A pileated woodpecker chips away the bark on a fallen tree before probing for insects in Chenango Valley State Park in Broome County, New York.
Growing up to 20 inches in length with a nearly 30 inch wingspan, the pileated woodpecker (Dryocopous pileatus) is one of the largest species of woodpecker. This striking bird with its bright-red crest can be found year-round throughout most of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. But don’t expect to see a pileated woodpecker as a backyard birder: this bird is most likely to be found in mature, old-growth forests full of dead trees and fallen logs (although it can sometimes be found in young forests, as well).
With a characteristic thunk sound, the pileated woodpecker uses its long neck and chisel-like bill to powerfully strike logs, stumps and dead trees, leaving behind a distinctive rectangular-shaped hole. It then uses its spear-like, barbed tongue to feed on ants, termites, beetle larvae and other insects.
Experts believe populations of pileated woodpeckers may have declined in previous centuries, due to the clearing of forests in the eastern United States. But since the mid-20th century, populations have steadily increased as the forests rebounded.
Image by Will Parson
In late March, Pennsylvania’s South Mountain was already weeks into spring’s thaw, but a stinging breeze and sinking sun meant jackets and beanies for a group forming under the tall, swaying pines near Kings Gap State Park.
Devin Thomas, almost ten years old, from nearby Carlisle, showed up in shorts and sneakers but came prepared with a headlamp he made using an old pair of underwear and faithfully equipped with enthusiasm for the outdoors.
“He won’t even kill bugs,” said Ray Thomas, Devin’s father—also wearing shorts.
As more people arrived, they took turns dunking their boots in a bucket of soapy disinfectant, used to get rid of harmful microbes, seeds, and any other invasive species. It was a precaution justified by the group’s destination, the vernal pools of Forest Pools Preserve.
Vernal pools are ephemeral forest ponds, fed by snow, rain or groundwater, and blanketed in leaves from a healthy forest. They host a wealth of animals and only stay wet for about seven months, which is just long enough for a cascade of frogs and salamanders to use them as a home for their developing young.
You won’t find fish—they would eat all the eggs—but if you get the timing right, you’ll hear the clucking chatter of spawning wood frogs or the car alarm call of camouflaged spring peepers. You might see yellow spotted salamanders wriggling among the leaves, and you might see tiny fairy shrimp, the country cousins of the commercial pet Sea-Monkeys.
If you were visiting the area ten years ago, you would also see piles of trash and hear the sound of broken glass underfoot.
“I guess back in the olden days you would see these depressions in the forest, and before we had trash pickup I think that’s where a lot of people would just put their trash,” said Molly Anderson, a volunteer program manager with The Nature Conservancy. “You’d walk and you’d just hear ‘crunch crunch.’”
The Conservancy purchased the preserve’s 70 acres in 2007, and for three years it held volunteer trash cleanups and monitored the vernal pools there. A Conservancy scientist started noticing that some of the pools weren’t holding water long enough for the young amphibians to develop.
Several theories arose. One was that growing development, with people drilling wells, had lowered the water table below the groundwater-fed pools. Another was that it might be just be a naturally drier period than normal.
“I also heard that maybe the clay liner that was holding the water, that it was popped by all the trash that was laying in it,” Anderson said.
In 2010, with grants received by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy held a workshop to restore some of the ailing pools. Volunteers Mike Bertram and Kathy King, a local married couple, were instrumental volunteers overseeing the effort, and nearby Dickinson Township provided equipment, Anderson said.
The work involved raking away leaves, setting aside mosses and other plants, using heavy machinery to remove layers of soil and carefully replacing everything above a synthetic liner placed in the depression. A season’s worth of leaf litter was the finishing touch.
“The restoration took place in the beginning of August, and we came back in the fall of the same year and it was hard to tell that anything was done there,” Anderson said.
In the years since, the restored pools hold water when the pools that weren’t restored are drying up, Anderson said. Now Forest Pools Preserve serves not only as critical habitat but as a means to raise awareness.
“One of the things that we’re concerned about is that because vernal pools are really small and kind of unnoticeable, they’re not protected really under any kind of laws protecting water,” Anderson said.
Anderson said the Conservancy is trying to educate local governments about the importance of vernal pools and address issues raised by landowners, such as the threat of mosquitos. Aiding the effort, the Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program has a vernal pool landowner incentive program and an online registry.
“In a really healthy vernal pool, you’ll have a lot of different predators on mosquito larvae that would keep the mosquito numbers in check,” Anderson said.
Conservancy volunteer Andy Green helps monitor the pools and led the walk that the Thomas family attended. A retired doctor who grew up in Carlisle, Green managed remnant prairie and stormwater programs in Illinois before returning to Pennsylvania. He lives just down the road from Forest Pools Preserve.
“It’s interesting, there are none of these pools in the North Mountain, or many of these mountain ridges north of here,” Green said. “This is essentially a South Mountain phenomenon.”
Bringing the group to a pool fed by groundwater, Green pointed out the telltale masses of wood frog eggs. Wood frogs love a 40-degree night with rain, he said. The eggs were a sign that the frogs had already found a break in the cold weather, came, and left before anyone could spot them.
“They fooled everybody,” Green said.
Smaller in number were masses of eggs belonging to Jefferson and spotted salamanders, attached to sticks where the male of the species first places a sperm packet, or spermatophore.
As the adults listened to Green, the younger members of the group dispersed once they learned that they could find salamanders underneath rocks. They became the most avid explorers of the night, flipping rocks and logs, finding tiny red-backed salamanders, and replacing them as they were—at Green’s urging—before moving on to crouch low and face the water’s surface at each pool.
At the site of another pool, Green was dismayed to find nothing but a depression full of leaves. Under some of the leaves were wood frog egg masses, still moist, but the pool protecting them had dried up, and without a rain the eggs would dry up as well.
Green led the group to a final stop just over the boundary with Kings Gap State Park, which the Conservancy acquired in 1973 and transferred to the state. The sound of spring peepers became louder and louder as the group approached a pool, until the chorus seemed to be coming from every direction at once.
One of the adults held a spotted salamander she had found near the pool, showing it to the admiring group and periodically wetting her hands in the pool to keep the salamander’s skin moist—just another measure to keep the vernal pool community healthy.
The peeper’s call that had been so piercing faded quickly as the group left the low-lying bowl holding the pool, giving way to the crunching of leaves and excited recounting of what the group had just seen.
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Flickr page
Photos and text by Will Parson
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.
Conserving forests is critical to clean water, and honoring the champions of these vital habitats is central to the work of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay. At its tenth annual Chesapeake Watershed Forum, the organization, with support from the U.S. Forest Service, recognized four Chesapeake Forest Champions: a non-profit protecting urban trees, a partnership promoting Pennsylvania forest buffers, a landowner duo managing a stewardship-certified forest and a leader in sustainable forest management.
Across the watershed, forests are disappearing at an average rate of 100 acres per day. This can mean less habitat for wildlife and more pollution flowing into rivers and streams. But the examples set by Chesapeake Forest Champions act as reminders of the local action that can restore the region’s resources.
Tree Fredericksburg, led by Anne and Carl Little, was named Most Effective at Engaging the Public for its work supporting a vibrant urban forest in Fredericksburg, Virginia. The largely volunteer organization has facilitated the planting of close to 4,000 trees since 2007—721 trees in 2014 alone. Each tree is looked after for two years after it is planted, and volunteers of all ages are trained in planting, mulching and pruning the trees.
