Michael McMahon walked between two adjacent fields of tall, swaying corn in Homer, New York, to point out an invisible boundary running through his family farm.
Water to the north of that boundary, he explained, eventually flows into Skaneateles Lake, one of the Finger Lakes. But any rain or snow falling to the south ends up in Factory Brook, which flows into the Tioughnioga River, then the Chenango River, the Susquehanna River, and eventually the Chesapeake Bay.
About 30 percent of McMahon’s E-Z Acres Farm, which Michael McMahon owns with his brother Peter McMahon, feeds into the water supply of the city of Syracuse. The larger southern section rests above the groundwater aquifer that is the only water supply for the village of Homer, which abuts the southern end of the farm and is home to 25,000 people. As their business has grown, the McMahons’ awareness of their farm’s potential impact on their neighbors has led them to be fervent stewards and engage their community—for the benefit of both local streams and faraway bodies of water like the Chesapeake Bay.
“The end of our tillable land is only about 200 yards from the big municipal well (in Homer),” McMahon said. “It’s extremely productive ground, but at the same time you could be really doing some damage if you weren’t conscious of it.”
E-Z Acres began with McMahon’s father in 1957, a dairy operation with 160 acres and just eight heifers. Now, their 2,500 acres stretch across much of the valley above Homer in Cortland County.
“The 1400 head that are on the place today all come from those eight heifers,” McMahon said. “We never purchased any animals.”
McMahon says that early advice from his father made it easier to adopt nutrient management practices when the dairy consolidated four separate facilities into one large operation about 20 years ago.
“Even back, as far back as the 60s, we were taught from our dad that you get manure on all the fields, you don’t just concentrate on where it’s easiest and quickest,” McMahon said. “So it was easy for us to transition to a CAFO [concentrated animal feeding operation] where we have all those plans there in the blue notebooks that tell us exactly what field, what time of the year, how many gallons, all of that.”
In 1997, after the consolidation, the McMahons decided to start testing water for nitrates and phosphorus quarterly at five different sites in the valley.
“Nobody ever told us we had to do this,” McMahon said. “But, we just wanted to know if our agronomic practices were in line, that we weren’t going to see spikes in nitrates in well water.”
The tests are also useful for easing worried minds of residents in Homer, and where foul smells wafting from farm fields sometimes cause worries about water quality.
“You’ll get concerns and typically it’s odor-initiated, when we’re spreading manure,” McMahon said.
McMahon said E-Z Acres has grown by purchasing neighboring farms as they have come for sale over the past several decades, and their management practices have extended to these lands. For example, he observed that every farm they bought had its own dump—something his father never believed a farm should have. E-Z Acres subsequently cleared all those dumps.
About five miles of a stream called Factory Brook runs through E-Z Acres, and McMahon said that they have made a concentrated effort to protect what is nearest their cropland, which he estimated at about three and a half to four miles. They have let the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) establish riparian buffers on both sides of Factory Brook by bringing children from 4-H clubs to plant willow wattles, or shrubs. They have also granted public access through DEC for a section of Factory Brook.
“In many cases the farms that we purchased, you know people were cropping right up to the edge, you know, spreading their manure and stuff like that,” McMahon said. “Where we do farm near the stream, we keep that land in permanent grass as opposed to turning the soil over and putting in a row crop,” McMahon said.
McMahon credited his home state as becoming a leader in the Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts by first addressing local watershed issues, which meant that his farm already had many practices in place by the time the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) in 2010.
“And maybe I’m just biased because I’m in New York, but we got involved in the Agricultural Environmental Management (AEM) program in New York way back in the 80s when they first thought of it.” McMahon said. “We cleaned up dumps. We looked at chemical storage. We did a lot of things way back before it was ever thought to be mandated. And that was all part of New York State’s own program, and not just for the sake of the Chesapeake but for the sake of all watersheds. And we felt at the time I mean we knew that we sat over an aquifer and that we were kind of responsible for keeping the water clean for all these people who either have private or public water supplies derived from this.”
McMahon says they are motivated by trying to “stay ahead of that curve” and “be good neighbors.” For their efforts, the McMahons were awarded the 2015 Agricultural Environmental Management Award by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
E-Z Acres hosts open houses regularly, and every June they welcome all of the fifth grade students in the county—about 400 for each of two days.
“So, that’s a ball,” McMahon said. “In many cases it’s the one and only chance a lot of those kids will have to ever see where milk comes from. So we think it’s a good idea to embrace the community, engage the community and be part of it.”
Text, Photos and Video by Will Parson
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program's Flickr page
Earle Peterson of Cooperstown, New York, owns the nearly 1,200 acres of land that make up The Greenwoods Conservancy. Peterson works with the Otsego Land Trust to permanently preserve the land, ensuring that it will serve as an educational, aesthetic and environmental resource for the surrounding community for years to come.
With Peterson behind the wheel of his old pickup truck, he took our photographer on a tour of Greenwoods on a spring day last year. Passing a roadside pond, he observed a couple of Canada geese.
“These aren’t corporate geese—these are wild ones,” Peterson said. “Now these same geese could very well winter in Chesapeake—and follow the river from beginning to end.”
As the truck bounced over dirt and gravel roads, the conversation shifted to the Susquehanna River, and Peterson was succinct in his thoughts, as someone who lives much closer to its headwaters in Cooperstown than its mouth in Havre de Grace, Maryland.
“It isn’t just that wide expanse down there,” Peterson said.
Learn more about Peterson and The Greenwoods Conservancy.
Throughout Chesapeake Bay Awareness Week, we'll be sharing the stories of people who live, work and play in the Chesapeake region. Join the conversation on social media: #HumansOfTheChesapeake
Image by Will Parson
Native species are the key to any ecosystem, and the Virginia Living Museum is a paradise of plants and animals that are native to the commonwealth. The state’s wealth of biodiversity is condensed—perhaps nowhere else does a tiger salamander share a roof with a school of striped bass—and expertly organized according to the habitats of the mid-Atlantic. There are over 250 species of native animals, and exploring the galleries and the outdoor boardwalk gives you the feeling of traveling hundreds of miles as you pass through forests, coastal plains, cypress swamps and the Chesapeake Bay.
The Virginia Living Museum is in the middle of celebrating its 50th anniversary, and it has changed considerably over the years. What began as the Junior Nature Museum and Planetarium in 1966 has grown and shifted to the use of living exhibits to connect people with nature. The museum provides a sanctuary for injured or non-releasable animals—including an aviary.
In 2008, the museum was certified as a Virginia Green attraction, after a commitment to prevent pollution from the museum. It opened the Goodson “Living Green” House, an environmental education center, in 2009 to demonstrate sustainable building technologies and Bay-friendly practices like rain barrels and a green roof made of living plants. In the same vein, the Conservation Garden highlights alternatives to pesticides and fertilizer and shows how landscaping can keep stormwater runoff from polluting nearby streams and harming wildlife.
The result of a short walk through the museum’s varied campus, then, is to see the plants and animals that benefit from these sustainable practices, and to learn how to use those practices at home.
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Flickr page
Photos and text by Will Parson
It’s a cold morning in Chestertown, Maryland—just above freezing. Greg Cole is waiting outside of his silver pickup truck, covered head to toe in camouflage, his bright white beard the only solid color on him. Today is Groundhog Day, but Cole’s not looking for rodents’ shadows; he’s keeping his eyes on the sky looking for an entirely different critter: the Canada goose. Cole is a hunting guide, and today is the second-to-last day of the migratory goose hunting season.
The term “migratory” is key, because Canada geese fall into one of two categories: resident and migratory. Resident geese live permanently in populated areas. They hang around golf courses and other open areas, and they’re considered a nuisance by many because they overgraze areas and generate a lot of waste. Migratory geese look similar to their homebody cousins but lead very different lives: they breed up north in Quebec, migrate to the Bay region in early autumn, stay throughout the winter and return to their breeding grounds in the spring.
