to call it a red-headed woodpecker?" JJ replies, "No one is going to want to say ‘crimson-colored,’ let’s keep it simple. It’s the red headed woodpecker’. Rahg gives in and writes ‘red-headed woodpecker’ in his book, adding a little drawing beside it as best he can in the firelight.
“JJ pulls out another bird. ‘Uh, Rahg, this one has a red head too and doesn’t look anything like the last one.’ Rahg perks up and says, ‘It’s a red nape, not a red head, JJ. No one knows what a nape is, though.’ Rahj takes another swig of ‘shine, grabs his magnifying glass and jumps up. ‘JJ, Come here! C’mere, c’mere, c’mere! LOOK! See those two specks of red on each of them belly feathers? We are going to call this the red-BELLIED woodpecker!’ JJ rolls his eyes, ‘Can’t we call it a cream-bellied ladderback woodpecker or gray-bellied zebra striped-backed woodpecker? I mean, look at this bird, no one will ever see them red flecks except with a magnifying glass.” Rahg sticks to his guns, ‘Nope, you named the last one, I got this one.’ And so red-bellied woodpecker went into the book, with a little drawing and some notes on those tiny belly flecks of red.’
My wife is silent, pondering the birds we see. I jump in and continue my tale.
“By now the bottle of ‘shine is gettin’ kinda low, and the boys are tired. But there’s one more bird in the bag. JJ pulls it out. “WOW, look at the size of that woodpecker! Oh NO, it has a red head too!” Rahg says. ‘Actually it’s a red cap, Rahg, kind of a red-capped woodpecker. I’m really tired of red-this and red-that. We got this one deep in the woods, right? What if we just keep it simple and call this one WOODY: woody woodpecker.’ Rahg has had enough for the night. ‘That will never stick as a name, JJ, but I’ll jot it down and we’ll think about it more tomorrow.“
“And that, my dear, is how the birding name game went back in the day. Honest.”
I end my story and hold my poker face.
She looks at me, gets that glare in her eyes and says, “Dude, you are SOOOOO full of ‘shinola yourself!” She throws a couch pillow at me, and we both cackle with laughter.
“OK, ok, ok – I guess I have some research to do about where those common names were derived. I’ll get back to you.”
There are many excellent bird guides out there now: National Geographic, Sibley, Petersen, Stokes and more, not to mention all the web resources available. And if anyone gets concerned about common names, by all means dive into the Latin names. That opens up a whole new world about birds. You won’t run into two birds with the same very confusing Latin names; they’re all confusing.
Check back next Tuesday, Feb. 15 for the second part of Peter's entry!
The number of baby oysters in the Maryland portion of the Chesapeake Bay is at its highest level since 1997, and more young oysters appears to be surviving the effects of diseases, according to a recently completed survey by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
Since 1939, Maryland has monitored the status of the oyster population through annual field surveys. The surveys track three critical components of the oyster population: reproduction levels, disease infection levels and annual mortality rates.
The two-month 2010 fall population assessment covered 260 oyster bars and 399 samples throughout the Bay and its rivers. Scientists found 80 baby oysters (called spat) per bushel; about five times the 25-year average of 16.
The increased spat set is an immediate asset to Maryland’s expanded sanctuary program,” said DNR Fisheries Director Tom O.Connell. These protected oysters will grow and reproduce, contributing more oysters to the Bay's sanctuary and surrounding aquaculture and public fishery areas, and providing important ecological benefits such as water filtration and reef habitat.
Oyster spat were also widely distributed throughout the Bay and its rivers. While the largest amounts were in the lower Bay’s saltier waters, where reproduction is typically more successful, a moderate spatfall also occurred in fresher waters that generally have little to no spat sets. Some of these areas included the upper Bay as far north as Pooles Island and the upper reaches of the Chester, Choptank and Patuxent rivers.
Additionally, the frequency and intensity of the oyster diseases MSX and Dermo remains low. Dermo remains below the long-term average for the eighth consecutive year, and MSX has fallen after a spike in 2009. Oyster survivorship, measured by the percentage of living oysters per sample, was 88 percent, the highest level since 1985 and more than double the 2002 level.
"These moderate levels of natural oyster mortalities during recent years may reflect increases in disease resistances among oysters and their progeny that survived the severe disease pressures of the 1999-2002 drought,"said Chris Dungan, manager of oyster disease research at the NOAA Oxford Lab.