A group of partners in Bradford County, Pennsylvania, was commended for Greatest On-the-Ground Impact. Through their efforts, the group has helped implement more than 3,000 acres of streamside forest buffers since the beginning of Pennsylvania’s Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), which compensates farmers in exchange for using their land for high-priority conservation issues. At the awards event, the group was represented by Cathy Yeakel from Bradford County Conservation District, Jen Johns from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Mike Hanawalt from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service.
Virginia landowners Christine and Fred Andreae were recognized as Exemplary Forest Stewards. The pair actively manages close to 800 acres of land, which are protected under conservation easements and covered by six Forest Stewardship Management Plans. Their properties include a wildlife corridor that connects George Washington National Forest to Shenandoah National Park, as well as Milford Battlefield, a historical site from the Civil War. More than 2,000 feet of trails wind alongside the wildlife habitat, streamside plantings and native wildflowers on their property.
Don Outen received the Lifetime Achievement Award for his 42 years of land use planning and forest management. For nearly three decades, Outen has worked at the Baltimore County Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability, where he was instrumental in developing the county’s renowned Forest Sustainability program. As part of the Maryland Sustainable Forestry Council, Outen helped develop recommendations for the state’s “No Net Loss” policy for forests. He also serves as a member of the national Sustainable Forests roundtable.
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
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.
Forests are critical to the health of the Chesapeake Bay—they protect clean water and air, provide habitat to wildlife and support the region’s economy. However, since European settlement of the region in the 17th century, deforestation has taken a toll on the once thriving forests of the mid-Atlantic region. Human influences such as development and parcelization have reduced forest acreage from 95 to about 45 percent of historic coverage.
Deforestation in the Bay region may seem a problem that is too complex to tackle, but one man, dubbed the modern-day Johnny Appleseed, is proof that a little curiosity, passion and hard work can have profound effects on the environment. John Smucker, a Technology Education teacher at Northwest Middle School in Taneytown, Maryland, has become a catalyst for reforestation efforts, melding his engineering experience with restoration initiatives.
Smucker recalls the moment 10 years ago that sparked his interest in forest restoration. “It all started behind my house with a reforestation effort, but all of the trees that were planted slowly died. I didn’t like that so I did a lot of research to help [the trees] out and fell in love with the process, which led me to start dropping acorns into empty tree shelters,” said Smucker.
The moment created a ripple effect that resulted in Smucker spearheading forest restoration by organizing volunteer plantings and entering into a partnership with Mount Saint Mary’s University and the Francis Scott Key Center. Both locations provide space for Smucker to grow the thousands of trees he uses for plantings.
Smucker spends about 700 hours every year in all aspects of creating riparian buffers, like meeting with landowners, auguring the holes, organizing the volunteers and also conducting the most critical part of the process Smucker says, maintenance. Plantings are held on Saturdays during April, May and October – the most opportune months for tree survivability and comfortable outdoor temperatures for volunteers to work.
When choosing planting locations, Smucker explains, “Being a grower really is a game changer for me, because I can fully understand what the trees need to survive.” Once a site is selected, he samples the soil, observes what plant species are in the area, spends time in his greenhouses flagging all of the appropriate trees for the site and rallies his volunteer base around the planting.
When it comes to tree plantings, the name of the game is fun and education. Many of his volunteers are young people who are in a mindset to learn. Each planting is preceded with an ecology lesson highlighting the importance of riparian zones, stream shading and nutrient removal. “As a middle school teacher it is important to organize the event so it’s fun and rewarding, because if they get frustrated, they will associate that frustration with tree planting. If they associate it with fun, then the environmental stewardship will perpetuate a lot better. If it’s organized right and goes smoothly then it’s a feel-good thing, just like in the classroom,“ Smucker explained.
Smucker encourages his students to work out solutions to engineering problems with the tree plantings and challenges them to think up innovative ways to overcome obstacles. “Tree planting and technology education are really the same thing. It’s problem solving and the engineering design process. What is the problem? What is the solution? Evaluate and modify,” said Smucker.
Over the years, Smucker’s volunteer base and partner organizations have expanded to the point where he has been able to launch an organization of his own, Stream Link Education, a nonprofit that organizes and leads tree plantings with local community members, organizations and businesses. “The coolest thing I think we do is Natives for Nonprofits. We grow trees for giveaways to other organizations, which is great because budgets are really tight and donations are hugely welcome. It also helps establish partnerships, not because I want something in return but because it’s neat to make connections,” said Smucker.
Smucker aims to perpetuate choices and actions by providing people with hands on educational experiences. “If you’re excited about something and value it, then demonstrate the value, they [the volunteers] will see it. The excitement can be catching,” he said. He continued to explain that in addition to educating others and improving the environment, his enthusiasm for restoration remains strong because he is still able to grow as well, “I’m going to turn 50 in January and I’m thinking, ‘if I do this right, I’ve got my 50’s and 60’s and if I can stay healthy, I can do this for a long time.’ And that’s great. There is always something to learn.”
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program's Flickr page
Conserving forests is critical to clean water, and honoring the champions of these vital habitats is central to the work of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay. At its ninth annual Chesapeake Watershed Forum, the non-profit organization, with support from the U.S. Forest Service, recognized four Chesapeake Forest Champions: a public charity that demonstrates sustainable forest management to children and adults, a partnership that promotes volunteerism in planting urban trees, a private forest owner who engages women in working wooded lands and the founding director of Maryland’s largest environmental center.
Across the watershed, forests are disappearing at an average rate of 100 acres per day. This can mean less habitat for wildlife and more pollution flowing into rivers and streams. But the examples set by Chesapeake Forest Champions act as reminders of the local action that can restore the region’s resources.
The Evergreen Heritage Center was named Most Effective at Engaging the Public. The public charity was founded in 2008 and sits on a 130-acre Maryland estate that pre-dates the Revolutionary War. Its 108 acres of forestland have been managed under state guidelines for 65 years, and in 2000 earned the title Tree Farm of the Year. Dedicated to education, the organization offers field studies to students, professional development courses to teachers and conservation workshops to the general public. Its outdoor learning stations explore forest ecology, soil and water conservation, and climate change, while its heritage hoop house and sawmill demonstrate the art of forestry from start to finish and meet demand for local wood products.
West Virginia Project CommuniTree was commended for Greatest On-the-Ground Impact. Founded in 2008, the partnership of the Cacapon Institute and the West Virginia Conservation Agency, Division of Forestry and Division of Highways has led close to 50 plantings, with more than 2,500 volunteers planting more than 3,200 trees. In its work to boost urban forests in the Potomac Highlands, the partnership engages students, citizens and community groups to plant trees where people live—in neighborhoods, along roadsides and at schools—and offers grants for “CTree Kits” that contain everything a group would need to complete its own planting: trees, deer protection and mulch.
Nancy G.W. Baker was named an Exemplary Forest Steward. A private forest owner, Baker stewards the Panther Lick. This 163-acre property has been in her family for more than 150 years, and she uses the land to demonstrate the benefits of a working forest. She is president of the Bradford-Sullivan Forest Landowners’ Association’s Board of Directors, an active member of Pennsylvania’s Forest Stewardship Steering Committee and a leader in the Women and Their Woods program, which reaches out to women forest owners in the mid-Atlantic. Living along the Susquehanna River, Baker was one of the first members of Forests for the Bay and an essential part of its steering committee.
Joe Howard was given the Lifetime Achievement Award. A Maryland teacher for 35 years, Howard co-founded and was the first director of the Lathrop E. Smith Environmental Education Center, where he turned fields into forests and taught thousands of students about the importance of trees. In his retirement, Howard led Montgomery County’s Champion Trees program. Thanks to Howard, the county is home to three of the state’s five largest yellow poplars, and a cockspur hawthorne that he and his students planted was named a Big Tree National Champion in 2010. Howard continues to teach people about trees, forests and the management of this vital habitat.