Cole’s hopeful for a good hunt today. The waterfowl hunting hasn’t been good this year, he says, “mainly because of the weather.” The warm weather kept the geese from migrating south until later in the season. “This lake,” he says, gesturing to a slow-moving arm of the Chester River about a quarter of a mile away, “I’ve seen it hold as many as 10,000 geese, and this year, there’s probably [been] an average of about 500 geese all through the season.”
Despite this year’s low turnout, the number of breeding pairs has been healthy for the past few years—but that hasn’t always been the case. In the late 1980s, the population of migratory Canada geese in the Atlantic Flyway began to drop dramatically. A mixture of bad weather and overharvesting led to a serious decline in the migratory goose population, so much so that in 1995, Maryland instituted a moratorium on hunting them.
Cole has been a hunting guide almost continuously since 1980 and remembers when the moratorium was first instated. “It was tough to take, when they said we were going to close it down,” he says. “We didn’t know if it was going to be shut down for two years or ten.” The moratorium was set in two-year increments and ultimately lasted six years.
Now Cole guides at a private hunt club of about 30 on Chino Farms, a part of the Grasslands Partnership, which was placed under conservation easement in 2001. At over 5,000 acres, it’s the largest conservation easement in Maryland’s history. It contains a 90-acre waterfowl sanctuary, three miles of shoreline along the Chester River and 600 acres of Delmarva bay, making it a great habitat for rare and endangered plants, Delmarva fox squirrels and other woodland critters. In 2006, the land was designated as an Important Bird Area by Maryland-DC Audubon.
Cole leads us to a nearby field where three club members will be hunting today. His two-year-old Chesapeake Bay retriever, Geena, tags along, anticipating the chance to run our and retrieve birds. There is a group of geese grazing in the field, but as we approach, none of them fly away—in fact, they don’t move at all. These are the decoys used to attract the geese, and this group of about 60 taxidermied Canada geese is pretty convincing. Each is in a different position: some are standing tall starting off in different directions, others are posed to look like they are pecking at the ground.
As we wait, geese begin to fly by; some are in large groups with 20 or 30 geese, while others are smaller with just two or three. Alternating between short blips and longer whines, Cole uses the call, a sort of goose-whistle, hanging around his neck to “speak” their language and convince the geese to fly down towards the decoys “grazing” in the field in front of us.
A half hour passes and still no geese get close. “You know it’s a slow day when the dog goes to sleep,” Cole says, laughing as he looks down at Geena who is lying on the bench, no longer exuding the excitement and anticipation she had been earlier in the day.
Despite today’s silence and this season’s luck, Cole isn’t pessimistic about the future of goose hunting. “The biggest problem this year has been the weather—without a doubt. And I don’t think they had a real good hatch.” In terms of the moratorium, while it shook up hunting on the Eastern Shore, Cole maintains, “It definitely was a success story.”
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Flickr page.
Images and captions by Will Parson
Text by Joan Smedinghoff
The Chesapeake Bay region could receive nearly $29 million in conservation funding under President Obama’s proposed budget for the 2017 fiscal year, announced earlier this week. If approved by Congress, the funds could conserve land throughout the Bay watershed.
Of the proposed $29 million, a significant portion is tied to the Rivers of the Chesapeake Collaborative Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) proposal, which focuses on protecting the James, Nanticoke, Potomac, Rappahannock, Susquehanna and York Rivers and the lands that surround them. By improving water quality; providing critical habitat for fish, shellfish and migratory birds; and offering opportunities for public access, preserving these landscapes would help meet the goals of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement. Bay Program partners are currently welcoming feedback on a draft two-year work plan to support land preservation in the region.
“By acquiring land in key places, federal agencies can protect critical wildlife habitat and nationally significant cultural resources, and enhance the watershed’s natural ability to filter out sediments and nutrients before they reach the Bay,” said Joel Dunn, Executive Director of the Chesapeake Conservancy, in a release. Chesapeake Conservancy is one of the lead partners behind the Rivers of the Chesapeake proposal.
The President’s $4.1 trillion budget recommendation includes $900 million for the national Land and Water Conservation Fund, which supports the conservation of land and water resources across the United States and aims to provide outdoor recreation opportunities to all Americans.
Learn more about how the proposed budget would support conservation projects in the Bay region.
The need for land and resources has led to fragmented and degraded habitats across the Chesapeake region, impacting the health of many species. But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the Bay Program’s Vital Habitats Goal Implementation Team are leading an effort to exemplify scalable, strategic habitat conservation in action across the Chesapeake landscape.
For the first time, our partners now have the regional context and scientific horsepower—through tools and information developed by the North Atlantic and Appalachian Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs); the Atlantic Coast, Appalachian Mountain and Black Duck Joint Ventures; and the Northeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (NEAFWA)—to identify and agree upon priority "surrogate" species. Surrogate species are animals and plants that can be used to represent the habitat needs of many other species using similar habitats throughout the watershed, and include the black bear, woodcock, black duck, saltmarsh sparrow and brook trout.
Together, we are determining the habitat needs of these surrogate species—what kind of habitat, how much, and where—to understand and plan for habitat changes due to climate change and development. Our aim will be to conserve enough of the right kinds of habitat throughout the Chesapeake landscape, in the right configurations, to sustain these surrogate species, and by extension all the other species whose needs they represent, at desired population levels.
FWS is helping to coordinate the contributions of established, successful conservation partnerships that impact the Chesapeake region, supporting the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement and Chesapeake Bay Executive Order. By aligning the ground-breaking science of LCCs, the organizing power of Joint Ventures and Fish Habitat Partnerships, and the capacity of NEAFWA and other non-governmental organizations to address our mutual priorities, we are bringing new leadership and resources to bear on the goals of the Executive Order and Watershed Agreement.
Conserving healthy habitats is essential to the long-term health of the ecosystem and the region’s quality of life. All of our work adds up to measurable gains for fish, wildlife and plants and the natural benefits they provide to people living in the Chesapeake watershed.
Written by Mike Slattery, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
For the last five years, non-profits, American Indian tribes, land trusts and federal and state agencies engaged in land conservation throughout the Chesapeake watershed have come together at the Chesapeake Conservation Partnership’s annual meeting. In the largest gathering to date, nearly 120 people convened at the National Conservation Training Center on October 5-6, 2015, for the sixth annual meeting. The spirit of the event—Growing the Partnership, Growing Our Impact—was reflected both in the increased attendance and the conversations around increasing diversity and inclusion.
New and returning attendees were invited to an overview of the history of the Conservation Partnership and information on the broader large landscape conservation movement. The Conservation Partnership’s co-conveners are Joel Dunn, President and CEO of the Chesapeake Conservancy, and Chuck Hunt, Superintendent of the National Park Service Chesapeake Bay. They addressed the growth of the Conservation Partnership over the previous year and recent progress of conservation in the Chesapeake region. Speakers were invited to share their successes and new projects in fast-paced presentations, highlighting the tremendous collective impact of the group over the previous year.
Other features included a session on impacts from linear infrastructure projects like roads and power lines, a discussion on strategies to engage with diverse audiences and breakout sessions on key conservation focus areas. The meeting set the stage for action in the coming year, including continuing progress toward achieving the protected lands outcome of the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement.
The Chesapeake Conservation Partnership was formed in 2009 and is jointly convened by the Chesapeake Conservancy and the National Park Service Chesapeake Bay Office. Its mission is to foster collaborative action to conserve culturally and ecologically important landscapes to benefit people, economies and nature throughout the six-state watershed.
Learn more about the Chesapeake Conservation Partnership.
Written by Jonathan Doherty, Assistant Superintendent, National Park Service Chesapeake Bay, and Kate Baker, Chesapeake Conservation Partnership Coordinator.
