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Bay Blog: land conservation

Jul
28
2015

Photo Essay: Researching the headwaters of the Chesapeake

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.

Dr. Bill Harman, Director of the SUNY Oneonta Biological Field Station in Cooperstown, N.Y., walks along the station's dock on Otsego Lake while an undergraduate parasitology class prepares to catch fish specimens on May 22, 2015. The Biological Field Station has grown to encompass 2,600 acres supporting laboratories, classrooms, offices, equipment and conserved land.

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.

John Montemarano, a sophomore biology major, casts a line on Otsego Lake while trying to catch fish with his classmates for a parasitology lab.

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 Lake. Local residents and other visitors are also welcome to explore and can participate in lake monitoring alongside the field station’s scientists.

Bill Harman, who founded the Biological Field Station in 1968 and remains its Director, poses at the field station’s Thayer Boathouse overlooking Otsego Lake. The Biological Field Station was recently first in the country to offer a Master of Science degree in Lake Management.

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.

Harman holds a flip-flop found in Otsego Lake that has been covered with invasive zebra mussels in Cooperstown, N.Y., on May 22, 2015. The invasive mussel will establish itself on any hard submerged surface and exclude other species.

Preserved cisco specimens rest inside a jar at the SUNY Oneonta Biological Field Station in Cooperstown, N.Y., on May 22, 2015. Cisco were once a dominant industry on the lake.

Nicole Pedisich, a senior biology major, retrieves largemouth bass from Moe Pond while seining with Ben Casscles, bottom right, a senior studying fisheries and aquaculture, and David Busby, a junior environmental science major, at the SUNY Oneonta Biological Field Station in Cooperstown, N.Y., on May 22, 2015.

Casscles, left, and Busby pump the stomach contents of a largemouth bass collected from Moe Pond. The team observed this individual had eaten mostly macroinvertebrates.

Harman walks along a closed boardwalk at Goodyear Swamp Sanctuary. The Biological Field Station has had to close access to the swamp due to a lack of funds for maintenance.

Goodyear Swamp Sanctuary in Cooperstown, N.Y., offers five acres of conserved wetlands. The land was donated by Tom Goodyear, who also donated farmland for the site of the nearby Alice Busch Opera Theater in Cooperstown.

A snapping turtle rests just below the surface at Goodyear Swamp Sanctuary.

A leaf-eating beetle crawls on a heavily-devoured purple loosestrife plant at Goodyear Swamp Sanctuary. The non-native leaf beetle was successfully introduced to combat the invasive purple loosestrife, which has in turn experienced a severely diminished presence at Goodyear Swamp.

Biology seniors Jill Darpino, left, and Genna Schlicht, right, eat lunch with Assistant Professor Florian Reyda during a break from their parasitology field course at the Biological Field Station’s Upland Interpretive Center at Thayer Farm.

A pair of taxidermied passenger pigeons reside at Thayer Farm. Many specimens owned by SUNY Oneonta decorate the Biological Field Station’s facilities.

A student extracts a parasite from a fish specimen caught earlier in the day on Otsego Lake.

Kristen Dispensa, a senior biology major, examines a dissected fish specimen with Assistant Professor Florian Reyda inside the Thayer Farm's Hop House Parasitology and Entomology Laboratory.

A disease-resistant Princeton elm tree, right, grows at the edge of Thayer Farm, which is actively farmed and studied. Thayer Farm's 256 acres were donated to the Biological Field Station by Rufus Thayer, a descendant of William Thayer, who established the farm around the start of the 1800s.

To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Flickr page.

Images and captions by Will Parson
Text by Stephanie Smith

Will Parson's avatar
About Will Parson - Will is the Multimedia Specialist for the Chesapeake Bay Program. A native of Bakersfield, California, he acquired an interest in photojournalism while studying ecology and evolution at University of California, San Diego. He pursued stories about water and culture as a graduate student at Ohio University's School of Visual Communication, and as an intern at several newspapers in New England before landing in Maryland.



Nov
28
2012

From the Field: Linking land and water in brook trout conservation

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.

From the Field: Linking land and water in brook trout conservation from Chesapeake Bay Program on Vimeo.

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.”

Catherine Krikstan's avatar
About Catherine Krikstan - Catherine Krikstan is a web writer at the Chesapeake Bay Program. She began writing about the watershed as a reporter in Annapolis, Md., where she covered algae blooms and climate change and interviewed hog farmers and watermen. She lives in Washington, D.C.



Sep
01
2006

Amid new development, road retains "sense of place" on Maryland's Eastern Shore

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.

Eastern Shoreway

(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.

Route 301 in Delaware

(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.

Eastern Shoreway

(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.”

Alicia Pimental's avatar
About Alicia Pimental - Alicia is the Chesapeake Bay Program's online communications manager. She manages the Bay Program's web content and social media channels. Alicia discovered her love for nature and the environment while growing up along Buzzards Bay in Massachusetts. When she's not at work, Alicia enjoys cooking, traveling, photography and playing with her chocolate lab, Tess.



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