The nation’s forests save more than 850 lives each year, according to a new report from the U.S. Forest Service.
Image courtesy craigcloutier/Flickr
In a study that will be published in the October issue of Environmental Pollution, scientists with the U.S. Forest Service have determined the magnitude and economic value of the effects trees have on air quality and human health. While we have long known that trees remove pollutants from the air, this study shows that in 2010, trees in the conterminous United States removed 17.4 million tons of pollution, with a human health value of $6.8 billion.
In addition to saving more than 850 lives, these trees reduced more than 670,000 incidences of acute respiratory symptoms and 430,000 incidences of asthma exacerbation. Trees also saved 200,000 lost days of school.
Image courtesy pavlinajane/Flickr
A forest’s pollution removal rates can be affected by pollution concentrations, tree cover, weather conditions, length of growing season and other environmental stressors. In general, scientists found that while trees’ pollution removal was greater in rural areas, the economic value of this pollution removal was greater in urban areas. In other words, because of their proximity to people, trees in urban areas have a greater impact on human health.
“More than 80 percent of Americans live in urban areas containing over 100 million acres of trees and forests,” said Michael T. Rains, director of the Forest Service’s Northern Research Station in a media release. “This research clearly illustrates that America’s urban forests are critical capital investments [that are] helping produce clean air and water [and] reduce energy costs and making cities more livable. Simply put, our urban forests improve people’s lives.”
The Chesapeake Bay Program has set a goal to expand urban tree canopy by 2,400 acres by 2025. Indeed, trees can improve air quality, water quality and habitat in ways not discussed in this study. Trees near buildings, for instance, lower energy use. Trees along rivers and streams reduce the amount of nutrients entering local waterways. And trees provide food, shelter, nesting sites and safe migration paths for critters in the water and on land.
“Urban tree planting is part of the Watershed Improvement Plan for six Bay jurisdictions,” said U.S. Forest Service Chesapeake Liaison Sally Claggett. “To reach water quality goals, these jurisdictions are targeting nearly 20,000 acres of new tree canopy by 2025—so the goal of 2,400 acres may be reached early. Partners are planning an Urban Forestry Summit in fall 2014 to help make that happen.”
For close to 50 years, Nick Carter has owned 33 acres on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Aside from a houses, a few sheds and a trail or two, much of this land has returned to its natural state: former farm fields have become bogs, wetlands and forests, pushed along by natural growth and Carter’s deep-seated desire to create healthy habitat and clean water.
Carter’s property runs next to the Choptank River, which flows into the Chesapeake Bay. Close to one-third of the Choptank watershed is forested, covered with the tree-and-shrub-filled habitat considered the most beneficial land use for the Bay. Forests absorb airborne pollutants, keep nutrients and sediment from entering our rivers and streams, and provide food, shelter and safe migration paths for wildlife. It is for these reasons that Carter has allowed forests to dominate his land.
“I’d like to see this little bit of property go back to old growth,” Carter said, referring to a type of forest that has evaded unnatural changes for a century or two. Carter and his wife purchased their property when he finished graduate school in 1966. For 35 years, Carter worked as a fish biologist with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Now, he offers informal tours to naturalists, native plant societies and school groups, carrying along a walking stick that effectively points out the things visitors might not notice.
Take the plants, for example. There are 250 species on Carter’s property, and in one two-hour walk it seems he can point out most of them. There are spring ephemera like jack-in-the-pulpit and pink lady’s slipper, the latter of which has a relationship with underground fungi that make them almost impossible to transplant. There are cinnamon ferns and sphagnum moss in a bog that Carter is particularly proud of because he created it with the simple act of laying down a few logs to form a makeshift dam. And there are the pine and oak trees that dominate the upland woods, including the willow oak whose acorns are so small that blue jays can pick them up and carry them in their beaks.
Then there are the reptiles and amphibians. Carter has counted 30 species of these, from the tree and wood frogs that favor damp habitat to the broad-headed skink and Eastern fence lizard that like forests with abundant leaf litter. Leaves that litter the ground conserve water, recycle nutrients and offer shelter to small critters. Its presence on Carter’s land can be felt as soon as you step from the hard pavement of Draper’s Mill Road to the soft, spongy forest floor.
Carter’s woods are home to charismatic fauna, too, including 30 species of mammals and 85 species of birds. Because so much of the property is forested, it serves as suitable habitat for “forest interior dwelling” birds, or those birds that need the moderate temperatures and light levels found deep within the woods. Carter has spotted pine warblers, prothonotary warblers and ovenbirds, but on our walk we spotted a bird that was much bigger and a little less particular about its habitat: a female wild turkey on her nest in a grove of skunk cabbage.
These critters flourish here because Carter has done so little to disrupt the natural processes of the world around him, aside from building the dam that led to the bog and managing some invasive species. While Maryland’s white-tailed deer often chew up low-growing plants, changing the structure of area forests, Carter’s dogs have warded them off with their loud howls. And when invasive plants like autumn olive, oriental bittersweet, English ivy and bush honeysuckle start to grow, Carter steps in to exert control. “Some I spray, some I cut, some I pull,” he said.
The changes that have taken place on Carter’s land present a classic case of succession: disturbed ground is replaced by shrubs, shrubs are replaced by pines and pines are replaced by hardwoods. In other words, this land works “the way it ought to work,” Carter said. And it reminds us of the habitats the Maintain Healthy Watersheds Goal Implementation Team is working to preserve in order to demonstrate the challenge of protecting streams.
Carter’s work to bring people onto his property could help further this goal, as he shares knowledge that can inform and inspire his visitors. “Here’s a little piece of land on which I can make all the rules,” Carter said. “Here, I can make this land good for the Bay and its rivers. And I can show people what’s good for the Bay and its rivers.”
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program Flickr page.
Images by Steve Droter and Jenna Valente. Captions by Catherine Krikstan.
Protecting undeveloped land, planting native trees and monitoring forests for insects and disease: each of these actions can conserve critical forest habitat, and each has been put into practice across the region by this year’s Chesapeake Forest Champions.
A researcher, a forester, a teacher and a regional water provider were among the four award-winners in the annual contest sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.
“The need for local champions of trees and forests has never been greater,” said USFS liaison to the Chesapeake Bay Program Sally Claggett in a media release.
Across the watershed, forests are disappearing at an average rate of 100 acres per day, which can mean less habitat for wildlife and more pollution flowing into rivers and streams. But the examples set by these Chesapeake Forest Champions are a “continual reminder of the positive local action and careful land stewardship that is taking place to restore our treasured natural resources,” said Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay Executive Director Al Todd.
Newport News Waterworks was named an Exemplary Forest Steward. The regional water provider serves 400,000 Virginia residents and manages 12,000 acres of land, more than half of which has been a certified American Tree Farm since 1947. Here, farm fields have been reforested, stands of timber have been improved and insects, disease and invasive plants have been monitored and controlled.
Maryland middle school teacher John Smucker was commended for Greatest On-the-Ground Impact in light of his talent as a volunteer organizer and environmental educator. Smucker grows trees and shrubs from seed in a Frederick County nursery, which he and his volunteers plant across the region. Smucker also remains involved in forest maintenance, watering trees throughout the summer, mowing tall grasses and replanting trees that have died.
Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) District Forester Roy Brubaker was named Most Effective at Engaging the Public. Brubaker manages 85,000 acres of land and water at Michaux State Forest, where he engages stakeholders to resolve issues related to public use. As owner and operator of a grass-fed livestock farm, Brubaker is also involved in sustainable agriculture in the state, and has helped promote forest management to the region’s farmers.