Three centuries ago, the Chesapeake Bay watershed was covered with trees. Maples, pines and oaks captured rainfall, stabilized the soil and offered food, shelter and migration paths to wildlife. But as the country was settled and developed, more people moved into the region, and forests were cleared for farms and communities and trees were cut for timber and fuel. The population of the region now stands at almost 18 million—more than double what it was in the 1950s. While valuable forests do remain in the region, many suffer from fragmentation: separation into smaller pieces that are vulnerable to threats.
According to a report from the U.S. Forest Service, 60 percent of Chesapeake forests have been divided into disconnected fragments by roads, homes and other gaps that are too wide or dangerous for wildlife to cross. The isolated communities of plants and animals that result have smaller gene pools that make them more susceptible to disease. The sensitive species that thrive in the moderate temperatures and light levels of an “interior” forest (which is mature and separate from other land uses) can’t find the unique habitat characteristics they need. And the forests themselves are more vulnerable to invasive species and other threats.
In an effort to reconnect fragmented forests, conservationists have turned to wildlife corridors. These corridors give wildlife the space to move and can be found around the world. The World Wildlife Federation runs the Freedom to Roam initiative to protect corridors along the Northern Great Plains and Eastern Himalayas. The National Wildlife Federation runs the Critical Paths Project to cut the number of fatal road crossings for animals in Vermont. And watershed states like Maryland and Virginia have incorporated wildlife corridors into their green infrastructure plans.
Even local landowners have contributed to the corridor movement: in September, the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay recognized Christine and Fred Andreae as Exemplary Forest Stewards for their work to manage 800 acres of forestland—including a corridor that connects George Washington National Forest and Shenandoah National Park—along the Page and Warren county lines in Virginia.
Christine and Fred placed the property under conservation easement through the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, which was established by the Commonwealth in 1966. The Andreaes have also convinced their neighbors to follow suit: what started as an agreement between Christine, Fred and one neighbor to connect a patch of land on two sides of the Shenandoah River eventually expanded to include eight property owners and 1,750 contiguous acres. Today, bald eagles and bears abound on the land that can be seen from Skyline Drive.
“[Our neighbors] wanted to keep the land undeveloped,” Fred said when asked how he motivated others to join the conservation cause. “Most of them had family connections to the land—some [spanning] 100 years or more. It was their heritage they wanted to see preserved.”
The Andreaes have made their property as self-sustaining as possible so that once their two sons inherit it, it won’t have to be sold. “We’ve done something that will last. That’s a legacy. That will be there, theoretically, forever,” Fred said. “There aren’t too many things you can do that will be there after you’re gone—that will have an impact on my family and the other people who live in the area.”
Through the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, the Chesapeake Bay Program has committed to expanding urban tree canopy and restoring hundreds of thousands of miles of streamside trees and shrubs. Learn more about forests and our work to protect them.
As the sun breaches the horizon in Easton, Maryland, the blanket of fog begins to dissipate, revealing the still waters of an 18-acre wetland and rows of organic vegetables. This is Cottingham Farm, the work of an environmental-lawyer-turned-farmer named Cleo Braver and a host of helping hands.
This 156-acre farm has undergone a variety of changes before arriving at its current state. The land was once used to grow wheat to feed Washington’s army. It then hosted peach orchards in the late 1800s and early 1900s. After the end of World War II, substantial changes in agriculture swept the nation—industrial monocrops, pesticides and fertilizers—and eventually made their way to what is now the Cottingham property. When Braver purchased the land in 1998, it was primarily used to grow corn.
Though Braver’s professional background is in the environmental field, she was unaware of the impact certain agricultural techniques—both on her own property and other area properties—were having on regional waterways. But after spending many evenings peering out at Goldsborough Neck Creek, which winds behind her house before meeting the Miles River and emptying into the Chesapeake Bay, she began noticing how the fish behaved strangely at the surface of the water. After some research, she learned about the creek’s poor water quality and how the heavy use of pesticides and fertilizers was partially responsible.
Braver’s interest in producing healthy food while minimizing her impact prompted her to make a change. By chance, she met Ned Gerber of Chesapeake Wildlife Heritage, who assisted with transforming the property by installing buffer strips to reduce sediment and nutrient runoff, replacing corn with organic vegetables and building a wetland housing 30 species of plants.
Gerber helped Braver utilize the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), a federal USDA Farm Bill program that supports the implementation of habitat on private lands. CREP covered 90 percent of the construction costs for the wetland, and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources picked up the remaining sum. Gerber and Chesapeake Wildlife Heritage continue to manage and maintain the wetland today.
But what Braver is perhaps most proud of on Cottingham is the evolution of the food production there and how it gives people greater access to healthy produce and meat. With the help of farm manager Jenn Djambazov and several employees, Braver now grows at least 50 different organic vegetables and raises pastured pigs. Organic matter in the property’s soil is slowly rebounding, and, to top it off, business is good. Cottingham sells produce through its CSA, as well as in local stores and restaurants.
Braver acknowledges the process has been a lot of work and has required time, expertise and funding from a range of parties. But she maintains that the transition to organic farming is more accessible than many people think, and she advocates for giving it a chance. “I’m not saying convert all of your feed corn to organic vegetables. I’m not saying that all,” she clarifies. With a slight smile at the corners of her mouth, she continues, “But try a piece of it. Take five acres out…”
It could make all the difference.
Images and text by Keith Rutowski
Resting on the northern edge of the Appalachian plateau—just outside of Cooperstown, New York—are the 1,200 acres of land that make up The Greenwoods Conservancy. Earle Peterson, owner of the property, works with the Otsego Land Trust to permanently preserve the land through conservation easement. In addition to ensuring that the land remains undeveloped, it will serve as an educational, visual and environmental resource for the surrounding community, as well as a place protect the valued plants and wildlife that are indigenous to central New York.
The seven conservation easements that make up the conservancy were obtained over time, with the first purchase in 1993 and the final plot added in 2001. “Earle has what we at Otsego Land Trust call a ‘conservation heart,’” explained Virginia Kennedy, Executive Director of the Otsego Land Trust. “Meaning that the desire to protect land and water lives inside him at the very heart of who he is. Protecting the lands of The Greenwoods Conservancy meant protecting a place that is both special for and necessary to, not just Earle, but the whole community who benefits when lands like the lands of Greenwoods are conserved.”
A diverse array of landscapes make up the conservancy: from a high elevation cranberry bog that provides habitat for many rare wetland species, to a sustainably managed forest for timber products, to meadows that are maintained for bird habitat and used by SUNY Oneonta for research and education. Conserving all of the land has taken a great deal of time, but to Peterson, it is all worth it in the name of conservation. “I told my wife [when we got married], ‘You have to understand that I have a mistress, and her name is Mother Nature. And like most mistresses, she’s very expensive,’” Peterson said.
This is the final installment in a series of three profiles of property owners that are protecting their land through the Otsego Land Trust, a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving the natural heritage of woodlands, farmlands and waters that sustain rural communities, promote public health, support wildlife diversity and inspire the human spirit.
Images by Will Parson
Text by Jenna Valente
To many people, the concept of home can be a visceral experience, a concept that churns up a number of varied memories and emotions. In its most basic form, home refers to a place where one lives permanently—but to someone like Marion Karl, a seasoned traveler as a daughter of missionaries, it serves as a place to lay down deep roots in a community, a place that deserves to be preserved and protected.
Karl purchased her land on Otsego Lake—just outside of Cooperstown, New York—in three different parcels. “As soon as we [Karl and her husband] bought our house, I started looking for land,” Karl explained. “Now, I have 173 acres, which I bought in three different parcels. I bought 100 with the first purchase. Later on, a lumber company wanted to come in to cut some trees across the way and I thought, ‘That would be terrible,’” leading her to purchase the remaining property and place it under conservation easement though the Otsego Land Trust in 2008 to ensure its protection is in perpetuity.