Since 2000, DNR, the NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office and the University of Maryland have produced more than 2.5 billion oyster spat in hatcheries and planted then in Maryland waters. The partnership has also reclaimed thousands of acres of buried shells from derelict oyster reefs.
Visit Maryland DNR's website to view the full results of the oyster survey.
Today we’re introducing a new blog feature called “Ask a Scientist.” Each month, we'll take a question submitted through our website or Twitter (@chesbayprogram) and have a scientist from the Bay Program partnership answer it here on our blog.
Today's question is about restoring bay grasses in the Chesapeake Bay. One of our readers wanted to know if he could help restore bay grasses in his local creek by planting bay grass seeds. We turned to Mark Lewandowski, natural resources biologist with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and member of the Bay Program's Submerged Aquatic Vegetation (SAV) Workgroup, for some expert advice.
Many people who live in the Chesapeake Bay watershed do everything they can to help the environment. They recycle, compost, use rain barrels, or plant native plants and shrubs. But people always want to know what else they can do.
Culturing oysters, growing wetland plants and planting underwater bay grasses all seem like good, easy ways to help. So what’s so hard about planting bay grasses? Isn’t it as simple as getting some seeds, planting them in an aquarium and watching them grow?
Many people have successfully grown grasses in their aquarium. But very few people have had success planting them in the Bay because the grasses do not survive over the long term. Selecting an appropriate site to plant bay grasses requires a lot of research and information.
Water quality is the biggest factor in bay grass survival. All bay grasses need enough light to photosynthesize, so clear water is critical. Each type of bay grass has very specific physiological needs that are different for each species.
The next requirement is proper substrate.; The bottom sediment can't be too sandy or the plant won't root. It can't be too silty or the transplant will just get buried. And it can't have too much clay. In addition, plants need the correct balance of nutrients to grow. Scientists have access to the most comprehensive data available, as well as specialized analytical tools that can pinpoint the sites where grasses might flourish.
In addition to finding the right conditions, you also need a large number of plants for the grasses to take hold. Planting a few square meters of bay grasses off the end of your pier is almost never successful. Bay grasses on the outside of a bed protect the core of the bed. So the grasses that are on the fringe will die back, protecting the center of the bed from waves and animal grazing.
Restoration would be easier if we could just buy seeds from a garden center. However, our experience is that only bay grass seeds collected from grass beds in the Bay have the best chance of survival. Even this is not an ideal or easy approach, though. Collecting seeds from the Bay depletes the seed stock that naturally replenishes bay grass beds. It also requires a permit from resource management agencies and may require specialized equipment to harvest. Additionally, it’s necessary to have specific knowledge of seed development to ensure that the seeds collected are mature and will germinate.
So keep doing the things you are doing to help the Bay already, but it may be best to leave bay grass restoration to the experts.
Visit Maryland DNR's website to learn more about the agency's bay grass restoration efforts.
Maryland farmers planted a record 398,679 acres of cover crops on their farms last fall, exceeding the state’s cover crop goal by 20 percent, according to the Maryland Department of Agriculture.
Cover crops are considered one of the best and most cost-effective agricultural conservation practices, also known as best management practices (BMPs). Cover crops help protect the Chesapeake Bay and local waterways by controlling soil erosion and reducing nutrient pollution runoff.
Collectively, the 398,679 acres of cover crops will prevent an estimated 2.4 million pounds of nitrogen and 80,000 pounds of phosphorus from potentially polluting the Bay and its rivers.
“Maryland is committed to achieving our Bay restoration goals by 2020, five years ahead of any other state in the watershed,” said Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. “The fact that farmers exceeded their goal and helped us get 60 percent of the way toward our overall two-year goal across all sectors shows that we can reach our early target.”
Farmers plant cover crops in the fall after harvesting their summer crops. Rye, wheat, barley and other cereal grains are planted as cover crops because they grow in cool weather.
Visit the Maryland Department of Agriculture’s website to learn more about cover crops.
Welcome to the latest installment of the BayBlog Question of the Week. Each week, we take a question submitted on the Chesapeake Bay Program website or a frequently asked question and answer it here for all to read.
This week’s question came from John, who asked: “What is the Chesapeake Bay Commission? Who are they and what do they do?”
The Chesapeake Bay Commission is a tri-state legislative body representing Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania. The commission was created in 1980 as a bi-state commission to help Maryland and Virginia collaborate and cooperate on Chesapeake Bay management. Pennsylvania became a member in 1985, after which time the Commission began advising each state's general assembly on matters deemed to be of Bay-wide concern.