Stroud Water Research Center President and Director Bern Sweeney received the Lifetime Achievement Award for his research and writing about the environmental impact of streamside forests. For more than two decades, Sweeney has worked to demonstrate the link between healthy forests and healthy streams.
The Chesapeake Forest Champions were celebrated at the Chesapeake Watershed Forum in Shepherdstown, W.Va. The eighth annual conference also commemorated the three decades of restoration work in which so much of the conservation community has been engaged. Learn more about the winners.
While research continues to shed light on the environmental effects of shale gas development, much more remains unknown about the risks that the process known as “fracking” could pose for the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
According to a report released this week by a panel of scientific experts, additional research and monitoring—on sediment loads, on forest cover, on the best management practices that might lessen fracking’s environmental impact and more—must be done to determine how hydraulic fracturing might affect land and water resources in the region.
Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Hydraulic fracturing is a process that works to extract natural gas and oil from beneath the earth’s surface. During the process, a mixture of water, sand and additives is pumped at high pressure into underground rock formations—in the watershed, this formation is known as the Marcellus Shale—breaking them apart to allow the gas and oil to flow into wells for collection.
The process can impact the environment in a number of ways. According to the report, installing shale gas wells requires clearing forests and building roads, which can impact bird and fish habitat and increase the erosion of sediment into local rivers and streams. Withdrawing water from area sources—an essential part of gas extraction, unless water is brought in from off-site—can alter aquatic habitat and river flow. And the drilling process may result in the accumulation of trace metals in stream sediment.
Read more about the environmental effects of shale gas development in the watershed.
Clean air, clean water and healthy communities: the benefits of forests are vast. But as populations rise and development pressure expands, forests across the Chesapeake Bay watershed are fragmented and cut down.
In an effort to slow the loss of Chesapeake forests, the U.S. Forest Service has released a restoration strategy that outlines how officials and individuals alike can improve the environment and their communities by planting and caring for native trees.
According to the strategy, which has been endorsed by each of the watershed's seven State Foresters, expanding forest cover is critical to improving our air and water, restoring wildlife habitat, sequestering carbon and curbing home energy use.
To ensure we get the most “bang” for our tree-planting buck, the strategy targets restoration efforts toward those places in which forests would provide the greatest benefits, from wildlife corridors along streams and rivers to towns, cities and farms.
Trees along the edges of streams and rivers—called a riparian forest buffer—can keep nutrients and sediment out of our waters and nurture critters with vital habitat and food to eat. Trees in towns and cities—called an urban tree canopy—can clean and cool the air, protect drinking water and boost property values, improving the well-being of an entire neighborhood at a low cost. And trees on farms—in the form of wind breaks, forest buffers or large stands of trees—can protect crops, livestock and local wildlife while providing a farmer with a new form of sustainable income.
Other areas targeted for forest restoration include abandoned mine lands in headwater states and contaminated sites where certain tree species could remove toxic metals from the soil.
Learn more about the Chesapeake Forest Restoration Strategy.
From shopping bags and gift wrap to the train, plane and car trips that we take to visit family and friends, our carbon footprints get a little larger during the holidays. So when it comes to choosing a Christmas tree, why not do so with the environment in mind? While the "real" versus "fake" debate rages on, we have sifted through the arguments to find four tips that will make your Christmas tree "green."
Image courtesy Jo Naylor/Flickr
1. Avoid artificial. As deforestation becomes a global concern, an artificial tree might seem like a green choice. But some researchers disagree. Most of the artificial Christmas trees sold in the United States are made in China using polyvinyl chloride or PVC, a kind of plastic whose petroleum-dependent manufacturing, processing and shipping is a serious emitter of greenhouses gas. And while one study did find that reusing an artificial tree can be greener than purchasing a fresh-cut fir each December, that artificial tree would have to be used for more than two decades—and most end up in a landfill after just six to nine years.
Image courtesy Dave Mathis/Flickr
2. Don’t be a lumberjack. While going artificial might not be the greenest choice, neither is hiking up a local mountain with an axe in hand. When a tree is removed and not replaced, its ecosystem is robbed of the multiple benefits that even a single tree can provide. Trees clean our water and air, provide habitat for wildlife and prevent soil erosion. Instead of chopping down your own Christmas tree, visit a farm where trees are grown, cut and replanted just like any other crop.
Image courtesy macattck/Flickr
3. Choose a tree farm wisely. Millions of Christmas trees are grown on farms across the United States, emitting oxygen, diminishing carbon dioxide and carrying some of the same benefits of a natural forest. And some of these tree farms are sustainable, offering locally-grown, pesticide-free trees and wreaths. Find a tree farm near you.
Image courtesy Klara Kim/Flickr
4. Go “balled and burlapped.” Real Christmas trees are often turned into mulch once the season is over. But some farmers are making Christmas trees even more sustainable! Instead of cutting down a tree at its trunk, a tree’s roots are grown into a ball and wrapped in a burlap sack. Once the tree is used, it can be replanted! If your yard doesn’t have room for another evergreen, look for a company that will return for its tree after the holidays.
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.”
The restoration of forested areas along creeks and streams in the Chesapeake Bay watershed continues to decline.
Called riparian forest buffers, these streamside shrubs and trees are critical to environmental restoration. Forest buffers stabilize shorelines, remove pollutants from contaminated runoff and shade streams for the brook trout and other fish species that thrive in cooler temperatures and the cleanest waters.
While more than 7,000 miles of forest buffers have been planted across the watershed since 1996, this planting rate has experienced a sharp decline. Between 2003 and 2006, Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania planted an average of 756 miles of forest buffer each year. But in 2011, the entire watershed planted just 240 miles—less than half its former average.
Farmers and agricultural landowners have been the watershed’s driving force behind forest buffer plantings, using the conservation practice to catch and filter nutrients and sediment washing off their land. But a rise in commodity prices has made it more profitable for some farmers to keep their stream buffers planted not with trees, but with crops. This, combined with an increase in funding available for other conservation practices, has meant fewer forest buffers planted each year.
But financial incentives and farmer outreach can keep agricultural landowners planting.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), for instance, has partnered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and others to implement conservation practices on Pennsylvania farms. Working to put the state’s Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) funds to use, CBF provides farmers across the Commonwealth with technical assistance and financial incentives to plant forest buffers, often on the marginal pastureland that is no longer grazed or the less-than-ideal hayland that is rarely cut for hay.
The CBF Buffer-Bonus Program has encouraged Amish and Mennonite farmers to couple CREP-funded forest buffers with other conservation practices, said Dave Wise, Pennsylvania Watershed Restoration Manager with CBF. The reason, according to Wise? “Financial incentives … make it attractive for farmers to enroll.”
Image courtesy Chesapeake Bay Foundation
For each acre of forest buffer planted, CBF will provide Buffer-Bonus Program participants with up to $4,000 in the form of a “best management practice voucher” to fund conservation work. This comes in addition to CREP cost-share incentives, which fund forest buffer planting, post-planting care and annual rental fees that run from $40 to $350 per acre.
While Wise has witnessed what he called a “natural decline” in a program that has been available for more than a decade, he believes cost-share incentives can keep planting rates up, acting as “the spoonful of sugar" that encourages farmers to conserve in a state with the highest forest buffer planting rates in the watershed.
“There are few counties [in the Commonwealth] where buffer enrollments continue to be strong, and almost without exception, those are counties that have the Buffer-Bonus Program,” Wise said.