Over the years, Karl’s property has embodied the sense of ‘home’ for her and her family, and now it will be preserved for generations to come. “When I walk with Marion on her land, her love for the forests and fields of her protected place is evident in her eyes, her conversation, and the way she knows every inch of the paths we travel,” said Virginia Kennedy, Executive Director of the Otsego Land Trust.
This is the second of a series of three profiles of property owners that are protecting their land through the Otsego Land Trust, a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserves the natural heritage of woodlands, farmlands and waters that sustain rural communities, promote public health, support wildlife diversity and inspire the human spirit.
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Flickr page.
Photos by Will Parson
Text by Jenna Valente
As the planet continues its steady climb toward an estimated 9.7 billion people by 2050, population centers are trending toward sprawling urban areas. Despite the convenience of metropolitan areas, the hustle and bustle of it all has many like Cat Gareth—owner of 14 acres of land along Ouleout Creek in Delaware County, New York—seeking solace in natural areas. She recalls the winter of 1988, when, as a resident of Brooklyn, she set out to find her own place of solitude. “I was looking at places by myself and pulled onto that piece of property and said, ‘This is it. This is the place.’”
The steeply wooded hillside and cobble-bottomed creeks of the property presented an opportunity for Gareth to examine and cherish often overlooked aspects of the local environment. “You could say that it was the architect of its own conservation because, by learning what it taught me, I came to value it enough to preserve it and allow it to evolve undisturbed and educate others,” Gareth said.
Gareth placed the property under conservation easement through the Otsego Land Trust in 2014 to ensure its protection for generations to come. “I am too close to the land to speak more formally about what this conservation easement will mean to this land's ecology, its water, its wildlife, the sustainability of this fragment of the natural world, but I do hope that it survives as what I have known it to be—a habitat for the human spirit.”
This is the first of a series of three profiles of property owners that are protecting their land through the Otsego Land Trust, a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving the natural heritage of woodlands, farmlands and waters that sustain rural communities, promote public health, support wildlife diversity and inspire the human spirit.
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Flickr page.
Photos by Will Parson
Text by Jenna Valente
The bald eagle, a national symbol of strength and resiliency, may be a common sight today, but just a few decades ago toxic pollutants working their way up the food chain had the species toeing the line of extinction. Prevalent use of dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT), a harmful insecticide, on agricultural fields caused eagles to produce eggs that were too delicate to support the incubating bird, lowering hatch rates in a drastic way. The decline was so severe that by DDT’s ban in 1972, only 482 breeding pairs were left throughout the entire continental United States.
Following the ban, one nesting pair of bald eagles remained in the state of New York, and their eggs were too contaminated with chemicals to be considered a viable means of repopulation. Restoration efforts began across the nation, but two researchers in particular, Peter Nye from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and Tom Cade of Cornell University put New York on the map as a key player in eagle repopulation tactics. They took to using an ancient falconry practice called hacking to raise eaglets in a controlled, but wild, environment, to ensure that the birds would learn the proper survival techniques to independently prosper after fledging the nest.
“Their goal was to establish 12 nesting pairs in New York. By 1988, they had achieved the goal of 12 nesting pairs, and here we are in 2015 with more than 300. I know down in Maryland in the Chesapeake Bay area there are even more, so the reintroduction has been very successful,” said Michael Clark, Senior Wildlife Biologist for New York DEC. Clark and his colleague Scott Van Arsdale, Wildlife Technician for New York DEC, were mentored by Nye, and have taken over the legwork of tagging and monitoring the birds since Nye’s retirement.
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Flickr page.
Images by Will Parson
Text by Jenna Valente
The calm, mirror-like surface of Otsego Lake is the subject of history and legend. Nicknamed “Glimmerglass” by James Fenimore Cooper, the author describes the lake in his work The Deerslayer as “a bed of the pure mountain atmosphere compressed into a setting of hills and woods.” The narrow, finger-like lake runs nine miles from north to south, coming to a point at Cooperstown, New York, where it marks the start of the Susquehanna River. Hop into a boat and follow the current, and a winding, 464-mile journey downriver will eventually drop you in the Chesapeake Bay. At first glance, the lake’s tranquil surface may seem humble beginnings for a mighty river that churns billions of gallons of fresh water into the nation’s largest estuary each day. But Otsego is a flurry of activity, home to a rich diversity of critters, habitats and ecosystems.
Alongside the shores of Otsego Lake sits the Biological Field Station, a laboratory that serves the State University of New York (SUNY) College at Oneonta, where researchers work year-round to study and preserve the lake. In 1967, the field station began as a 365-acre donation from the Clark Family Foundation. Now, the field station’s facilities— which include the main laboratory, a farm and boathouse, and various research sites and conserved lands—span more than 2,600 acres. Director Bill Harman, a professor of biology, has led the Biological Field Station for the entirety of its more than 40 year existence. As resident Otsego expert, Harman oversees the monitoring, research, training, workshops and field trips at the field station’s facilities.
Hands-on learning opportunities are abundant across the waters, marshes and forests surrounding Otsego Lake. Field trips, summer internships and general research bring kindergarteners through post-graduates to the field station’s facilities. Students of SUNY Oneonta’s Master of Lake Management program—the first such program in North America—complete their studies at the Biological Field Station, sampling, monitoring and researching the waters of Otsego and other nearby lakes. Local residents and other visitors are also welcome to explore and can participate in lake monitoring alongside the field station’s scientists.
Though located far from the Chesapeake Bay itself, Otsego Lake suffers from many of the same issues threatening the estuary, like nutrient pollution and a rise in invasive species. Zebra mussels and purple loosestrife—two infamous invasive species plaguing the watershed—have overtaken much of the lake and surrounding lands. Once a rich source of shad, herring and eels, downstream dams have blocked many of these fish from migrating to the lake. But Harman and his colleagues don’t see Otsego as a closed system. As they collect their data and monitor the lake, they are actively seeking solutions that could be applied across the region.
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Flickr page.
Images and captions by Will Parson
Text by Stephanie Smith
Today, the Chesapeake Executive Council announced the release of twenty-five management strategies outlining the Chesapeake Bay Program’s plans to meet the goals of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, advancing the restoration, conservation and protection of the Bay, its tributaries and the lands that surround them.
Members of the Executive Council—which represents the seven watershed jurisdictions, a tri-state legislative commission and federal agencies—met to review the state of the Bay Program and finalize the strategies at their annual meeting, held at the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C.
In addition to announcing the strategies, the Executive Council passed two resolutions—first, endorsing the recommendations of the State Riparian Forest Buffer Task Force and committing to collaborative efforts that will increase the miles of forests on agricultural lands, and second, that the Bay Program hold a symposium on financing environmental restoration efforts. Members also agreed to two joint letters, one supporting programs to keep livestock out of streams and another supporting funding in the President’s 2016 budget for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which includes more than $33 million for the Rivers of the Chesapeake collaborative proposal.
“Our partnership to restore the Bay continues to move forward,” said Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, Executive Council Chair, in a release. “We recognize the significant challenges we face and look forward to meeting them head on to ensure the restoration of our ecologic and economic treasure, the Chesapeake Bay.”
Each management strategy addresses one or more of the Watershed Agreement’s thirty-one measurable, time-bound outcomes that will help create a healthy watershed. They will reduce nutrient and sediment pollution; ensure our waters are free of the effects of toxic contaminants; sustain blue crabs, oysters and forage fish; restore wetlands, underwater grass beds and other habitats; conserve farmland and forests; foster engaged and diverse citizen stewards through increased public access and education; and increase the climate resiliency of the watershed’s resources, habitats and human communities.