The Commission also serves as the legislative arm of the Chesapeake Bay Program, advising each of the jurisdictions represented by the Bay Program partnership.
Since its establishment, the Commission has worked to promote policy in several areas that are vital to Chesapeake Bay restoration, including nutrient reduction, fisheries management, toxics remediation, pollution prevention, habitat restoration and land management.
The Commission has 21 members from the three states. Among those members are:
The chairman position rotates among the three states each calendar year. As of January 2011, Pennsylvania State Senator Mike Brubaker took over as Chairman of the Commission.
One of the Commission's main goals is to make sure that member states' common interests are thoroughly represented in regard to any federal government actions that may affect them. This has become a vital part of the process of developing the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) and Executive Order strategies.
To learn more about the Chesapeake Bay Commission, check out their About Us page.
Do you have a question about the Chesapeake Bay? Ask us and we might choose your question for the next Question of the Week. You can also ask us a question via Twitter by sending a reply to @chesbayprogram Be sure to follow us there for all the latest in Bay news and events.
The Maryland Commission on Climate Change has released a report outlining strategies to reduce the effects of climate change on Maryland’s land, water and people.
The report, called the Phase II Strategy for Reducing Maryland’s Vulnerability to Climate Change: Building Societal, Economic and Ecological Resilience, includes a section devoted to the Chesapeake Bay and aquatic ecosystems. More than 80 experts worked together to develop the strategy.
Maryland state agencies will use the Phase II Strategy along with its companion, the Phase I Strategy for Sea Level Rise and Coastal Storms (2008), to guide and prioritize their policies on adapting to climate change.
With more than 3,000 miles of shoreline, Maryland is the fourth most vulnerable state to climate change and rising sea levels in the nation. Because the Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the United States, the effects of climate change here have implications for similar bays and ecosystems.
The report’s chapter on Bay and Aquatic Ecosystems concludes that climate change will alter the distribution of species and habitats in Maryland, and may in fact worsen conditions that are already putting stress on these species and habitats. Rising temperatures, precipitation shifts and sea level rise are all expected to affect aquatic plants, animals and their habitats.
Climate change is also expected to alter the interactions between humans and the Bay. Fisheries and recreational opportunities may diminish due to sea level rise. Wetlands in the state may become degraded, limiting the protection of sensitive shorelines during storms.
The report offers recommendations for Maryland to reduce current stressors on the Bay and aquatic ecosystems as well as proactive steps to stop future damage. These include increasing monitoring and assessment to guide future decision-making and assessing current management efforts used to protect critical habitats and ecosystem services.
In particular, the report recommends protecting coastal habitats and streamside forest buffers to address land use changes along the state’s waterways.
For more information about the report and the Maryland Commission on Climate Change, visit Maryland’s website.
Welcome to the latest installment of the BayBlog Question of the Week. Each week, we take a question submitted on the Chesapeake Bay Program website or a frequently asked question and answer it here for all to read.
This week's question came from Mike, who asked, "Where can I find fish consumption advisories for the state of Maryland and other areas in the Bay watershed?"
We all love the fish and shellfish the Chesapeake Bay provides us with. But it's important to be mindful of the contaminants these species might be exposed to. If we eat fish and shellfish that have been exposed to toxic chemicals, it could harm our health.
Each of the Bay states and the District of Columbia post fish consumption advisories for specific species in certain bodies of water. Some are general advisories for everyone to abide by, while others are limited to sensitive populations, like children or pregnant and nursing women. These advisories are not necessarily meant to discourage you from eating fish and shellfish altogether, but rather to help you limit your consumption of contaminants that could be harmful to your health.
Check out your state's website for more information about fish consumption advisories in water bodies near you. Be sure to keep up with fish consumption advisories for your area if you fish the Bay or its rivers!
Do you have a question about the Chesapeake Bay? Ask us and we might choose your question for the next Question of the Week! You can also ask us a question via Twitter by sending a reply to @chesbayprogram! Be sure to follow us there for all the latest in Bay news and events.
Maryland has surpassed its goal to preserve 9,700 acres in 2010. The state permanently protected 12,812 acres last year, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
The land was conserved through state Program Open Space acquisitions and conservation easements purchased through the Rural Legacy Program and the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program.
Land conserved in 2010 includes:
Maryland tracks its environmental goals using BayStat, an online tool that assesses, coordinates and targets restoration and conservation programs.
Visit Maryland's website to learn more about the state's land conservation goals.