In 2007, the six watershed states committed to restoring forest buffers at a rate of 900 miles per year. This rate was incorporated into the Chesapeake Bay Executive Order, which calls for 14,400 miles of forest buffer to be restored by 2025. The Chesapeake Forest Restoration Strategy, now out in draft form, outlines the importance of forests and forest buffers and the actions needed to restore them.
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.
It’s easy to see why the Iroquois once called Pine Creek Tiadaghton, or “the river of pines.” A mix of hardwoods, including the eastern white pine and the eastern hemlock, now line its banks more than a century after the region was clear cut by Pennsylvania’s once-booming lumber industry.
Image courtesy fishhawk/Flickr
At close to 90 miles long, Pine Creek is the longest tributary to the West Branch of the Susquehanna River. But Pine Creek once flowed in the opposite direction—until a surge of glacial meltwater reversed the creek to its current southerly flow, creating the driving force behind Pine Creek Gorge. Named by the National Park Service a National Natural Landmark in 1968, the gorge is better known as the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania.
At its deepest point, Pine Creek Gorge is 1,450 feet deep and almost one mile wide. Visitors can view the gorge (along with dramatic rock outcrops and waterfalls) from the east rim of the canyon in Leonard Harrison State Park. On the west rim of the canyon is Colton Point State Park, which features five stone and timber pavilions built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. And in the Tioga State Forest, approximately 165,000 acres of trees, streams and awe-inspiring views await hikers, bikers, hunters and more. Pine Creek is paralleled by the 65-mile Pine Creek Rail Trail, which a 2001 article in USA Today named one of the top ten places in the world to take a bike tour.
Image courtesy Travis Prebble/Flickr
More from Pine Creek:
Fall brings with it cooler weather and a rainbow of red, orange and yellow foliage, making it the perfect time to get outside for a hike.
From the coastal marshes of the Chesapeake Bay to the rocky hills of the Appalachian Mountains, scenic vistas and mountaintops await.
Tip: To plan your outing, find out when "peak fall foliage" occurs in your region with this map from the Weather Channel.
Here are some of our favorite sites to take in the changing colors of fall:
1. Old Rag Mountain Hike, Shenandoah National Park, Va. (7 miles)
Image courtesy David Fulmer/Flickr
Be prepared for a challenging rock scramble and a crowd of tourists, but know that it will all be worth it in the end. Some consider this hike to have the best panoramic vistas in Northern Virginia, and it remains one of the most popular hikes in the mid-Atlantic.
2. Loudoun Heights Trails, Harpers Ferry National Historic Park, W.Va. (7.5 miles)
Harpers Ferry National Historic Park is located along the C&O Canal—a hot spot for those looking to find fall foliage. But if you're tired of the canal's flat views as it runs along the Potomac River, check out the trails in Loudon Heights. It may be an uphill battle, but you'll find yourself overlooking the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers from what seems to be the highest point around. This is certainly a good hike for a cool fall day (this blogger took to the trails in the heat of summer and was drained!). Be sure to grab ice cream in town afterwards!
3. Flat Top Hike, Peaks of Otter Trails, Bedford, Va. (3.5 miles)
Image courtesy Jim Liestman/Flickr
The Peaks of Otter are three mountain peaks that overlook the foothills of Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains. While a hike to Sharp Top is an intriguing one with stunning views, a hike to Flat Top promises to be less crowded. Keep in mind, there are many other trails and lakes near the Peaks of Otter worth exploring!
4. Wolf Rock and Chimney Rock Loop, Catoctin Mountain Park, Thurmont, Md. (5 miles)
Image courtesy TrailVoice/Flickr
Give yourself plenty of time to take in the unique rock formations and two outstanding viewpoints found along this hardwood forest trail. If you're not up for a long hike, visit the park's more accessible viewpoints and make a stop at the nearby Cunningham Falls State Park to see a scenic waterfall just below the mountains.
5. Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Trail, Washington, D.C., to Cumberland, Md. (184 miles)
Image courtesy sandcastlematt/Flickr
This trail follows the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., to Cumberland, Md. While bikers and hikers often tackle the entire trail, the canal path can also be enjoyed as a leisurely day hike.
From Great Falls to Harpers Ferry to Green Ridge State Forest—the second largest in Maryland—a walk along this rustic trail traces our nation's transportation history with sightings of brick tunnels, lock houses and the beautiful scenery that surrounds it all.
If you plan on making a multi-day journey, watch the color of the leaves change as you move north along with peak foliage.
6. Pokomoke River State Forest (Snow Hill, Md.) (1 mile)
Image courtesy D.C. Glovier/Flickr
Whether you explore the 15,500 acres of this forest from land or from water, you are sure to find breath-taking scenes of fall—in stands of loblolly pine, in bald-cypress forests and swamps and even in a five-acre remnant of old growth forest. Take a one-mile self guided trail or opt for an afternoon fall colors paddle in the nearby Pocomoke River State Park, sponsored by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
7. Waggoner's Gap Hawk Watch Hike, Cumberland County, Pa.
Image courtesy Audubon Pennsylvania
This rocky site is located along an autumn raptor migration flyway, making it popular among bird-watchers. During the fall, however, it is a must-visit for birders and non-birders alike. From the top of Kittatinny Ridge, also known as Blue Mountain, you can see South Mountain and Cumberland, Perry, York and Franklin counties. The land is cared for by Audubon Pennsylvania.
8. Pole Steeple Trail, Pine Grove Furnace State Park, Cumberland County, Pa. (.75 mile)
Image courtesy Shawnee17241/Flickr
This trail offers a great view for a short climb. While the trail is less than one mile long, it is steep! From the top, you can see Laurel Lake in Pine Grove Furnace State Park and all 2,000 feet of South Mountain. Plan this hike around sunset to see fall colors in a different light.
Do you know an individual or group that is working hard to help our forests stay healthy? Nominate them to be a Chesapeake Forest Champion!
The Forest Champion contest was launched by the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and the U.S. Forest Service in 2011. Now in its second year, the contest hopes to recognize additional exemplary forest stewards in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. With 100 acres of the region's forest lost to development each day, the need for local champions of trees and forests has never been greater!
The contest is open to schools and youth organizations, community groups and nonprofits, businesses and forestry professionals. If you know a professional or volunteer who is doing outstanding work for forests, you can nominate them, too!
Awards will be given for:
Nominations forms can be found at the Forestry for the Bay website and are due August 6, 2012.
Winners will be recognized at the 2012 Chesapeake Watershed Forum in Shepherdstown, West Virginia in late September.
For more information about Forest Champions:
When most people talk about forests, they mention hunting, or the timber market, or environmental conservation. But when Susan Benedict discusses her forest – a 200,000 acre property in Centre County, Pennsylvania – she talks about family.
“We all work together. This is a family operation,” she says as we drive to her property along a Pennsylvania State Game Lands road that winds through the Allegany Mountains from Black Moshannon to Pennsylvania-504.
(Image courtesy Susan Benedict)
A desire to keep the mountaintop property in the hands of her children and grandchildren motivated Benedict to implement sustainable forestry practices, participate in Pennsylvania’s Forest Stewardship Program and certify the property under the American Tree Farm System. By managing her forest in an environmentally conscious way, Benedict ensures that stands of ash, red oak and beech will be around in a hundred years for her great-grandchildren to enjoy.
But Benedict’s involvement in forest conservation doesn’t mean that she’s rejecting the land’s economic and recreation potential. The property’s plethora of hardwoods allows the family to participate in the timber market. As a large and secluded mountaintop property, it has attracted wind farms seeking to turn wind into energy. Its location along the Marcellus Shale makes it a desirable location for natural gas developers. This multitude of interested parties, each with its own vision, can be overwhelming for any property owner.