Considerable public input was sought and received which had a substantial impact on the content of the management strategies, representing a collaborative effort between Bay Program partners, academic institutions, local governments, non-governmental organizations, businesses and citizens. Stakeholders throughout the region participated in the development of the strategies and submitted hundreds of comments during the public review period. In the continued work toward accomplishing the goals of the Watershed Agreement, Bay Program partners are currently drafting two-year work plans that summarize the specific commitments, short-term actions and resources required for success.
Prior to this year’s annual meeting, Governor McAuliffe met to discuss recommendations from the local government, citizen and scientific communities with the council’s three advisory committees—the Citizens Advisory Committee, the Local Government Advisory Committee and the Science and Technical Advisory Committee.
Faith plays an influential role in the lives of billions of people in the world, with about 84 percent identifying with a religious group. As Ramadan, a month-long ritual focused on self-purification and refocusing attention to faith, comes to an end for roughly 1.6 billion Muslims around the world, it is a good time to reflect on the intersection between conviction and nature.
Green Muslims, a Washington, D.C., based organization with the mission of helping their community live in the environmental spirit of Islam, began with a conversation between a group of friends about how to ‘green’ their Ramadan. At first they took small measures, like switching to reusable plates and having zero-trash iftars, or evening meals, when they could break their fasts. Those simple actions set off a chain reaction of stewardship within the community that led to the formal establishment of Green Muslims as a volunteer organization in 2007.
The nonprofit works with a number of different Muslim communities in the D.C. area, but serves as a national resource for those across the country that are looking to tie their faith back to the natural world. “There is really a passion and a yearning for learning more about what our tradition is amongst the Muslim community everywhere, and we hope to provide those resources and incubate that energy to take it to the next level,” said Colin Christopher, Executive Director of Green Muslims.
With many youths spending an increasing amount of time indoors, exposure to and connections with the natural world are lost, often times leading to rises in health problems like allergies and obesity. In a push to alleviate nature deficit disorder, Green Muslims launched the ‘Our Deen is Green’ Youth Outdoor Education Program this year. The program offers a wide range of field trips to places like the Chesapeake Bay, farms and conserved lands to demonstrate real life examples of how Islam and the environment are intertwined.
Each trip offers themed lessons that cover subjects such as, water, food waste and renewable energy. The goal of the program is to reconnect the participants with outdoor spaces and encourage healthy behavior changes, like wiser food choices and increased awareness about human impacts on the planet. “In Islam, we understand that God has an amount of trust in us as Khalifas, or stewards of the Earth. We really see our responsibility as people who need to conserve and protect the natural environment; we are called to do so, it’s our responsibility,” said Christopher.
The final trip of the year was to Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C., where the kids toured the historic Peirce Mill and learned how the Earth’s natural processes like water flow and wind create energy that can be harnessed with minimal negative impacts to the environment. Prior to touring the mill, all eight kids sat contently in a circle making windmills out of paper and pencils while discussing where their energy comes from. “Why are we always talking about water?” asks a young boy. “Because we are made of water,” replies Christopher. A look of awe falls over the children’s faces. The importance of water is a theme that weaves through all lessons taught during the program.
The Qur’an has hundreds of verses that talk about water, animals, wind and the sun, and Sharia, or Islamic law, directly translates into ‘the pathway to the water source’—meaning that protecting water is of utmost importance in the tradition of Islam. “Every part of our natural environment is integral to the greater whole. In Islam, we talk about, if you have one limb that is unhealthy then the entire body is unhealthy and sick. So, the Chesapeake Bay is a really integral part of that entire ecosystem and we can’t afford to neglect the Bay or other parts of our ecosystem," explained Christopher.
Although the organization aims to spread awareness about the link between Islam and the environment, Christopher believes that diversity is the backbone of the Muslim community and welcomes anyone, regardless of faith, to volunteer and participate in Green Muslim events. “I think that the challenges we face relate to education. There is a lot of misinformation about Islam and what Islam is,” noted Christopher. “We are trying to bring back the teachings of our traditions within our community and explain that conservation, moderation and love for creation are core components of our tradition.”
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Flickr page.
Images by Will Parson
Text by Jenna Valente
It’s a false dilemma we’ve all heard before: “You’re either with me, or you’re against me.” In the case of the Chesapeake, we often run into a less pugnacious, but similarly false, contradiction when we talk about protecting or restoring the Bay, its rivers and streams and the lands that surround them. To be sure, there are pristine healthy watersheds that need a focus on protection, as well as severely degraded areas that need a lot of restoration. But in reality, the vast majority of waters and lands across the Bay region need efforts that both restore and protect, so that we’re bringing back clean water, healthy habitats, and opportunities to enjoy nature, while ensuring we don’t lose the ones we already have.
The January announcement of funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) offers a great opportunity to put this potent combination into practice. Through its new Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) nine projects across the Bay’s watershed will receive nearly $25 million. This funding will deliver restoration and protection in key areas across the Bay’s watershed, bringing a renewed focus to critical areas of the region and new partnerships.
One funded project, the Delmarva Conservation Partnership—co-led by The Nature Conservancy and the Delaware-Maryland Agribusiness Association—offers a unique collaboration between conservation organizations, agribusinesses, government agencies and the scientific community. This partnership focuses on a holistic approach to target conservation practices—ones that both restore and protect—that will achieve the greatest outcomes. In the Choptank, Nanticoke, and Pocomoke river watersheds, partners will work together to connect improved management practices in agricultural fields, with over 1,500 acres of wetland restoration and protection.
The natural world is an interconnected system: the actions we take to build the health of our local lands and waterways go on to benefit the water, land, air and living resources throughout the watershed. When our efforts are similarly interconnected—by including both protection and restoration—we can better ensure our work benefits the health and resilience of the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem and all of us who depend upon it.
Nine projects across the Chesapeake Bay watershed will receive $24.3 million in funding over the next two years as part of the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), a program administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
Four of the nine projects were funded through the Bay watershed’s designation as a critical conservation area—a region with significant agricultural production that faces concerns of water quality and quantity. The Chesapeake Bay watershed is one of eight critical conservation areas located throughout the country. Totaling $19 million in funding, the four multi-state projects focus on watershed-wide restoration, ranging from restoring wetlands and forest buffers to rewarding dairy and livestock producers who implement practices that limit runoff from their farms.
The remaining five projects—localized state and county conservation initiatives in Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia—will receive a total of $5.3 million in state-level RCPP funding.
The RCPP was established as part of the Agricultural Act of 2014—better known as the Farm Bill—and replaced regional conservation programs that were founded under previous Farm Bills, including the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative (CBWI). Under this new program, qualified organizations, or “partners,” can propose projects that implement a variety of conservation practices on privately-owned farmland and forested areas.
Nationally, the 115 selected projects will receive an estimated total of $372.5 million in funding. A majority of available funds were allocated to state and national projects, while 35 percent went to projects in critical conservation areas. Nearly 70 percent of all funded projects address either water quality or availability, with the remaining projects addressing additional concerns such as wildlife protection, energy use and soil quality.
A complete list of funded projects is available on the NRCS website.
Nearly 18 million people reside in the Chesapeake Bay region, with more moving to the area each year. Growing disputes over land use have conservationists working hard to protect the robust natural resources that can be found within the Bay region. A significant part of these efforts include developing and improving public access points as means for people to experience, explore and develop connections to the land, water and wildlife.
Nestled in between Accokeek Creek and Potomac Creek, Crow’s Nest Natural Area Preserve in Stafford, Virginia serves as one of the state’s highest land conservation priorities in the past 10 years. “This is a priority site because it’s such a large intact ecosystem. You have thousands of acres of mature hardwood forest on the coastal plain in Virginia,” explained Michael Lott, Crow’s Nest Manager and Northern Region Steward for the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR).
In addition to around 2,200 acres of mature hardwood forest, the site boasts 750 acres of nearly pristine wetlands and more than 10 miles of hiking trails, and it acts as a safe haven for wildlife and countless viewing opportunities for critters such as migratory waterfowl, white-tailed deer, river otters and beavers.
The preserve and those who manage it have faced many obstacles over the past few decades, including population growth and development encroaching on the area. “In the 1970’s, there were around 30,000 people in Stafford County; a few of the subdivisions were vacation homes for people in D.C. Now, the population is about 130,000. This is the best remaining tidal marsh in Stafford County, so our priority here is conservation,” said Geoff Austin, Northern Region Operations Steward with DCR.
Despite the vastness of the preserve and the great potential it holds for environmental education and recreational opportunities, the property is largely closed to the public until further operational resources can be effectively implemented.
The dynamic duo of Lott and Austin dedicate 90 percent of their working hours toward maintaining the preserve and trying to make it accessible to the public, but one major hurdle stands in their way – a mile-and-a-half long access road. “The big obstacle is the access road to the [completed] parking lot. We need to raise the money to fix that road. That road has been there since the colonial era, it’s been dug down and needs a lot of work before it’s passable for cars,” explained Austin. The team – with help from volunteers - keeps the trails clear, maintains the parking lot and plans to install proper trail signage once the road is completed.
Lott and Austin measure their success one victory - no matter the size - at a time, their latest being the installation of a handicap-accessible boat ramp to be opened to the public within the next couple of months. The ramp overlooks acres of tidal marsh, provides access to Accokeek Creek and lays adjacent to a half-mile trail complete with benches for wildlife observers. “It’s a great birding spot,” said Austin. The launch is part of a larger plan to connect a water trail system along the Potomac River.
DCR wants the public to be able to experience the preserve’s natural wonder. “In the past, this landscape did not lend itself to farming very well, and so a lot of the soil we have out here is still very much intact. Researchers have said that throughout the mid-Atlantic and East Coast, you can’t find soil like this in very many places anymore, which is why the forest out here is so productive," explained Lott. “A lot of the forest, particularly in the ravines, hasn’t been logged intensively since the Civil War, so it’s trending back toward mature forest. [For this reason] we keep the trails clear and have been holding open houses twice a year for five years now, so people have had the opportunity to see it and enjoy the trails.”
Tending to nearly 3,000 acres of forest and wetlands is no simple task for two people, but the work is done out of a place of deep caring and passion for protecting and sharing the special places in life with the public. “I grew up in this area and it’s nice to have an intact piece of hardwood [forest] that is going to be preserved in the area for years to come. It’s great to be able to walk out there when I’m working or hunting and see the big trees; you don’t see that in many other places in this area. As stewards of the land year-round you spend a lot of time here – it means a lot to be able to take care of this place.” said Austin.
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Flickr page.
For many of the people living upstream of the Chesapeake Bay, daily life doesn’t involve crab pots or oyster dredges. A group of such Bay novices — including one member who had never been on a boat — assembled in Crisfield, Md., this fall to take a ferry to Smith Island, one of the last two inhabited islands in the Chesapeake Bay. Actually a small cluster of low-lying stretches of land, Smith Island and its Virginia neighbor Tangier Island carry a rich cultural history dating back to the 1600s. Over the years, they have been subjected to the extreme weather conditions in the open Chesapeake Bay and forces of sea level rise and land subsidence that have already claimed surrounding islands. The trip, organized by the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Forestry Workgroup, gave the foresters the chance to experience the unique life of a Chesapeake waterman.
“These participants are engaged in work throughout the watershed that directly benefits the quality of the Bay, but often they have very little experience on the Bay itself,” said Craig Highfield of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and the Forests for the Bay initiative, who has facilitated the excursion for the past two years. “This trip is a way to connect their work with a community that relies so intimately with a healthy Bay.”
Over the course of two and a half days, the group of foresters followed educators from Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Smith Island environmental education center, taking in the unique culture, exploring the changing environment and finding new connections that bring the Bay closer to home.
“I think this group was able to draw similarities between the rural communities they work with — who rely on the natural resources on the land — with this rural community that relies on the natural resources of the Bay,” said Highfield.
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program's Flickr page.
When thinking of wine, Maryland may not be the first state that comes to mind, but for the Deford family, the artful pairing of responsible land management and master craftsmanship at Boordy Vineyards has put the Free State on the wine aficionado map.
Nestled in the rolling countryside of Long Green Valley in Hyde, Maryland, a mere 30 minutes outside of Baltimore, the 240-acre property provides solace to visitors, melting away the stressors of daily life with views of rich vegetation, historic farmland and 25 acres of intricately arranged rows of grapevines.
The family strives to develop a lasting connection with the community and welcomes visitors year-round by regularly hosting events. “Everything we do here has an educational component to it because wineries are unusual in Maryland, farming is increasingly rare and we are constantly competing with other views of how the countryside around Baltimore County should be managed,” said Robert Deford, President and owner of Boordy. “We really want farming to succeed here.”
To Deford, a twelfth generation Marylander and the fourth generation to be raised on the farm, success and sustainability go hand-in-hand. In 2000, the family placed the property under permanent conservation easement through Maryland Environmental Trust, allowing the farm to proceed without having to compete with development money by taking the option to sell the land to developers off the table. “We look at land not as an empty resource to be built on, but as something to be tended to and taken care of. For me, sustainability means the ability to realize the dream of continuing to live and work here,” explained Deford.
The 25 full-time and 75 part-time employees have adopted the Defords’ mission of sustainability and assist in the efforts to be as efficient as possible. “If we are not sustainable by definition, we are going to go out of business at some point. The land is what sustains us, so if we treat it badly the system is going to crash,” said Deford.
A number of best management practices have been implemented on the vineyard to reduce the establishment’s energy demands and impact on the environment. Staff hand-pick the fruit – avoiding the use of machinery – to ensure only the highest-quality grapes end up in the wine; the rest are left for wildlife, like birds, to scavenge. Grass grows freely in between the vines to stabilize the soil and mitigate runoff of sediment into the adjacent stream on the property. Additionally, all stems and pomace are composted post-production and returned to the fields as fertilizer.
A wetland was created at the head of the stream to catch any residual runoff before it enters the waterway, eventually making its way to the Gunpowder River and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay. The wetland serves not only as a pollution buffer but also as habitat to countless species of wildlife such as beavers, ducks, white-tailed deer and raptors. “Another thing that is great is we have excluded all livestock [from the stream], and it is astounding the fish people are finding down there, especially the American eel. I think it is a great model for what can be done to a stream that was really in distress,” said Deford.
The family is mindful of their greenhouse gas emissions and works to reduce their outputs by using the carbon dioxide created in the fermentation process to stir their red wine tanks. The carbon dioxide is collected, builds up and eventually erupts through the tank – stirring the wine and saving electricity. “There is an interesting concern over the fact that when you make wine you emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere; however, what I always point out to people is that just up the hill is the other end of it – those vines take in carbon dioxide, so really it’s just a cycle,” notes Deford.
Helpful for Boordy has been the advent of the local food movement, a developing culture focused around locally-produced food and the process of getting it from the farm to the table. With the movement comes a growing consumer demand to meet the farmer and know where food comes from. “This isn’t just liquid in a bottle,” said Deford. “A lot more goes into it.”
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program's Flickr page
In February 2014, President Barack Obama signed the Agricultural Act of 2014—better known as the Farm Bill—into law. Like its predecessors, this new Farm Bill funds a wide array of federal commodity, forestry, social, trade and conservation programs. Altogether, the Farm Bill authorizes nearly $1 trillion in federal spending over the next 10 years, with roughly $57 billion authorized for conservation and preservation programs. But how will the law affect conservation practices in the Chesapeake Bay watershed?