Since different stakeholders preach different benefits and drawbacks of extracting these natural resources, Benedict took charge and carefully investigated the issues herself, knowing her family’s land was at stake. Her decisions balance the property’s economic potential with her desire to keep her family forest as pristine as it was when she explored it as a child.
We talk so much about the environmental benefits of trees that it’s easy to forget that they’re also a business.
(Image courtesy Susan Benedict)
“My forester assures me that your woods are like your stock portfolio,” Benedict explains. “You don’t want to cut out more annual growth than what you’re generating, and in fact, you want to shoot for (cutting) less than what you’re generating. Right now, we are good; what we are taking out, we are generating.”
Before any logging is done, a county forester walks the property and designates which trees can be removed. Then it’s time to cut. Benedict has one logger, an ex-Vietnam veteran whose wife occasionally accompanies him. “He cuts whatever the mills are wanting,” says Benedict.
The challenge occurs when mills want something that shouldn’t be cut. “It’s a little more problematic because we have to market what we want to get rid of, instead of the lumber mills telling us what they want,” Benedict explains.
But Benedict won’t let natural resource markets sway her forest management decisions. She’s taking charge by telling lumber mills that she’ll give them what she wants to give them – no more, no less. Of course, the economic incentives of sustainable forest management make saying “no” easier.
One of these economic rewards is the Department of Agriculture’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQUIP), which provides financial and technical assistance to landowners seeking to “promote agricultural production and environmental quality as compatible national goals.”
Benedict’s EQUIP project will enhance growth on mass-producing trees such as hickory, oak, cherry, hazelnut, beech nut and others that produce animal feed. “Basically, we want to get the trees to grow quicker, and re-generate better.”
Family health problems put Bendict's EQUIP project on hold. Since it needed to be completed by the end of summer, Benedict’s brothers and her three sons (age 15, 24 and 27) held mandatory family work days each weekend from the Fourth of July to the end of September.
“It’s a 200,000-acre property, which translates to a lot of work. But I think that’s good,” Benedict assures me, even though she also sweat through the word during the height of summer’s humidity. “When you have concentrated time like that, you actually talk to each other. If you meet for an hour meeting, no one ever gets around to saying what they want. You get down to what’s real.”
Using the forest as a mechanism to unite her family has been Benedict’s goal since she and her brothers inherited the property after her father’s death.
Benedict tells me that her three boys “have to help out, whether they want to or not.” Their involvement – even if it is forced sometimes – allows the family to connect to the property. Benedict hopes the hard work will inspire them to adopt sustainable forestry management practices when they inherit the land.
We’ve all experienced times when nature takes over and there’s nothing we can do about it – whether we’re a farmer that’s experienced a devastating drought or a commuter who’s had to pull over in a heavy rainstorm because we couldn’t see the road in front of us.
This happened to Benedict and her team six years ago, when a three-year gypsy moth infestation destroyed 80 percent of a red oak stand. The damage cost her more than one million dollars in timber profits on a 2,000-acre lot.
“Al (Benedict's logger) had worked so hard on the stand. And it’s not a fun place to work – rocky and snake-infested. We were all so proud of how it came out. And then three years worth of caterpillars, and it was destroyed.”
Biological sprays of fungi can sometimes prevent gypsy moth infestations. The caterpillars die after ingesting the fungi for a few days.
Benedict could have sprayed the fungi, but it may not have worked. It’s a big risk to take when you’re paying $25 per acre (that’s $50,000 in total). Not only do you need the money, but you must have three consecutive rain-free days in May, the only time of year you can spray.
So when the emerald ash borer – the invasive green insect that has destroyed between 50 and 100 million ash trees in the United States – made its first appearance in Pennsylvania, Benedict began cutting down her ash trees. “We got them to market before they got killed.”
By paying attention to both environmental and market pressures, Benedict’s forest is both sustainable and profitable.
Benedict’s property is isolated. For wind-power developers, that means fewer people will complain about the loud noise and shadows that make living near wind turbines burdensome. The land is also atop a mountain, which, of course, means it experiences high winds.
“It’s very hard to decide to have that much development on your property, but honestly, it will provide a nice retirement for my brothers and me,” Benedict says. “Everyone I talk to assures me that once the construction phase is over, it doesn’t hurt the trees, it doesn’t hurt the wildlife. The wildlife could care less, which has been my observation on most things that we do. After it gets back to normal, they don’t care and they adjust.”
Environmental surveys, which are required by law before construction, affirm Benedict’s insights. A group hired to do a migratory bird study constructed a high tower atop the mountain. “They stayed up there every evening and morning in March,” Benedict says with a shiver.
Another contractor is delineating wetlands on the property: identifying and marking wetland habitat and making sure construction does not affect these areas.
Benedict and her family even had the opportunity to learn what kinds of endangered and threatened animals live on their property. “They found seven timber rattlesnake dens, and had to relocate one of the turbines because it was too close to the den,” Benedict explains. The teams also surveyed Allegany wood rats and northern bulrushes, a critical upland wetland plant.
“I decided to [lease property to the wind farm] because the only way we are ever going to know if wind is a viable technology is if we get some turbines up, see what works, see what doesn’t work, and allow that process of invention to move. And we have to have someone to host it.”
And according to the surveys, Benedict’s property is the perfect host.
As Benedict drives her pickup around the property, she points out the site of her father's former saw mill, where she once worked, and shows me to the cabin that the family built after her grandfather died in 1976. Nearby, there's a section of forest that the family is converting to grouse habitat, which will support her brother's love of grouse hunting.
(Image courtesy Susan Benedict)
The uses of the property fluctuate as family members' interests change. Benedict affirms that managing the property sustainably will give her grandchildren the freedom to pursue their interests in the years to come.
"A lot of people go the route of having a conservation easement, but who knows what the best use of that property is going to be in 100 years. If my dad did that, we would have very little use of the property now, and certainly very little flexibility with these things, especially the wind and natural gas."
Benedict is a member of the Centre County Natural Gas Task Force. "You hear all sorts of things about natural gas development and water resources, and in order to make sure it wasn’t going to be horrible, I joined the task force," she explains.
Benedict also allows 15 or so individuals to hunt and fish on her property for a small annual fee. Control of the deer population in particular is essential for her timber operations.
But no matter what happens, Benedict insists, the forest will stay in the family.
"We made a pact that everyone will have to sell all of their belongings before we sold this," she says. "There's some things, you know, you got to make work out."
Benedict’s forest management practices and involvement in the sustainable forestry community has earned her recognition as a 2011 Forest Steward Champion by the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.
Four projects and individuals in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia have been recognized as Chesapeake Forest Champions for their contribution to Chesapeake Bay restoration through the promotion of trees and forests.
The inaugural Chesapeake Forest Champion contest honored recipients in four categories: most innovative, most effective at engaging the public, greatest on-the-ground impact and exceptional forest steward/land owner.
The "most innovative" award went to Adam Downing and Michael LaChance of Virginia Cooperative Extension and Michael Santucci of the Virginia Department of Forestry for their Virginia Family Forestland Short Course program. The team tackled a critical land conservation challenge: intergenerational transfers of family farms and forests, and the need to educate land owners on how to protect their land. Through the land transfer plans developed in this program, more than 21,000 acres of Virginia forests are expected to remain intact, family-owned and sustainably managed.
The "most effective at engaging the public" champion was ecologist Carole Bergmann from Montgomery County, Maryland. Bergmann created the Weed Warrior program in response to a significant invasive plant problem in the county's forests. To date, approximately 600 Weed Warriors have logged more than 25,000 hours of work removing and monitoring invasive weeds.