The 2008 Farm Bill established the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative (CBWI), which dedicated $188 million to conservation practices in the Bay region. The 2014 Farm Bill eliminates the regional programs established under previous Farm Bills, including the CBWI and the Great Lakes Basin program, and consolidates 23 national conservation programs into 13. For the Bay, the most notable of these 13 programs is an innovative new initiative called the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). The RCPP allows qualified organizations to request funds on behalf of farmers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), which oversees most of the conservation programs under the Farm Bill. These organizations then work with farmers to leverage those funds toward the implementation of conservation practices, from structures that store animal manure to fences that exclude livestock from streams. This approach not only leverages the federal cost-share funds for farmers, but it allows them to work with a wider range of non-federal partners and experts. This increases the number of “boots on the ground” engaged in conservation work, fostering new partnerships between farmers and organizations that want to help.
But how much money is available under the RCPP? The RCPP will receive up to $100 million per year, plus an additional seven percent of the funds and acres available under “covered programs.” Covered programs include the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) and the Healthy Forests Reserve Program (HFRP). However, these funds are for the entire RCPP.
The NRCS will award the bulk of this money through a competitive application process at the national and state levels. The remaining 35 percent of the funds will be awarded in a similar competitive process within “critical conservation areas.” The Secretary of Agriculture can name only eight of these areas. Based on the law’s criteria, the Bay watershed will be a strong candidate, but the eight areas are yet to be determined by the USDA.
The NRCS is currently developing policies and guidelines to carry out the conservation programs under the new Farm Bill, so stakeholders should keep an eye out for announcements, workshops and other events that will explain the new programs and processes in more detail. The RCPP is a major innovation for conservation policy, but it will require increased collaboration between farmers, watershed organizations and agricultural groups to earn funds through competition.
Chesapeake Bay Program partners have improved how states track on-farm conservation, helping farmers get credit where it is due and ensuring states know what has been done to meet their pollution reduction goals.
Under the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), or “pollution diet,” each state in the watershed must report their annual progress in promoting agricultural conservation. To streamline this process, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has integrated state and federal data about what conservation practices have been put in place, where. Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia used this new dataset to report their conservation practices in 2012, improving their ability to track their progress toward improving water quality in rivers, streams and the Chesapeake Bay.
While agricultural runoff is one of the watershed’s leading sources of nutrient and sediment pollution, on-farm conservation can lower the amount of nitrogen, phosphorous, sand and silt washing off of farmland. Conservation tillage, cover crops and nutrient management planning can also reduce a farm’s operating costs and improve a farm’s production.
Image courtesy U.S. Department of Agriculture
Indeed, a recent U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) report on the impact of cropland conservation in the region showed that conservation measures—a number of them put in place voluntarily and made possible through the Farm Bill—have improved and protected water quality and soil health. Published as part of the USDA’s Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP), the report, which uses data collected between 2003 and 2006 and in 2011, showed a five, six and eight percent drop in phosphorous, nitrogen and sediment runoff into the Bay. While Chesapeake Bay Program partners work closely with the USDA, this particular report is not part of the Bay Program's TMDL-related tracking efforts.
“The good work of Chesapeake Bay landowners has generated substantial progress in a short period of time, but more needs to be done,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a media release. “It is critical that Congress act now to pass a Farm Bill that provides the full array of programs and incentives to build on these efforts.”
Learn more about the reporting of conservation practices in the watershed or read about the impacts of conservation practices on cropland in the region.
In rural West Virginia, a fisherman casts his bright green line into a mountain stream. The stream is clear, the fish are biting and it takes just minutes to make a catch.
Dustin Wichterman, Potomac Headwaters Project Coordinator with Trout Unlimited, dips his net into the water and reveals a 10-inch brook trout. Its olive green body is flecked with red and gold, and its mere presence here is a welcome sign of health for the Pendleton County waterway.
Native to the headwaters of the Chesapeake Bay, the eastern brook trout is a sensitive species that needs cold, clean water to survive. But as regional water quality has declined, so, too, have brook trout populations, leading to lost revenue and diminished fishing opportunities for headwater states.
Brook trout play a critical role in the watershed: they are an important part of the region’s natural heritage, a driver of economic growth and an indicator of environmental health. For these reasons, brook trout restoration was a listed outcome in the federal Strategy for Protecting and Restoring the Bay Watershed. And for the past two years, brook trout conservation has been a top goal for the Chesapeake Bay Program.
Through the Bay Program’s Habitat Goal Implementation Team, whose members work to protect and restore wetlands, woods and other habitats across the watershed, brook trout have benefited from stream restoration, fish passage renewal and tree plantings.
As odd as it might seem, the health of a fish depends not just on the health of the creek, stream or river that it calls home; it is also tied to the health of the surrounding land. And poor land management, increasing development and expanding urbanization have been cited as leading factors in brook trout decline.
“This fish is a living symbol of how actions on land affect the health of our local waterways,” said team coordinator Jennifer Greiner.
The removal of streamside trees, for instance, is a common consequence of agricultural or residential development, as seedlings are trampled by grazing cattle or trees are felled for suburban growth. But a missing forest buffer means bad news for brook trout when stream banks erode, excess sediment ruins spawning beds and an absence of shade pushes water temperatures into a range that brook trout cannot withstand.
When, on the other hand, trees and shrubs are allowed to grow along waterways, their runoff-trapping roots keep the water clean and their shade-producing leaves keep the water cold.
So Greiner and her fellow team members have worked to bring brook trout into the land-use discussion, pushing the latest brook trout distribution data out to doers and decision-makers in the watershed. Because when land managers know where brook trout are, they are more likely to take the fish into account in land-use decisions.
Land trusts in headwater states have also found that brook trout can push private landowners to conserve, and Goal Implementation Team partners—the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture Partnership among them—are using the iconic fish to promote on-the-ground restoration of riparian forest buffers.
Whether a farmer installs a fence that keeps livestock out of local rivers or a landowner decides to plant a series of streamside trees, education and engagement are critical to conservation.
“By becoming educated and engaged, landowners are able to protect the streams on their land for future generations,” Greiner said. “By protecting and restoring stream habitat, the brook trout, along with other species, are also protected for future generations to enjoy.”
Farmers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed might soon have an easier time putting pollution credits on the market.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has awarded $2.5 million to five Bay organizations to improve the infrastructure behind water quality trading markets, which allow buyers to purchase "pollution credits" for reductions or cuts in pollution that landowners have made on their properties.
From better determining demand for credit to improving outreach to hundreds of eligible farmers, the planned improvements aim to benefit both the land and those who work it. A farmer who uses conservation practices to reduce his runoff of nutrients or sediment, for instance, can produce on-farm energy savings and water quality credits while improving the environmental health of his land.
Watershed recipients of Conservation Innovation Grants program funding include the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Maryland Department of Agriculture, the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Borough of Chambersburg, Pa.
The Conservation Innovation Grants program is administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). This year, an additional $23.5 million has been awarded to more than 50 recipients across the nation for innovative and conservation-minded agricultural practices, from improving soil health to increasing on-farm pollinator habitat.
The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation will receive nearly $850,000 through a grant from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to help Chesapeake Bay watershed farmers convert manure to energy.
The grant will be used to help farmers in Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia convert excess manure to energy to generate income. The project will also improve the Bay’s health by reducing land application of manure. Efforts will be concentrated in four of the region’s “phosphorus hot spots” – areas with high concentrations of phosphorus in the soil.
The funding was provided through the 2011 Conservation Innovation Grants, a program that invests millions in innovative conservation technologies that address natural resources issues.
"The grants will help to spur creativity and problem solving to benefit conservation-minded farmers and ranchers," said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
Visit www.nrcs.usda.gov for more information about the recipients of the 2011 Conservation Innovation Grants.
Biologists with the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) are mapping phragmites along the York River as part of a strategy to control the invasive marsh plant.
The agency will use the phragmites location data to develop a web-based mapping tool. Landowners along the Mattaponi, Pamunkey and York rivers can use the map to see if phragmites is growing on their property. The map should be available on DCR’s invasive species page by winter.
“DCR is developing an improved web-based phragmites mapping application that will allow landowners to assess phragmites invasions on their own land in order to make plans for its control,” said DCR Project Manager Rick Myers.
Phragmites is a tall, perennial grass that grows in marshes. The non-native form of phragmites dominates other plants, forming monocultures that do not provide good habitat for wildlife. Although Virginia has treated thousands of acres with approved herbicides, phragmites is spreading fast because too few landowners are controlling it.
For more information, visit DCR's website.
The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service has released a study showing that effective use of conservation practices on farmland throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed is reducing nutrient and sediment pollution to the Bay and its rivers.
The study, “Assessment of Conservation Practices on Cultivated Cropland in the Chesapeake Bay Region,” quantifies the environmental gains of using conservation practices and identifies opportunities for farmers to reduce even more pollution.
Agricultural conservation practices such as cover crops, conservation tillage and forest buffers help reduce and absorb excess nutrients and sediment before they can run off farmland or soak into groundwater.
According to the study, agricultural conservation practices have reduced edge-of-field sediment losses by 55 percent, surface nitrogen runoff by 42 percent, nitrogen in sub-surface flow by 31 percent and phosphorus by 40 percent.
“This study confirms that farmers are reducing sediment and nutrient losses from their fields,” said Dave White, chief of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. “Our voluntary, incentives-based conservation approach is delivering significant and proven results.”
The study shows that using additional conservation practices on farmland prone to runoff and leaching could reduce even more nutrient and sediment pollution. Targeting conservation practices in these high-need areas can reduce per-acre nutrient and sediment losses by more than twice that of treating acres with low or moderate conservation needs.
Scientists and officials will use the study results to better focus on priority conservation needs and achieve greater pollution reduction results throughout the Bay watershed.
For more information about the study, visit the USDA's website.
The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Maryland and Bay Bank, the Chesapeake Bay’s conservation marketplace, are working together to help agricultural operators and forest landowners implement conservation practices that will make them eligible to receive private funding to protect and enhance important habitats, forestland and clean water.
The partnership provides financial assistance for conservation practices that improve habitat conditions for critical species such as brook trout, bog turtles, Delmarva fox squirrels and Atlantic white cedar. Practices that benefit other habitats and water quality, including wetlands and forest buffers, are also eligible.
Bay Bank is a collaborative effort to increase the pace and scope of conservation across the Chesapeake region. Bay Bank integrates existing programs and policies and uses innovative, market-based solutions to support “ecosystem services” that people depend on. As participants implement their conservation practices, groups such as wastewater treatment plants and private foundations may purchase credits from their practices to meet their permits or organizational goals.
NRCS will provide assistance through its Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Bay Bank will provide program participants with tools and support to help them engage in ecosystem markets.
To learn more about the program, contact NRCS at your local USDA service center or your local soil conservation district. Additional information can be found online at thebaybank.org. Applications are due May 1.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has released $23 million for the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative, a program of the 2008 Farm Bill that provides the region’s farmers with assistance to implement vital agricultural conservation practices to help clean up the Bay.
The funding will support nutrient management, cover crops, crop residue management, vegetative buffers and other agricultural conservation practices that help reduce pollution flowing into the streams, creeks and rivers that feed the Bay.
Eligible private farmland owners will receive technical and financial assistance to address wetland, wildlife habitat, soil, water and related concerns. The funding will also provide land owners with assistance to plan, design, implement and evaluate habitat conservation and restoration.
“The Chesapeake Bay Watershed initiative is an important source of technical and financial assistance to agricultural producers who want to go the extra mile to improve and protect the Bay,” said Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer.
Farmland covers almost one-quarter of the Chesapeake watershed and is the largest single source of nutrient and sediment pollution to the Bay, contributing an estimated 42 percent of nitrogen, 46 percent of phosphorus and 72 percent of sediment annually.
The $23 million is the first part of a total of $188 million that the region will receive through the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative over the next four years. This is one of the largest single federal investments in the Bay clean-up effort and an unprecedented targeting of Farm Bill resources to a specific watershed. Congress has authorized future funding levels of $43 million in 2010, $72 million in 2011 and $50 million in 2012.
USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will administer the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative. Many Chesapeake Bay Program partners, including the six Bay states and the Chesapeake Bay Commission, provided key input and information that supported the initiative’s authorization in the 2008 Farm Bill.
On any given afternoon, thousands of cars and trucks speed along Route 301 on Maryland's upper Eastern Shore, rolling past forests, rivers and soybean fields on their way north to Delaware or south to the Bay Bridge.
(Image courtesy Eastern Shoreway Alliance)
Staff with Adkins Arboretum hope motorists will soon travel on Route 301 for another reason: to see the road itself.
Since early 2002, the arboretum has led the Eastern Shoreway Alliance, a partnership of local organizations and individuals interested in conserving the rural character of this well-traveled road. The group's mission is to protect the stretch of Route 301 between Queenstown, Maryland, and the Maryland/Delaware state line from the development and urbanization threatening many of the Eastern Shore's most scenic areas.
“We want to preserve a sense of place, so you know where you are in the world,” said Ellie Altman, executive director of Adkins Arboretum and co-chair of the Eastern Shoreway Alliance. Much of that “sense of place” has already been lost around the Chesapeake Bay region, as chain restaurants and retail stores make once-unique towns look like any other place in the United States.
Take a drive north on the Eastern Shoreway — the name the Alliance has chosen for Route 301 — into Delaware, and the threat becomes a reality. New homes, stores, hotels and restaurants sit atop land where corn and soybeans grew just a few years ago. Bulldozers and “land for sale” signs along the road indicate that more development is on its way.
(Image courtesy AARoads)
This type of development is not unique to Delaware. Across the Bay watershed — and the country — new construction is concentrated along existing major roads. Although roads are necessary to modern life, they are often gateways to development and the first places where gas stations and strip malls pop up.
Back on the Maryland portion of Route 301, the scene is much closer to the traditional image of rural Delmarva. Volunteers with the arboretum have been working hard to protect this landscape by removing invasive plants and restoring meadows along the road. Dozens of signs mark these areas, which soak up excess polluted runoff and provide habitat for beneficial birds, bugs and butterflies.
With the addition of these meadows, the Eastern Shoreway now acts as a “linear arboretum” where travelers can see some of the Eastern Shore's native plants and flowers outside of Adkins' 400-acre facility in Ridgely, Maryland, according to Altman.
(Image courtesy Eastern Shoreway Alliance)
Through its website, the Eastern Shoreway Alliance markets the road as a travel destination for tourists from Baltimore, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. And next year, one of the group's biggest goals will be achieved when the Eastern Shoreway is printed in the Maryland State Highway Administration's Scenic Byways Guide. It will be one of the state's few high-speed roads designated as a "scenic byway."
“Normally you think of scenic byways as backroads, not highways,” said Altman. “But highways can — and should — be beautiful, too.”
From the beginning, the State Highway Administration has been a willing participant in this project. The Eastern Shoreway Alliance is working with the agency to reduce mowing along the highway and put up signs at the crossings of the Chester and Sassafras rivers, two Bay tributaries. The group also wants to add literature on the road's significance to the highway's welcome center.
The effort isn't perfect. Billboards litter a few points along the road, advertising politicians, available land and car insurance companies. Although encroaching development can't be stopped entirely, the Eastern Shoreway Alliance hopes that future structures can be built in a way that does not harm the road's natural scenery.
Most importantly, the group has managed to garner support and build a sense of urgency among the area's residents to protect the land along this “beautiful highway.”
“People think it will be here forever,” said Altman of the road and its unspoiled scenery. “We want to interpret, protect and restore the road's environment and show travelers that you can have development that fits in with nature.”