The "greatest on-the-ground impact" award went to David Wise of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation for his leadership in restoring riparian forest buffers through the Pennsylvania Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) partnership. Since 2000, Pennsylvania CREP has restored more than 22,000 acres of forest buffers -- more than all the other Chesapeake Bay states combined.
The "exceptional forest steward/land owner" champion was Susan Benedict of Centre County, Pennsylvania, for her work running a sustainable tree farm. Benedict has implemented many conservation projects on her family's land, such as planting habitat to encourage pollination in a forested ecosystem.
The Chesapeake Forest Champion contest was sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service and the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay as part of the International Year of Forests. The four Chesapeake Forest Champions were honored earlier this month at the 2011 Chesapeake Watershed Forum in Shepherdstown, W.Va.
Visit the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay's website to learn more about the Chesapeake Forest Champions.
Image: (from left to right) Sally Claggett, U.S. Forest Service; David Wise, Chesapeake Bay Foundation; Michael LaChance, Virginia Cooperative Extension; Susan Benedict, land owner, Centre County, Pa.; Carole Bergmann, Montgomery County, Md.; and Al Todd, Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay. Image courtesy Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.
The Potomac Conservancy is looking for individuals, educators and community groups to help collect native tree seeds during the annual Growing Native season, which begins Sept. 17.
Volunteers participate in Growing Native by collecting native tree seeds across the Potomac River region. The seeds are donated to state nurseries in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia, where they are planted and used to restore streamside forests throughout the 15,000-square-mile Potomac River watershed.
Since Growing Native’s inception in 2001, nearly 56,000 volunteers have collected more than 164,000 pounds of acorns, walnuts and other hardwood tree and shrub seeds. In addition to providing native tree stock, Growing Native builds public awareness of the important connection between healthy, forested lands and clean waters, and what individuals can do to protect them.
Visit growingnative.org to learn more about how you can get involved with Growing Native.
Image courtesy Jennifer Bradford/Flickr.
Do you know an exemplary person or group who is a champion for forests in the Chesapeake Bay region? Nominate them to be a Chesapeake Forest Champion!
To help celebrate International Year of Forests, the U.S. Forest Service and its partners are launching a new annual contest to recognize forest champions throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed. With around 100 acres of the region's forests lost to development each day, the need for local forest champions has never been greater!
The Chesapeake Forest Champion awards recognize the outstanding efforts of groups and individuals to conserve, restore and celebrate Chesapeake forests in 2011. The contest is
open to schools and youth organizations, community groups and nonprofits, businesses and forestry professionals. If you know a professional or volunteer who is doing
outstanding work for forests, you can nominate them too!
The award has three categories:
Nominations are due by Friday, September 2. Winners will be recognized at the Chesapeake Watershed Forum in Shepherdstown, W.Va., in September.
Visit the Forestry for the Bay website to learn more about the awards and submit a nomination.
There are several different kinds of habitats found in the Bay’s watershed. Each one is important to the survival of the watershed’s diverse wildlife. Habitats also play important roles in Bay restoration.
Chesapeake Bay habitats include:
Forests covered approximately 95 percent of the Bay’s 64,000-square-mile watershed when Europeans arrived in the 17th century. Now, forests only cover about 58 percent of the watershed.
Forests are important because they provide vital habitat for wildlife. Forests also filter pollution, keeping nearby waterways cleaner. Forests act as huge natural sponges that absorb and slowly release excess stormwater runoff, which often contains harmful pollutants. Forests also absorb airborne nitrogen that might otherwise pollute our land and water.
Wetlands are transitional areas between land and water. There are two general categories of wetlands in the Chesapeake Bay watershed: tidal and non-tidal. Tidal wetlands, found along the Bay's shores, are filled with salt or brackish water when the tide rises. Non-tidal wetlands contain fresh water
Just like forests, wetlands act as important buffers, absorbing and slowing the flow of polluted runoff to the Bay and its tributaries.
Streams and rivers not only provide the Chesapeake Bay with its fresh water, they also provide many aquatic species with critical habitat. Fish, invertebrates, amphibians and other wildlife species all depend on the Bay’s tributaries for survival.
When the Bay’s streams and rivers are in poor health, so is the Bay, and the great array of wildlife it harbors is put in danger.
Shallow waters are the areas of water from the shoreline to about 10 feet deep. Shallow waters are constantly changing with the tides and weather throughout the year. The shallows support plant life, fish, birds and shellfish.
Tidal marshes in the Bay's shallows connect shorelines to forests and wetlands. Marshes and provide food and shelter for the wildlife that lives in the Bay's shallow waters. Freshwater marshes are found in the upper Bay, brackish marshes in the middle Bay and salt marshes in the lower Bay.
Aquatic reefs are solid three-dimensional habitats made up of densely packed oysters. The reefs form when oyster larvae attach to larger oysters at the bottom of the Bay.
Reefs provide habitat and communities for many aquatic species in the Bay, including fish and crabs. The high concentration of oysters in aquatic reefs improve water quality by filtering algae and pollutants from the water.
Open waters are beyond the shoreline and the shallows. Aquatic reefs replace underwater bay grasses, which cannot grow where the sunlight cannot penetrate deep waters. Open water provides vital habitat for pelagic fish, birds and invertebrates.
Each of these habitats are vital to the survival of the Chesapeake Bay’s many different species of wildlife. It's important to protect and restore habitats to help promote the overall health of the Bay. So do your part to save the Bay by protecting habitats near you – find out how.
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 rain was falling heavy all through Tuesday night and things had not changed much when the alarm went off the next morning, signaling the new day. The Chesapeake Bay Forestry Workgroup had a meeting scheduled at Banshee Reeks Nature Preserve in Loudoun County, Virginia.
Hearing and seeing the rain and knowing the schedule of the day brought back memories from my past life. For years, the month of April had a pretty profound impact on my life. One of the duties as an employee working for the Virginia Department of Forestry was to plant tree seedlings with volunteer groups. The best planting months are March, April, November and December, but April was extremely busy with plantings because of Earth Day and Arbor Day. You can plant trees during other months, but for “bare root” seedlings with no soil on their roots, months with high precipitation and cooler temperatures are the best.
The Banshee Reeks Manor House sits on the top of a hill and Goose Creek winds through the rolling farmland and forest. The “Banshee” was with us that Wednesday because of the pouring rain; the misty spirit hung over the reeks (rolling hills and valley). But hardy as the Forestry Workgroup members are, they hopped on a wagon and rode down the hills -- in the pouring rain -- to Goose Creek to see the task before them.
The heavily grassed floodplain had bare areas that were prepared for a riparian buffer planting. Our hosts from the Virginia Department of Forestry had planting bars, tree seedlings, gloves, tree shelters and all of the equipment needed to get the trees in the ground; the Workgroup members were the muscle. The group planted approximately 125 sycamore, black walnut, river birch, hackberry and dogwood shrub seedlings -- again, in the pouring rain -- in a little over an hour.
As we road the wagon back up the hill -- still in the pouring rain -- and looked back at the newly planted floodplain, the enthusiasm was hard to contain. There was a special warm feeling that drifted over me, reminiscent of my days of planting with volunteers: the feeling of knowing you just did something special that will last far into the future. For the Forestry Workgroup members who promote riparian forest buffer plantings in the Bay watershed, this was a “lead by example” exercise.
As everyone got into their cars to return to their home states of Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and other parts of Virginia, yes, they were cold, they were wet, but they were proud of their work.
In early October the search was on for a site in the Bay watershed for the November 18 Bay Program Forestry Workgroup meeting. Educational workgroup meetings are good because members can get out of their offices and visit the fields and forests of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. After a few calls, the Virginia Tech Mare Equine Center in Middleburg, Virginia, separated itself from other choices. It was a perfect location for the forestry workgroup meeting because it has a 23-acre riparian forest buffer, and forest buffers would be the focus of the meeting.
Riparian forest buffers are a topic near and dear to my everyday life. People often tell me I live in “buffer land” because my job is very specific to that area of forestry. I really am very interested in watersheds as holistic ecosystems and think of forest buffers as the integral link between what happens on the land and how those actions are reflected in the water quality of streams and rivers.
Along with other Bay goals, the riparian forest buffer goal will fall short of the 10,000-mile commitment made for the 2010 deadline. The number of riparian buffer miles achieved annually has dropped off from 1,122 miles in 2002 to 385 miles in 2007. Since Forestry Workgroup members represent state forestry agencies, NGOs, and other groups interested in Bay forests, they are the logical group to come up with ways to address barriers that stand in the way of achieving state riparian forest buffer commitments. We spent the afternoon of the Forestry Workgroup meeting discussing the barriers to riparian forest buffer plantings and ways to eliminate those barriers.
The Forestry Workgroup meeting also featured two presentations on new riparian forest buffer tools intended for use by local governments, watershed groups, and local foresters. The first presentation, given by Fred Irani from the U.S. Geological Survey team at the Bay Program office, was about the RB Mapper, a new tool developed for assessing riparian forest buffers along shorelines and streambanks. The other presentation, given by Rob Feldt from Maryland DNR, was about a tool for targeting the placement of riparian forest buffers for more effective nutrient removal. (You can read all of the briefing papers and materials from the Forestry Workgroup meeting at the Bay Program’s website.)
After all the business, it was time to experience the Mare Center, their streamside forest buffer and the rolling hills of Virginia. A tractor and wagon provided transportation to the pasture to see the buffer, which was planted in 2000 with 2,500 tree seedlings. It was a cold and windy day, and there were actually snowflakes in the air. We had planned to ride the wagon out and walk back, however, with a little bit of a bribe, the wagon driver waited while we checked out the forest buffer for survival, growth, and general effectiveness for stream protection.
The Forestry Workgroup meeting was productive, educational, and enjoyable. How often can we say that about group meetings? Sometimes it is worth the extra effort to provide a meeting place with an outdoor component that conveys the endeavors that the Bay Program workgroups are all about.
I get a thrill whenever I see forests on equal billing with farm lands in the Chesapeake region. Especially when it comes to something BIG like carbon sequestration. Of course, one acre of forest land can sequester much more carbon than one acre of agricultural land -- 1-2 tons of carbon per acre per year for forest, compared to roughly 0.3-0.5 ton per acre per year for farmland. But when it comes to best management practices for water quality, and well, eating, agriculture is king.
Kudos to Delaware, which is now only 30% forested (the smallest percentage of forest for any of the six Bay states), to take on carbon for its champion role in the Chesapeake clean-up. When it comes to carbon, it’s all about taking advantage of existing volunteer markets, such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and the Chicago Climate Exchange, and potential regulatory markets in the United States’ future
From a global perspective, the U.S. is playing catch-up with carbon. Our nation did not ratify Kyoto in 1997 when 84 other countries signed on. These countries are legally bound to reduce carbon emissions, with the average target being to reduce emissions by 5% below 1990 levels. Here in the U.S., the states have largely taken the leadership on reducing greenhouse gases, with some big regional programs such as RGGI, the Western Climate Initiative and the Midwestern Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord taking off. Last year, Congress got serious with the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act, but it didn’t pass. Both of the prospective new administrations have promised to enact climate legislation. Most likely only after the economy settles down -- I mean up. It’s an exciting time for many who have talked for nearly two decades about the need.
Back to the symposium …
How will the markets actually reduce greenhouse gases? It’s not shuffling money around. It has to do with being cost-effective, promoting innovation and, indirectly, better land use decisions. Big questions abound, however; like: will it work? The top six issues are certainty, baseline, leakage, permanence, additionality and double counting.
Once some of the issues start being resolved, there’s great potential for forestry, since 80% of the forest land in this region is privately owned. The Bay Bank has moved from concept to design and will be up and running in fall 2009. The Bay Bank will facilitate both farm and forest landowner access to multiple ecosystem markets (not just carbon) and conservation programs through an easy-to-use online marketplace. Supporting aspects of the Bay Bank, such as the Spatial Lands Registry, will be up sooner. The Spatial Lands Registry is one of those tools that will help reduce issues such as certainty, baseline and permanence. When a tool does this, it also reduces the make-it or break-it transaction costs.
The all-important new regulations will determine the direction of these burgeoning markets. There need to be more drivers to direct more businesses and people to invest in carbon sequestering practices. The target reductions and rules need to be reasonable so a variety of private landowners can take part in the market and get a worthwhile return on their investment. The Delaware symposium is helping with the outreach and understanding that will be needed for any market to succeed.
What’s good for carbon is good for water quality. Less cars, more forests and farms, better-managed farms and forests, and hopefully, hopefully, a postponement of sea level rise. That would be very good for the Chesapeake. For that matter, good for the world.
Frederick, Maryland's urban tree canopy covers just 12 percent of the city, but an additional 72 percent could possibly be covered by trees in the future, according to a recent study by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the University of Vermont and the U.S. Forest Service.
Urban tree canopy—the layer of trees covering the ground when viewed from above—is a good indicator of the amount and quality of forests in cities, suburbs and towns. Healthy trees in these urban and suburban areas help improve water quality in local waterways—and eventually the Bay—by reducing polluted runoff. Urban forests also provide wildlife habitat, absorb carbon dioxide from the air and enhance quality of life for residents.
With 12 percent tree canopy, Frederick has less urban forest cover than several other cities in the region, including Annapolis (41 percent urban tree canopy), Washington, D.C. (35 percent) and Baltimore (20 percent). The report finds that 9,500 acres in Frederick, or 72 percent of the city's land area, could possibly support tree canopy because it is not covered by a road or structure (such as a building).
Thirty-eight urban and suburban Maryland communities, including Annapolis, Baltimore, Bowie, Cumberland, Greenbelt, Hyattsville, Rockville and 29 communities in Baltimore County, are involved in setting tree canopy cover goals. Washington, D.C., and communities in Virginia and Pennsylvania have also set urban tree canopy goals.
Under the 2007 Forest Conservation Initiative, the Bay Program committed to accelerating reforestation and conservation in urban and suburban areas by increasing the number of communities with tree canopy expansion goals to 120 by 2020.
At its annual meeting in early December, the Chesapeake Executive Council (EC) signed the Forestry Conservation Initiative, committing the Bay states to permanently conserve an additional 695,000 acres of forested land throughout the watershed by 2020.
Chesapeake forests are crucial to maintaining water quality in the Bay and its tributaries. They also safeguard wildlife habitat, contribute billions of dollars to the economy, protect public health, provide recreation opportunities and enhance quality of life for the watershed's 17 million residents.
Despite these benefits, forests in the Bay watershed are at risk. In the Bay region alone, some 750,000 acres - equivalent to 20 Washington, D.C.s - have been felled since the early 1980s, a rate of 100 acres per day. By 2030, 9.5 million more acres of forest will see increased development pressure.
There are four overarching goals to the Forestry Conservation Initiative:
By 2020, permanently protect an additional 695,000 acres of forest from conversion to other land uses such as development, targeting forests in areas of highest water quality value. As part of this goal, 266,400 acres of forest land under threat of conversion will be protected by 2012.
By 2020, accelerate reforestation and conservation in:
In addition, each state and the federal agencies will implement strategies and actions to: