Text Size: A  A  A

Bay Blog: wildlife

Jul
14
2014

Photo Essay: Artificial reefs slow erosion, build habitat on Chester River

Across the Chesapeake Bay, strong waves crash into shorelines, pulling sand into the water and causing beaches to disappear. In recent decades, scientists have turned to living shorelines and stone reefs to slow this process—known as erosion—and create critical habitat for wildlife. On the Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge, one such project has proven successful on both counts.

The 2,285-acre island refuge in Rock Hall, Maryland, is part of the Chesapeake Marshlands National Wildlife Refuge Complex and has long offered feeding and resting grounds to songbirds, shorebirds and waterfowl. When a narrow piece of land at its southern point—the highest priority habitat at the refuge—proved in danger of washing away, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and several other partners came together to slow the disappearance of the shoreline.
 

In June, USFWS Biologist Dave Sutherland—along with staff from the Maryland Artificial Reef Initiative (MARI) and Coastal Conservation Association Maryland, both of which are partners in this effort— took our team to the refuge to see the living shoreline and underwater reefs that made it a model of climate resiliency. Five years after construction on these projects began, pieces of land do still break off of the island’s long peninsula that separates Hail Cove, Hail Creek and the Chester River. But the goal was never to stop erosion: it was to slow it down without using the manmade structures that block critters from reaching the beach.

While shoreline erosion is a natural process, sea-level rise has amplified the impacts of wind and wave energy across the watershed. “I look at sea-level rise as a human-induced issue that’s exacerbating what used to be a slower, natural process,” said USFWS Fisheries Biologist John Gill. “Not to say it wasn’t happening before. Just that its rate has increased. And it’s tougher for marshes to keep up.”

For Gill, the Hail Cove restoration project achieves “a nice balancing act” in its use of manmade infrastructure and the natural environment. The essential elements? Headland breakwaters, underwater reefs and a living shoreline. “You’re working with Mother Nature, but still providing erosion control,” Gill said.

Low headland breakwaters placed at each end of Hail Cove maintain the pocket beach, blocking wave energy that might otherwise destroy the shore. A long ribbon reef deemed the “arc of stone” stretches across the cove, offering further protection for the beach and vital habitat for fish, shellfish and invertebrates.

Hooked mussels colonized the ribbon reef soon after it was built, and eastern oysters that were planted there with volunteer help continue to thrive. Algae grow on the granite rocks, small fish live in the reef’s tiny crevices and waterfowl find a source of food on their migrations over the Bay. “A lot of species are habitat-starved, and this [arc of stone] provided a lot of what they need,” Sutherland said. “It’s well-populated with cobies and blennies and worms and macroalgae. It’s really a fantastic habitat.”

Sutherland and his team soon recognized the benefits of installing infrastructure that allowed access to the beach: three weeks after sand was put down, engineers discovered nine diamondback terrapin nests on the shore, proving just how “habitat-starved” these native turtles were.

The Hail Cove project was completed this spring when 11 patch reefs—using one acre of material in all—were laid down over the two and a half-acre cove. The reefs will expand the underwater habitat that is so important to so many critters but has been lost with the decline of the Bay’s native oyster. For Sutherland, these reefs were “the icing on the cake. If the arc of stone is good, the patch reefs are going to be even better,” he said.

DNR Fisheries Biologist and MARI Coordinator Erik Zlokovitz echoed Sutherland’s satisfaction with the project. “This is a multipurpose shallow-water reef system. It’s not just an oyster reef or a fish reef. It’s a multipurpose reef for mussels, oysters and other invertebrates, which provide forage for fish and waterfowl,” he said.

The reef has also attracted recreational anglers to the area, who fish from kayaks and small boats for white perch and striped bass. Coastal Conservation Association Maryland, whose members are recreational fishermen, was a strong supporter of the Hail Cove project. For Sutherland, the cove’s restoration wouldn’t have been a success without the “great partners” that made it possible.

“Living shoreline science is really in its infancy, and every project is an experiment,” Sutherland said. But bringing partners together to strike a balance between manmade infrastructure and natural processes allowed this project to work, and Hail Cove now serves as “a starting point for reef construction in the Chester River,” said Sutherland. Indeed, relief funds for Hurricane Sandy recovery will soon finance further shoreline protection in the same area of the refuge.

“This project is a testament, to a certain extent, that if you build it, they will come,” Sutherland said. “We got to Hail Cove in the nick of time.”

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

Images by Alexander Jonesi and Jenna Valente. Captions by Catherine Krikstan.



May
30
2014

Photo Essay: Monitoring American eels with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

A habitat is the natural environment in which plants, animals and other organisms live, feed and breed. Many habitats are shared by numerous living things, forming what is called an ecosystem. Ecosystems range in size and can be as tiny as a patch of dirt or as large as the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Sometimes, different species within the same ecosystem are forced to compete for resources like food, water and shelter. Dominant species and environmental stressors can take their toll on lesser plants and animals.

Rapidly increasing human development contributes to this environmental stress: as our population rises, so does our demand for the same resources that many plants and animals also depend on to survive. We build dams to control stream flow and capture energy, develop wilderness into urban hubs and use our finite freshwater resources at an alarming rate.

Migratory fish are particularly sensitive to ecosystem changes because they rely on certain migration routes between connected habitats to reach their breeding grounds. Dams, road culverts and other blockages that fragment waterways can act as barriers to fish passage.

In an effort to better understand the effect that dams and other manmade structures have on fish passage, Steve Minkkinen, project leader at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Maryland Fisheries Office, has teamed up with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a 10-year survey of American eel populations in the Susquehanna River.

“We learned quite a bit in 2013. We collected 300,000 juveniles [eels] and transported them above the [Conowingo] Dam. The dam has been blocking the [eels’] migration up the Susquehanna River,” Minkkinen explained. “There has been a lot of work [to open] upstream passage for shad and river herring,” Minkkinen continued. But that work has only focused on adult fish, and as Minkkinen pointed out, the dam’s flow is too fast for younger eels to travel through.

Monitoring American eels is important: at historic levels, they made up 20 percent of the freshwater biomass along the Eastern seaboard. However, the introduction of dams and other structures has blocked eel populations from important migration routes, changing eel populations.

Researchers capture and inject chips known as passive integrated transponders, or PIT tags, into the eels. These tags can be detected in future surveys and help the team track eel populations by letting them know if they are encountering a new eel or one that was caught during a previous survey.

The American eel is the only catadromous fish in the Bay region, which means they spend most of their lives in fresh water but migrate to the ocean to spawn. Spawning takes place in late January when the fish swim out of the Bay and into the Sargasso Sea, a portion of the Atlantic Ocean east of the Bahamas.

Eel larvae drift in ocean currents for nine to 12 months before reaching fresh water and swimming upstream. Monitoring allows scientists to study the migration habits of juvenile eels and learn how to aid their upstream journey.

Minkkinen and his team believe that if fish passage to the upper Susquehanna opens, both American eels and freshwater mussels would thrive. This bivalve relies on fish to store their eggs in their gills until the mussels turn into microscopic juveniles and drop off. Mussel populations in the upper Susquehanna are, for the most part, comprised of older, larger individuals. Because mussels are natural filter feeders, Minkkinen’s team believes that a rise in freshwater mussels will lead to cleaner water and a healthier ecosystem.

“Our hopes are that we can develop passage and restore eel and mussel habitat to that [upper Susquehanna] portion of the watershed,” Minkkinen said.

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

Images by Steve Droter. Captions by Jenna Valente.



May
20
2014

Photo Essay: Walking the woods of the Chesapeake Bay watershed

For close to 50 years, Nick Carter has owned 33 acres on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Aside from a house, 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.



May
05
2014

Investments in habitat restoration create jobs, support small businesses

An economic analysis from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) shows that federal investments in on-the-ground restoration can stimulate local economies, creating jobs and supporting small businesses.

With a focus on two of its habitat restoration programs—the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program and the Coastal Program—the USFWS determined that for every federal dollar spent, $7 to $9 of restoration work happens on the ground and almost $2 of economic activity is gained by the state in which the work takes place.

Both of these nation-wide programs use federal and private funding to implement on-the-ground habitat restoration projects on public and privately owned land. According to the USFWS, the programs' impacts cut across two dimensions: first, their understood expertise and stable funding pulls in additional funding from other partners; second, the programs’ spending creates work, generates tax revenues and stimulates local economies through paid wages and subsequent spending.

Image courtesy Margrit/Flickr

In Maryland, for instance, the Coastal Program has directed $1.4 million toward the eradication of nutria from marshes and wetlands. Introduced to the region in the mid-1940s, the invasive nutria has destructive feeding habits, pulling up plant roots that would otherwise hold valuable marshland in place. The Maryland Nutria Project, which is administered by the USFWS and brings federal, state and private partners together to trap and manage nutria, has created more than 55 jobs and generated $2.5 million in spending on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

“The Partners for Fish and Wildlife and Coastal programs are important drivers for creating employment,” said USFWS Director Dan Ashe in a media release. “The benefits reach far beyond the local communities where these projects take place to provide national economic stimulus. At the same time, this restoration work provides benefits to all Americans by creating healthy natural areas, including shorelines, streams, wetlands and forests on privately owned lands.”

Learn more.



Mar
11
2014

Severe weather pushes more waterfowl into region

Severe weather to the north of the region pushed a large number of ducks, geese and swans into the main portion of the Chesapeake Bay this winter, leading to a 22 percent jump in the results of Maryland’s 2014 Midwinter Waterfowl Survey.

According to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), pilots and biologists from both DNR and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) counted more than 905,000 waterfowl during their aerial assessments of state waters this winter. The birds were easier to count this season than in winters past because a number of them were concentrated in the few ice-free, open waters of the Bay and its tributaries.

This total included 128,000 dabbling ducks and 190,300 diving ducks, representing a 76 and 94 percent jump from last winter, respectively. Indeed, the canvasback count was the highest it has been since the mid-1960s, and estimates for mallards and black ducks were the highest they have been since the mid-1970s. Survey teams also witnessed large numbers of Canada geese along the upper Bay: 512,000, 11 percent more than were witnessed in January 2013.

The USFWS Division of Migratory Bird Management pools these survey results with those from other states to get a sense of the distribution and population size of waterfowl wintering along the Atlantic Flyway. This migration route follows the Atlantic coast of North America, and this winter hosted more than 3.19 million birds. Of this total, teams counted more than 1.6 million in watershed states, including Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware and New York.

Learn more.



Dec
17
2013

Fossilized oyster shells from Gulf Coast will restore reefs in Maryland waters

More than 100,000 tons of fossilized oyster shell will be shipped from the Gulf Coast to Baltimore on CSX Corporation trains, thanks to a new partnership between the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Jacksonville, Fla., transportation company.

Image courtesy James Butler/Flickr

The shell will be used to restore reefs in Harris Creek and the Little Choptank River, both of which flow into the Choptank on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The waterways are the first two sites of a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-led strategy meant to restore oysters to 20 Chesapeake Bay tributaries by 2025.

From the Field: Rebuilding oyster reefs in Harris Creek, Md. from Chesapeake Bay Program on Vimeo.

The 377-acre Harris Creek site was chosen because its water quality, salinity and protected status point to a high likelihood of restoration success. While granite will be used to build some of Harris Creek’s reefs, shell is the best material for oyster larvae to settle on, and a lack of natural shell in the region posed a restoration roadblock. The state met the challenge by spending $6.3 million on shell from Gulf Coast Aggregates.

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) helped negotiate the state’s agreement with CSX, which will transport 50 train cars filled with Gulf Coast shell at cost to Curtis Bay two to three times each month over the next nine months. The shell will then be transported by barge to the Eastern Shore sanctuaries.

“This collaboration is monumental, as it allows us to complete the substrate construction of the largest tributary-focused oyster reef restoration project on the East Coast,” said Stephan Abel, executive director of the Oyster Recovery Partnership (ORP), in a media release. ORP will help build the oyster reefs, seed them with baby oysters and monitor planting success. “In all, more shell will be placed in Maryland waters over the next nine months than in the past decade—enough to cover 80 football fields with shell 12 inches deep.”

Habitat loss, disease and historic over-harvesting have contributed to a dramatic decline in native oyster populations. But the bivalves play a critical role in the Bay’s environment and the region’s economy, filtering water and feeding countless area residents.

Learn more.



Dec
02
2013

More than $100M available to protect communities from climate change

More than $100 million in grant funding is available for work to protect communities affected by Hurricane Sandy from the growing risks of climate change.

Announced by the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) on the one-year anniversary of the “superstorm” that affected the entire East Coast, raising river flow in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and causing significant damage to New Jersey and New York, the Hurricane Sandy Coastal Resiliency Competitive Grants Program will direct funding to those states that declared a natural disaster after the storm, including all seven Bay jurisdictions.

In an effort to benefit humans and wildlife alike, funding will be directed to those projects that use natural ecosystems to protect coastal communities from strong storms, sea level rise and erosion. The restoration of marshes, wetlands and oyster reefs, for example, can build coastal resiliency in the face of climate change; so, too, can planting streamside trees, removing dams from rivers and streams, and better managing stormwater runoff.

“By stabilizing marshes and beaches, restoring wetlands and improving the resilience of coastal areas, we not only create opportunities for people to connect with nature…, but we can also provide an effective buffer that protects local communities from powerful storm surges and devastating floods when a storm like Sandy hits,” said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell in a media release.

The grant program will be administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF). Learn more, or read the Request for Proposals, due Friday, January 31, 2014.



Oct
30
2013

Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund directs $9.2 million to environmental work

From the restoration of tidal wetlands to the greening of a town cemetery, 40 environmental projects across the Chesapeake Bay watershed have received more than $9 million in funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s (NFWF) Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund.

Image courtesy Eric Vance/U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 

Half of the projects will be funded by the Small Watershed Grants Program, which supports on-the-ground restoration, conservation and community engagement. Twenty more will be funded by the Innovative Nutrient and Sediment Reduction Grants Program, which finances the reduction of nutrient and sediment pollution in rivers and streams.

The Anacostia Watershed Society, for instance, will restore more than 10 acres of tidal wetlands along the Anacostia River, improving area flood control and outdoor recreation. The Oyster Recovery Partnership will repopulate at least 40 acres of oyster reefs in Harris Creek, bolstering current restoration work in the Choptank River tributary. And the Town of Bath in West Virginia will bring green infrastructure into a local cemetery, increasing tree canopy and reducing erosion into the Potomac River.

Image courtesy Eric Vance/U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

The awards were announced this morning at the Earth Conservation Corps Pump House, where a wetland restoration project was funded by the Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund in 2012.

Learn more about the grant recipients.



Aug
30
2013

Photo Essay: Chesapeake Bay ospreys serve as sentinels for pollution

For almost two decades, state and federal partners have worked to rebuild Poplar Island in the Maryland waters of the Chesapeake Bay. Once home to a sawmill, a general store and a schoolhouse, the island succumbed to sea level rise, shrinking to a fraction of its size by 1996. Rebuilt using sand and sediment dredged up from the bottom of the Bay and hand-planted with native marsh grass, the island has become a refuge for 175 species of shorebirds, songbirds, waterfowl and raptors.

Eastern bluebirds, black ducks and snowy egrets are among the birds that nest on Poplar Island, but it is the osprey whose presence stands out. Their sprawling nests can be found on wooden platforms, abandoned barges and Bay-side rip-rap. Plentiful food and nesting space mean Poplar’s osprey population is healthy, and can give researchers like Rebecca Lazarus an idea of what the birds should look like under the best environmental circumstances.

Working with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Lazarus is studying contaminant exposure in osprey around the Bay. Because the birds sit at the top of the food chain, their health is an indicator of environmental problems. Tracking the buildup of chemical compounds in the eggs and blood of birds that Lazarus calls a “sentinel species” can tell us what toxics are present in our rivers and streams.

Lazarus started her season of research when ospreys returned to the Bay in mid-March. The University of Maryland doctoral candidate and USGS employee visited nests, counted eggs and watched the ospreys grow.

Once the chicks hatched, Lazarus used motion-activated game cameras to monitor their diets. The birds on Poplar eat almost exclusively striped bass and menhaden, reminding us that the management of these two fisheries has a big impact on the balance of the Bay ecosystem.

As the chicks grew, Lazarus tagged each one of them with a metal band. She measured their weight and culmen length, and took samples of blood to test for chemical contaminants.

The last large-scale study of contaminant exposure in osprey was conducted close to a decade ago, and found elevated concentrations of polychlorinated biphenyls (or PCBs) and flame retardants in egg samples from the Anacostia and middle Potomac rivers. Lazarus hopes her updated research will show us what contaminants persist in the watershed, posing potential threats to wildlife and human health.

The birds on Poplar are healthy and serve as a benchmark against which Lazarus can compare those that nest in more polluted parts of the Bay. Ospreys experienced such a strong population boom after the United States banned the insecticide DDT and other contaminants that they are now nesting along urbanized waterways where dense development, wastewater treatment plants and the flow of pharmaceuticals and other new toxics into our water have concern about their potential to thrive.

By monitoring the link between clean water, contaminant-free fish and healthy osprey, Lazarus has taken a holistic approach to her research. Once published, her findings could help state and federal agencies develop plans to mitigate pollution or prioritize contaminants of concern. And they will help improve the environmental quality, ecosystem integrity and sustainability of the Bay.

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

Images by Steve Droter and Olivier Giron.

Captions by Catherine Krikstan.



Jun
13
2013

Photo Essay: Biologists track bay grass abundance for clues about water quality

To track the health of the Chesapeake Bay, researchers across the watershed watch so-called “indicator species” for clues about water quality. Bay grasses—sensitive to pollution but quick to respond to water quality improvements—are one such indicator. Bay grasses are monitored each year by a range of experts in the field, from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), the latter of which compiles Bay-wide observations in an annual report on bay grass abundance. 

Bay grasses, also known as submerged aquatic vegetation or SAV, provide critical habitat and food for wildlife, add oxygen to the water, absorb nutrients, trap sediment and reduce erosion.

During the months of May, July and September, biologists like Chris Guy, who works with USFWS, visit randomly selected sample sites throughout the Bay. Occasionally accompanied by volunteers, their mission is to track the ebb and flow of underwater grass beds in order to gauge the health of the Bay.

Once a sampling site is reached, researchers use a refractometer to determine the salinity of the water. Different bay grass species prefer different salinity levels, and this measurement gives biologists a hint as to what kind of grasses they should expect to find.

Biologists measure water clarity by submerging a black and white Secchi disk until it is no longer visible, at which point it is pulled up and the waterline is measured. Clear water is important to the health of bay grasses. Because they need sunlight to survive, submerged aquatic vegetation is typically not found in water deeper than five feet.

Once the salinity and turbidity are measured, a rake is tossed into the water and allowed to sink to the bottom.

As the rake grips the bottom and the boat moves forward, the line attaching the rake to the boat becomes taught. The thrower hauls it back on board, records the grass species that are found and rates the abundance level on a scale of one to four. A one indicates an empty rake, while a four means that at least 70 percent of the rake is full of grass.

Hundreds of sampling trips allow scientists to amass a set of data that can be used to measure grass abundance across the Bay. Over the past 30 years, this number has fluctuated with changes in weather and water quality. In 2012, a VIMS analysis indicated bay grasses experienced a 21 percent decline, from just over 63,000 acres in 2011 to just over 48,000 in 2012. The Chesapeake Bay Program and its partners hope to restore 185,000 acres of underwater grasses to the Bay, which would approach historic twentieth century averages and bring a dramatic improvement to the entire Bay ecosystem.

View more photos on the Chesapeake Bay Program Flickr page.

Photos by Steve Droter

Jenna Valente's avatar
About Jenna Valente - Jenna is the Communications Office Staffer for the Chesapeake Bay Program. She developed a passion for conservation through her outdoorsy nature and being raised in Hawaii, Washington State and Maine. A graduate of the University of Maine's Communication program, she loves any opportunity to educate the public about the importance of conserving the environment.



May
02
2013

Fish tumors in Anacostia River decline

Tumor rates among catfish in the Anacostia River are down, according to a new report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

Biologists with the agency’s Chesapeake Bay Field Office have studied the brown bullhead catfish for decades as an indicator of habitat status and the success of cleanup efforts. The bottom-dwelling fish is sensitive to contaminants that accumulate in the mud in which it finds its food, often developing liver and skin tumors after exposure to cancer-causing chemicals.

Image courtesy USDA/Wikimedia Commons

Brown bullheads in the Anacostia River once had the highest rates of liver tumors in North America, but recent USFWS surveys show that tumors in the fish have dropped. While the rate is still higher than the Bay-wide average, this improvement could indicate that exposure to chemical contaminants is on the decline.

Liver tumors in fish are caused by exposure to sediment that is contaminated with polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs. PAHs can be found in coal, oil and gasoline, and enter rivers and streams from stormwater runoff, waste sites and the atmosphere.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the District Department of the Environment (DDOE) have coordinated a number of recent cleanup efforts to lower PAH contamination in the watershed, from improved stormwater management and more frequent street sweeping to the targeted inspection of local automobile repair shops to lower loadings of oil and grease.

Read more about Tumors in Brown Bullhead Catfish in the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers.



Mar
14
2013

More wintering waterfowl counted in Maryland in 2013

This winter saw an increase in waterfowl along Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay shoreline and Atlantic coast.

While pilots and biologists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) counted fewer diving and dabbling ducks this winter than they did in the 2012 Midwinter Waterfowl Survey, these same crews counted more geese.

According to a DNR news release, both Canada geese and snow geese were “noticeably more abundant during this year’s survey,” with crews counting 462,000 Canada geese—a three-year high—and 83,300 snow geese—a five-year high. Biologists have attributed the boost in goose numbers to two factors: last spring’s successful nesting season and December snow cover in New York and southern Canada, which encouraged geese to migrate into the Bay region right before the survey was taken.

While more geese could mean more damage to area farms—as the birds forage on green cover crops and grain crops—most farmers “have learned to deal with the problem,” said Larry Hindman, wildlife biologist and Waterfowl Project Leader with DNR. Fluttering plastic flags, bald eagle effigies placed in the middle of fields and the loud bang of a rifle or shotgun have all proven effective at deterring persistent geese, Hindman said, and those farmers who need extra help can find assistance and advice in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Damage Management program.

Resident Canada geese can pose a problem for rural, suburban and urban residents alike, and are considered overabundant in the region. While the birds do provide hunters with a chance for recreation, resident geese can overgraze wetlands and lawns and leave their droppings to pollute local rivers and streams. While the Midwinter Waterfowl Survey does not make a distinction between resident and migratory geese—as both stocks look the same during an aerial survey—DNR researchers do monitor the resident population using leg bands recovered from hunters.

The Midwinter Waterfowl Survey is used as an index of long-term wintering waterfowl trends. The estimates measure waterfowl populations along the Atlantic Flyway, which is a bird migration route that follows North America’s Atlantic Coast and Appalachian Mountains.

Read the full waterfowl survey results on the DNR website.



Mar
13
2013

Restoration partners share progress, reinvigorate work, build relationships

Fencing off a stream from livestock, planting trees along a soon-to-be-shaded river or creating marshland to provide habitat to fish, frogs and birds: restoration projects such as these would not be possible without the hundreds of watershed groups working across the Chesapeake Bay region, or the networking needed to connect restoration partners with their peers. 

Each year, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF)—which supports Bay restoration with grants offered through the Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund—gives restoration partners a break from their intensive on-the-ground work with the Chesapeake Bay Agricultural Networking Forum. Last week, this forum brought more than 100 grantees together in Staunton, Va., to discuss restoration successes, challenges and solutions to common problems, networking with each other and forming invaluable partnerships.

“Our grantees really are the front lines of the Bay restoration effort,” said Amanda Bassow, NFWF Director of Chesapeake Programs. “We need to arm them with all the knowledge, resources and experience we can. These are the people who are accelerating progress, engaging new partners and new landowners, and continually figuring out new ways to get the job done.”

The forum began with a rapid-fire update from grantees working on close to a dozen projects, ranging from forest buffer plantings to the engagement of so-called "absentee landowners”—or those landowners who do not work their own farmland—in conservation. Field trips in and around Staunton gave participants a hands-on look at areas in which progress is underway. On the Merrifield and Ford farms, for instance, located in the Poague Run watershed, landowners have restored stream banks, protected streamside forests and excluded livestock from sensitive waterways. 

“Grantees tell me they love the forum because they get re-energized about their work,” Bassow said. “It’s a community of doers, not finger pointers, and when you get them all in a room together, it’s a powerful thing to see.”

Chesapeake Bay Program Director Nick DiPasquale moderated a session at the forum, and found the event to be a meaningful one.

“For farmers and farm service providers, conservation district staff, government officials, funders and non-governmental organizations, this was a great exchange of ideas and approaches on implementing effective and innovative agricultural best management practices,” DiPasquale said. “This forum should help the community save money, clean up local waterways and keep farmers farming while using creative ways to manage nutrients on their land.”

Read more about the NFWF and the Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund.



Jan
22
2013

Chemical contaminants persist across Chesapeake Bay watershed

Chemical contaminants continue to afflict the Chesapeake Bay watershed, raising concern over water quality and the health of fish, wildlife and watershed residents.

Close to three-quarters of the Bay’s tidal waters are considered impaired by chemical contaminants, from the pesticides applied to farmland and lawns to repel weeds and insects to the household and personal-care products that enter the environment through our landfills and wastewater. But so-called “PCBs” and mercury are particularly problematic in the region, according to a report released last week by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

Both PCBs—short for “polychlorinated biphenyls”—and mercury are considered “widespread” in extent and severity, concentrating in sediment and in fish tissue and leading to fish-consumption advisories in a number of rivers and streams.

The District of Columbia, for instance, has issued such advisories for all of its water bodies, asking the public not to consume catfish, carp or eels, which are bottom-feeding fish that can accumulate chemicals in their bodies. While the District’s Anacostia and Potomac rivers raise the greatest concern in the watershed when it comes to fish tissue contamination, a November report confirmed that many Anacostia anglers are sharing and consuming potentially contaminated fish, sparking interest in reshaping public outreach to better address clean water, food security and human health in the area.

While PCBs have not been produced in the United States since a 1977 ban, the chemicals continue to enter the environment through accidental leaks, improper disposal and “legacy deposits”; mercury can find its way into the atmosphere through coal combustion, waste incineration and metal processing.

Exposure to both of these contaminants can affect the survival, growth and reproduction of fish and wildlife.

The Chesapeake Bay Program will use this report to consider whether reducing the input of toxic contaminants to the Bay should be one of its new goals.

Read more about the extent and severity of toxic contaminants in the Bay and its watershed.



Sep
26
2012

Three Delaware towns will improve water quality in state's tributaries to Chesapeake Bay

Three Delaware towns have received grant funding and technical assistance to create habitat and improve water quality in Delaware's tributaries to the Chesapeake Bay. 

The towns of Greenwood, Laurel and Bethel, located along the Route 13 corridor in Sussex County, have set their sights on curbing stormwater runoff to reduce the flow of nutrients and sediment into the Nanticoke River and Broad Creek. 

When rainfall runs across paved roads, parking lots, lawns and golf courses, it can pick up pollutants before washing down storm drains and into local waterways. By using best management practices—think rain barrels, green roofs or forested buffers along the shores of streams and rivers—to target the fastest growing source of pollution into the Bay, these Delaware towns can help position the state to meet its pollution reduction goals.

The Town of Greenwood, for instance, will restore a buffer of native vegetation along a tax ditch that drains into the Nanticoke River, establishing habitat and reducing stormwater runoff from two industrial buildings in the heart of the community. 

The neighboring towns of Laurel and Bethel will develop plans to bring green infrastructure to Broad Creek, stabilizing stream banks, reducing stormwater discharge and eliminating local flooding. Bethel might even implement innovative practices in the oldest part of town, bringing permeable pavement and living shorelines to the town's historic district. 

"The projects in Greenwood, Laurel and Bethel will improve the water quality of our local streams and rivers, reduce flooding and enhance the quality of life for local communities," said Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) Secretary Collin O'Mara. "By ... working together, we are securing resources necessary to ensure that our waterways are safe, swimmable and fishable for current and future generations."

Funding for the Greenwood project, totaling $35,000, was awarded through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation's (NFWF) Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund.Technical assistance for the initiatives in Laurel and Bethel, valued at $100,000, was awarded through NFWF's Local Government Capacity Building Initiative. To learn more about the projects, visit the DNREC website.



Aug
28
2012

More than $9 million in funding will restore habitats, reduce runoff across Chesapeake watershed

From the restoration of streamside forests to the planting of a green roof on an historic District of Columbia house, 41 environmental projects from across the Chesapeake Bay watershed have received $9.22 million in grant funding.

The restoration and outreach initiatives will restore vital habitats and reduce the amount of runoff entering local waterways, leading to cleaner water across the region.

Funding for the projects was awarded through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation's (NFWF) Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund. Half of the projects will be funded by the Small Watersheds Grants Program, which funds on-the-ground restoration, conservation and community engagement. Twenty-one more will be funded by the Innovative Nutrient and Sediment Reduction Grants Program, which funds the reduction of nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment in local waterways.

Trout Unlimited, for instance, will restore stream banks and wetlands on 11 western Maryland farms, reducing agricultural runoff and benefiting brook trout. The Nature Conservancy will improve water quality and brook trout habitat in central and southern Pennsylvania, planting riparian buffers, restoring wetlands and establishing forest habitat. And the high-profile William Penn House in Washington, D.C., will install a green roof on top of the historic building, which will capture and treat almost all of the stormwater on-site. 

In all, this year's projects will engage 9,000 volunteers; restore 176 miles of streamside forests and 158 acres of wetlands; and establish 170,000 square feet of green roofs and rain gardens.

"These innovative projects ... are an illustration of the incredible commitment people have to restoring our rivers and streams. With NFWF's invaluable support, these projects will make a difference, supporting progress toward a Bay that is increasingly healthy and resilient," said Jeff Corbin, Environmental Protection Agency Senior Advisor for the Chesapeake Bay and Anacostia River. 

For a full list of grant recipients, visit the Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund website.



Aug
06
2012

American eel numbers rise after dam removal

American eel numbers are up in the headwater streams of Shenandoah National Park, following the 2004 removal of a large downstream dam.

Significant increases in upstream American eel populations began two years after the Rappahannock River's Embrey Dam was removed and have continued nearly every year since, according to a report released last week by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and National Park Service (NPS) researchers. 

Image courtesy EricksonSmith/Flickr.

Dams can act as travel barriers to American eels, which undertake long-distance migrations from their ocean spawning grounds to freshwater streams along the Atlantic coast. While American eels can surpass substantial natural barriers--like the rapids of the Potomac River's Great Falls, for instance--dams pose a more difficult obstacle and have contributed to the widespread decline in American eel populations. Dam removal, therefore, could have long-term benefits for eel conservation.

"Our study shows that the benefits of dam removal can extend far upstream," said USGS biologist Nathanial Hitt. "American eels have been in decline for decades and so we're delighted to see them begin to return in abundance to their native streams."

Embrey Dam, which once provided hydroelectric power to Fredericksburg, Va., was breached in 2004 following years of work by nonprofit organizations and city, state and federal government agencies. Its removal was intended to benefit more than the American eel, however, as dams can impact a number of fish that must migrate up rivers to spawn.

"Shad, herring and striped bass are also using reopened habitat on the Rappahannock River," said Alan Weaver, fish passage coordinator for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. "It's exciting to see a growing number of species benefiting from dam removal in Virginia."

Learn more about American eel abundance in Shenandoah National Park.



Mar
21
2012

Osprey cams offer online glimpse of Chesapeake Bay wildlife

The return of ospreys whistling through the air is a surefire sign of spring in the Chesapeake Bay region. But even those who can’t make it to the Bay’s shores can enjoy a glimpse of this remarkable raptor through online osprey cams at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS).

osprey in nest

The Blackwater osprey cam is located on an osprey platform in a marsh on the wildlife refuge’s grounds in Dorchester County, Maryland. The VIMS osprey cam is trained on a nest at the top of a water tower on the school’s campus in Gloucester Point, Virginia.

The two osprey cams provide real-time views of osprey pairs during their annual nesting and breeding season in the Chesapeake region. Both osprey cams include a blog, where you can view photos and journal entries chronicling the lives and milestones of each osprey family.

Want to learn more about ospreys? Visit our osprey page in our Chesapeake Bay Field Guide.

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.



Mar
13
2012

EPA to provide $4 million in grants to local governments for pollution-reducing “green infrastructure” projects

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) will provide $4 million in grants to local governments to help reduce pollution to the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers.

vegetated bioswale in a parking lot

The Local Government Green Infrastructure Initiative will create grants of up to $750,000 to support local governments as they implement the Chesapeake Bay TMDL, a “pollution diet” that sets limits on the amount of harmful nutrients and sediment that can enter the Bay.

The grants will support the design and implementation of projects that use green infrastructure – such as road maintenance programs and flood plain management – to produce measureable improvements in the health of local waterways. Through the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Local Government Advisory Committee, local government representatives can share best practices and evolving strategies to achieve water quality goals.

The EPA will select localities that represent the diverse characteristics of local governments throughout the Bay’s 64,000-square-mile watershed, including rural counties, predominantly agricultural communities, rapidly growing suburban localities, small cities and major urban municipalities.

NFWF will administer the grants through its Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund. Since 2000, the fund has provided $68.9 million in grants for more than 700 projects throughout the Bay watershed.

For more information about this and other grant opportunities, visit NFWF’s website.



Mar
08
2012

From the Field: Building a home for birds on Maryland’s Poplar Island

“Everything you film today, everything on camera, everything you walk on, was created. None of it was here in 1998. We’d be in several feet of water right now a little more than a decade ago.” – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Biologist Chris Guy           

It’s warm for a January morning. But out of habit, the team from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Chesapeake Bay Field Office (FWS) is armed with coffee thermoses and dressed in construction-orange floatation gear. The hot coffee and “survival suits” gain importance as the winter wind stings our faces on the hour-long boat ride from Annapolis to Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The team embarks on this trip most mornings throughout the year, even in the coldest months.

In fact, today’s task must be completed in the first weeks of the new year. We’re hauling discarded Christmas trees to build waterfowl habitat on Poplar Island, a place where, ten years ago, wildlife habitat had nearly disappeared – because the land had disappeared. In 1997, just 10 acres of the original island remained.

Poplar Island marsh

Today, Poplar Island has grown to 1,140 acres, thanks to a partnership between FWS, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Maryland Environmental Service and Maryland Port Administration that uses dredge material from the Port of Baltimore to rebuild the island. Many places (such as parts of Washington D.C. and Philadelphia International Airport) have been “built” using this technique, known as “fast-landing.” But Poplar Island is distinctive: it’s being constructed not for human use, but to provide the Chesapeake Bay’s wildlife with island habitat, a rarity in an era of quick-sinking shorelines and rising sea levels.

“What's unique about this project is the habitat aspect,” says FWS biologist Chris Guy, who’s helped run the project since 2005. “It's a win-win, because you get a dredge disposal site, which is hard to come by in the Chesapeake Bay, and it's long term, and you're getting much-needed habitat restoration.”

According to FWS biologist Peter McGowan, who began working on the project in the mid 1990s, wildlife are now flocking to Poplar Island. “Back in 1996, we had ten documented bird species using the island,” he says. “Now we have over 170 species that have been documented, and over 26 nesting species.”

Every January since 2005, residents of Easton, Maryland, have put their old Christmas trees on the curb for trash pickup, unaware of the fact that their discarded holiday greenery will soon become shelter and nesting habitat for black ducks, snowy egrets, red-winged blackbirds and diamondback terrapins.

Team unloading Christmas trees from boat

Poplar Island: A timeline

Like so many Chesapeake Bay islands before it, Poplar Island fell victim to both rapid sea level rise and post-glacial rebound: the counteraction of glaciers during the last Ice Age that’s making the Bay’s islands sink. The combination of rising water and sinking land caused shorelines to quickly erode, and eventually vanish.

Here’s a summary of Poplar Island’s life, near death and revitalization:

  • 1847: Poplar Island is over 1,000 acres and home to a community of three hundred people.
  • Early 1900s: Poplar Island splits into three separate land masses. The northernmost island is known as “Poplar.”
  • 1930s: President Franklin D. Roosevelt and President Harry S. Truman form the Jefferson Island Club, a group of Democratic politicians who vacation on Poplar Island. The island has eroded to just 134 acres.
  • 1990s: Just 10 acres of Poplar Island remain
  • 1997: Maryland and the federal government begin rebuilding the island using processed dredge material.
  • 2012: Poplar Island has grown to 1,140 acres.
  • 2027: Construction of Poplar Island will finish. In all, 735 acres of wetlands, 840 acres of uplands and 140 acres of open water habitat will be constructed.

From disappeared to dredge-land

How do scientists and engineers turn open water into land you can confidently step on? With dried and processed dredge material that’s used to build up the land over time.

dredge material on Poplar Island

Dredging is a process of clearing sediment (dredge) out of the bottom of waterways. Dredging is necessary on many rivers leading into major ports because sediment naturally builds up over time. This sediment must be excavated so large ships can pass in and out of ports.  

Maintenance dredging of the Port of Baltimore is critical to Maryland’s economy: the port contributes $1.9 billion and 50,200 jobs to the state’s economy. It’s also the number one port in the U.S. for automobile exports.

It also contributes a lot of sediment. The port estimates that maintenance dredging in the next twenty years will generate 100 million cubic yards of sediment – enough material to fill the Louisiana Superdome 25 times. Finding a place to store this massive amount of dredge material has been a problem – that is, until the Poplar Island project came calling, requiring 68 million cubic yards of dredge.

When dredge material arrives at Poplar Island through large pipes, it spends a few years drying. Then bulldozers and heavy equipment move in to dig out channels for wetlands and streams. When the topography is set, the area is planted with grasses, trees and shrubs.

A first time visitor to Poplar Island may be surprised to see bulldozers and pipes gushing black dredge material at a site renowned as a world wonder of habitat restoration. Although it’s necessary to use this heavy equipment to rebuild the island, the staff has found a way to balance these activities and still attract wildlife.

“Let's call it a ‘dance,’” says Guy. “We have to work with the construction, obviously, but we have to be sensitive to the needs of the birds.”

Christmas presents for black ducks

The Christmas trees that Guy and McGowan have been bringing to the island since 2005 give black ducks a place to lay their eggs. Black duck populations have fallen dramatically in the Chesapeake Bay region, causing the bird to be listed as a species of concern.

One reason for the species’ decline is a lack of food, including bay grasses, aquatic plants and invertebrates that have dwindled as pollution increased. Development and other human activities have encroached on its wintering and breeding habitats.

“[When we began the project], we looked at what others around the country used to attract nesting birds,” explains McGowan. “Christmas trees were a good resource. Instead of going into landfills, they could be reused.”

Guy and McGowan add Christmas trees to Poplar Island

Discarded Christmas trees imitate shrubs that black ducks typically seek out. They’re warm, sheltered spots to raise young. Since the first tree plantings on Poplar Island took place just ten years ago, none are mature enough to provide adequate nesting habitat. So until the real trees grow tall enough, Christmas trees will have to do.

“Black ducks like to nest in thickets in the marshes,” McGowan explains. “Christmas trees help provide the structure they need. It keeps them covered and safe from predators.”

Christmas trees stacked like shrubs on Poplar Island

And the trees seem to be working. As we take apart last year’s piles, we find a handful of eggs underneath the dead trees.

“Seeing that we have these leftover eggs demonstrates to us that ducks are using these nest piles successfully,” says Guy. “Just about every one of them we find a few eggs, so we think they’re having multiple clutches.”

mallard eggs under Christmas trees

The eggs we find in the six or seven piles that we disrupt belong to mallards, but McGowan and Guy claim that black ducks are nesting on Poplar Island as well.

“We've had six or seven black ducks nesting on the island,” says Guy. “You may say six or seven isn't a big deal, but when you're down to the last few hundred black ducks nesting in the Bay, going from 0 to 6, where they're used to be thousands, that's a big success story. That's not the only thing that these trees do, but it's one of the main drivers to get these trees out here.”

Small start, big impact

Guy and McGowan have long envisioned Poplar Island as prime habitat for black ducks.

“Back [in 2005], we went around the curbs in Anne Arundel County and threw the trees in the back of my pickup,” Guy tells me. It took the pair the entire month of January to collect the trees and transport them to Poplar Island.

Seven years later, the project is finished in just one day with help from Easton Public Works and volunteers and employees from FWS and Maryland Environmental Service.

volunteers unloading Christmas trees onto Poplar Island

Black ducks aren’t the only critters on Poplar. The island is home to hundreds of birds, reptiles and other species that now rely on the restored landmass for food and shelter.

  • Newly hatched diamondback terrapins, Maryland’s state reptile, also use the Christmas trees as shelter from predators. Although terrapins are not threatened or endangered, Maryland lists them as a species of concern.
  • The only nesting colony of common terns in Maryland’s portion of the Bay is located on Poplar Island. This year, biologists used a combination of decoys and audio calls to attract a handful of terns to the island. But the project needs to continue for a few years before terns are comfortable enough to return on their own.
  • Snowy egrets also take advantage of the Christmas trees and are attracted to Poplar Island with decoys.
  • Bald eagles, osprey and great blue herons are just a few of the many other bird species that use Poplar Island.

For more information about Poplar Island and other wildlife habitat restoration projects around the Chesapeake Bay region, visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Chesapeake Bay Field Office website.

Guy and McGowan bring Christmas trees out to the marsh

Caitlin Finnerty's avatar
About Caitlin Finnerty - Caitlin Finnerty is the Communications Staffer at the Chesapeake Research Consortium and Chesapeake Bay Program. Caitlin grew up digging for dinosaur bones and making mud pies in Harrisburg, Pa. Her fine arts degree landed her environmental field work jobs everywhere from Oregon to Maryland. Now settled in Baltimore, she is eagerly expecting her first child while creating an urban garden oasis on her cement patio.



Feb
28
2012

Maryland’s wintering waterfowl population down slightly in 2012

The number of ducks, geese and swans wintering along Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic shorelines was down slightly in 2012 compared to 2011, according to scientists with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

canvasbacks flying over the water

(Image courtesy Dominic Sherony/Flickr)

Survey teams counted 633,700 waterfowl this winter, as compared to 651,800 during the same time in 2011.

An unusually mild winter in the Mid-Atlantic region likely contributed to the lower population. Scientists counted fewer Canada geese, but more diving ducks, particularly scaup. Canvasback totals were the second lowest level ever recorded; however, more birds of this species were observed arriving after the survey was finished.

Maryland survey results are ultimately pooled with results from other states to measure the population and distribution of waterfowl up and down the Atlantic Flyway, according to Larry Hindman, DNR’s waterfowl project leader.

Visit DNR’s website for more information about the waterfowl survey, including a complete list of species and survey population figures.



Jan
26
2012

From the Field: Saving the Eastern Shore’s marshes from destructive, invasive nutria

As the sun rises, bald eagles swoop from tree to ground; Canada geese honk happily in a nearby field; and a crew of scientists, boaters and trappers begin a day’s work at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Cambridge, Maryland. The mission?  To keep the marshes that fringe the shoreline along this part of the Chesapeake Bay from disappearing.

Although wetland degradation can be attributed to a variety of factors, the field crew at Blackwater is focusing their efforts on one cause they believe can be easily controlled: an invasive rodent called nutria. Native to South America, nutria were introduced to the United States in the early 20th century for their fur, which was thought to be valuable at the time. These 20-pound animals with the build of a beaver and the tail of muskrat may seem harmless, but their effect on marshes across the United States has been devastating.

An overindulgent diet of wetland plants, a lack of natural predators and ridiculously high reproduction rates are characteristics that have led nutria to be labeled as an “invasive species.” Simply put, this means they aren’t originally from here, and they harm the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem.

The problem with nutria

Nutria eat 25 percent of their body weight in marsh plants per day. Let’s put that into perspective: if you’re a 120-pound woman, you’d have to eat 30 pounds of plants each day to eat like a nutria. And since marsh plants don’t weigh all that much, you’d find yourself eating a lot of vegetation.

To make matters worse, nutria tear up the roots of marsh plants when they eat, making it impossible for new plants to grow. As a result, large areas of marshland erode away to open water.

“One property owner on Island Pond had a 300-acre marsh property. Now there’s about 30 acres left,” describes Stephen Kendrot, who works on the Nutria Eradication Project for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS).

Aerial photographs of Blackwater depict a similar scenario. The refuge has lost 50 percent of its wetlands since nutria were introduced in the 1940s. The photos below depict Blackwater in 1939 (left) and 1989 (right.)

aerial photographs of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

Certainly, this loss is a tragedy for Eastern Shore landowners. And while residents may be disappointed that they can’t look out at a beautiful marsh view or help their children find frogs in their backyard wetland, loss of marshland also results in irreversible ecological consequences.

Marsh plants are incredibly beneficial to the environment because they:

  • Filter out pollutants before they flow into the Chesapeake Bay.
  • Trap water-clouding sediment, which blocks sunlight from reaching bay grasses.
  • Provide food and habitat for countless fish, shellfish, birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians.

Why blame nutria for marshland loss? After all, they are cute, cuddly balls of fur!

In the early 1990s, U.S. Fish and Wildlife staff fenced off random quarter-acre plots in Blackwater’s marsh, excluding nutria but allowing other animals to enter.  After several growing seasons, the marsh plants inside the enclosure began to grow, while the vegetation outside the fencing declined.  This finding proved that nutria was the direct cause of marsh loss. 

Like most rodents, nutria are prolific breeders. This means that those areas with just one or two nutria won’t stay that way for long. Female nutria are fertile as young as six months old, and they can become pregnant again just 24 hours after giving birth. (Essentially, a lifetime of being pregnant.)

“Sometimes we miss a couple animals and they might find each other and start a new population,” explains Kendrot.

A nutria eradication (and wetland restoration) partnership

As the nutria problem grew serious, federal and state agencies, universities and private organizations partnered to form the Nutria Eradication Project. The project team is made up of academically trained biologists and Eastern Shore natives who have been trapping nutria since they were kids.

Although nutria have been eradicated from Blackwater since the project took off in 2002, there are still substantial populations in other, less densely populated areas. These are the spots the Nutria Eradication Project is now targeting.

Today, Kendrot and I tag along with the field team to survey for nutria on the Wicomico River, an area where residents have reported nutria.

boat through marsh

Mario Eusi, who has been trapping nutria for years, drives our boat down the Wicomico River and turns into a narrow inlet. This area is privately owned, but the landowners have granted the team permission to access their property. This type of support is critical to the project’s success.

“About half the nutria we find are on private property,” Kendrot explains. “And almost all the property on the Wicomico is privately owned.”

Consequently, the team dedicates lots of time to public outreach. Kendrot and other team members make phone calls and sit down at kitchen tables across Wicomico and Dorchester counties to explain the harmful effects of nutria. The team must assure landowners that if they grant access to their land, they are preventing their property from disappearing. From this perspective, the federally funded Nutria Eradication Project is actually a public service to waterfront landowners – the team does their best to prevent residents’ marshland from sinking into the Chesapeake Bay.

“A nute was here.”

Today we are tracking nutria, which means looking for signs such as scat, paw prints, chewed plants, flattened grass beds – anything to prove “a nutria was here.” A good tracker must have both a keen knowledge of what nutria signs look like and the sharp senses to catch them, regardless of weather conditions or the speed of the boat cruising down the river. The team also tracks nutria through other methods, including dogs, radio collars and hidden video cameras.

Finding the “nute” is the bigger half of the battle. “Trapping is the easy part,” the field team assures me. Team members must first find signs of nutria before they can decide where to set traps in the spring. I admit: I’m relieved I won’t have to see any nutria in traps today.

scientist holds nutria scat

The tide is rising, so we have to be quick; soon, the water will wash away paw prints and make it difficult to identify nesting areas. Eusi points out the difference between nutria and muskrat scat. His eye for detail and ingrained awareness of the great outdoors makes him an excellent tracker.

Suddenly, we find a nesting site: an area of flattened grasses that looks like someone has been sitting in the marsh. The signs multiply, and soon the team is out of the boat, bushwhacking through twelve-foot high cattails. I try to catch up, but my foot gets stuck in the mud, and soon I am up to my hips in wetland!

As we continue through the marsh, we find one of the most conclusive signs of an active nutria population: a 10-foot-wide “eat-out,” or an open area where nutria have eaten all of the grasses and their roots. These bare, muddy areas, stripped of all vegetation, eventually erode away into open water.

nutria eat out in marsh

When we spot a larger “eat-out” not a few steps away, it occurs to me that the two areas will likely merge into one giant mud flat. The cattails I just bushwhacked and the mud I sank into will soon disappear forever into the Wicomico River.

Trapping – but not for fur

Since we have successfully tracked nutria on the Wicomico today, the team can now think about how to trap the animals.

When a nutria is trapped, it drowns quickly. Team members record the age and sex of each nutria to determine if it is newly born or if it was missed during the previous round of trapping. One way to estimate a nutria’s age is to weigh its eyeballs, because the lenses grow at a fixed rate throughout its life.

Dead nutria have another benefit: carcasses left in the wild provide food for bald eagles, turtles and other wildlife.

Saving the land – and our money

While the term “eradication” may conjure up images of ruthless killers, the field team does not seek to conquer these rodents. Rather, the goal is to preserve the wetlands that support the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem and define the culture and economy of Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

The team’s work also benefits the region’s economy as a whole. It’s estimated that nutria cost Maryland $4 million in lost revenue in 2004 alone. The Bay’s crab and oyster fisheries are just two of countless industries that depend on coastal wetlands. The natural filtering capabilities of marsh plants cost millions of dollars to imitate with wastewater treatment plants. Nutria eradication doesn’t just save our wetlands; it also saves our money.

marsh at Blackwater

Do you have nutria on your property?

Nutria are often confused with beavers and muskrats, two native and ecologically important mammals. The Fish and Wildlife Service offers a nutria identification page on its website to help you distinguish the difference between these three similar-looking species.

If you think you may have nutria on your property, you should contact the Nutria Eradication Team.

“Nutes” are everywhere, from Louisiana to Seinfield

In Louisiana, the nutria infestation problem is even worse. The current generation is carrying on the traditions of fur-bearing trappers thanks to the state’s Nutria Control Program, which pays trappers per nutria they collect. The state even promotes nutria trapping by providing recipes for dishes such as smoked nutria and nutria chili!

Real fur may no longer be a faux pas for the environmentally conscious fashionista. Coats and hats made from nutria fur are considered by many to be “green and guilt-free.” George Costanza thought so, anyway: in an episode of Seinfeld, he replaces Elaine’s lost sable hat with another made from the fur of this invasive rodent.

Caitlin Finnerty's avatar
About Caitlin Finnerty - Caitlin Finnerty is the Communications Staffer at the Chesapeake Research Consortium and Chesapeake Bay Program. Caitlin grew up digging for dinosaur bones and making mud pies in Harrisburg, Pa. Her fine arts degree landed her environmental field work jobs everywhere from Oregon to Maryland. Now settled in Baltimore, she is eagerly expecting her first child while creating an urban garden oasis on her cement patio.



Dec
19
2011

Six great spots to explore the outdoors this winter

Here in the Chesapeake Bay region, it’s easy to use winter as an excuse for, say, drinking lattes, neglecting your exercise regimen and catching up on your favorite television show instead of getting outdoors. These indulgences provide me with some comfort in the face of frigid temperatures, high winds and slick road conditions. 

But as my jeans get tighter and my skin gets paler, I’ve become inspired to conquer the season and all its hazards (realistically speaking, that is). Rather than hibernating like an animal, I’m putting my four-wheel-drive to use and showing winter who’s boss!

From cross country skiing to bird watching to doing donuts on frozen lakes, there are some outdoor experiences you can only have during our coldest season. We’ve compiled a list of six great places across the Bay watershed to experience winter. Just think how much better that hot cocoa will taste after you’ve felt the winter wind in your face!

Berkeley Springs State Park (Berkeley Springs, W.Va.)

If a winter flu’s got you down, a dip in Berkeley Springs may save your health. George Washington himself frequented Berkeley Springs to bathe in the warm mineral waters that flow from five main sources in the town. The springs discharge 2,000 gallons of clear, sparkling water per minute. The water remains at 74.3 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. It isn’t quite hot tub temperature, but it’s still warmer than a typical winter day.

The town even holds a Winter Festival of the Waters each year to celebrate the springs!

Berkeley Springs

(Image courtesy @heylovedc/Flickr)

Catoctin Mountain Park and Cunningham Falls State Park (Thurmont, Md.)

A drive through rolling hills, orchards and farmland will bring you to Catoctin Mountain Park and Cunningham Falls State Park, located the base of the Appalachian Mountains. Rock climbing, trout fishing, cross country skiing, winter hiking and horseback riding are just a few of the activities these recreational areas offer.

hiker at the top of Catoctin Mountain

(Image courtesy Compass Points Media/Flickr)

The forests covering the parks are known as “second growth.” The “first growth” forest was logged extensively in the 18th and 19th centuries to support local agriculture and produce charcoal for the nearby Catoctin Ironworks Furnace. In the 1930s, the land  was set aside and reforested by President Roosevelt’s Work Progress Administration. 

Hikers and cross country skiers will come across waterfalls and large, 500 million-year-old boulders. These rocks have been exposed as the Appalachian Mountains have flattened out over time. Trails at Cunningham Falls center around the waterfall for which the park is named. Known locally as McAfee Falls, it is the largest cascading waterfall in the state of Maryland.

Hills Creek State Park (Tioga County, Pa.)

Venture to Hills Creek State Park, near the Pennsylvania/New York border, and you’ll find yourself surrounded by nothing but forests. Four hundred acres of state park land are bordered by nearly 13,000 acres of state game lands, making the park an ideal destination for trappers and hunters. Winter sports fanatics will be in heaven – the park’s five and half miles of trails are open to hiking and cross country skiing in winter.

cross country skiers

(Image courtesy Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources)

Take the kids sledding on the hill near the seasonal beach; with adequate snow cover, you’ll be able to fly! If you’re lucky, you may be able to ice skate on the 137-acre Hill Creek Lake. (The park doesn’t monitor ice thickness, but does provide updates on winter conditions.)

Tioga County is also a popular place for ice fishing, and Hill Creek Lake is no exception. Fishermen can expect to find yellow perch, bluegill and even the occasional walleye.

Loyalsock State Forest (near Williamsport, Pa.)

In the winter, scenic mountain vistas are all the more impressive; without any greenery in the way, you can see for miles. For breathtaking winter views, visit Loyalsock State Forest, part of Pennsylvania’s Endless Mountain region. The park’s elevation is relatively high for the Chesapeake Bay watershed, which means you can count on winter conditions every year.

The park manages two trails specifically for cross country skiing, but skiers are welcome anywhere. Thirty-five miles of trails transverse the park, connecting visitors to a 130-mile regional trail system.  Snowmobiling is also popular here.

 World's End State Park

(Image courtesy Richban/Flickr)

Also, check out nearby World’s End State Park – the name says it all. Like other Pennsylvania state parks, World’s End lends snowshoes to park visitors.

Patuxent Research Refuge (Laurel, Md.)

Patuxent Research Refuge visitor center

(Image courtesy Patuxent Research Refuge)

If winter travel isn’t in the cards for you, look no further than Patuxent Research Refuge, the 13,000-acre wildlife refuge halfway between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, Maryland. You’ll be surprised by how secluded you’ll feel just 20 minutes off I-295 (Baltimore/Washington Parkway).

Borrow binoculars and birding guides from the visitor center and walk the family-friendly trails to catch a glimpse of cardinals, tundra swans and Canada geese. The visitor center also hosts public programs for kids and houses life-sized “stuffed” animals and interactive exhibits that explain the National Wildlife Refuge system.

Seasonal hunting is also popular on the refuges’ North Tract.

Shenandoah National Park (Front Royal, Va.)

If you’re still itching to get a little snow, head to the southernmost selection on our list. During this time of year, Shenandoah’s weather is unpredictable – often 10-20 degrees cooler than temperatures in the valley. Leafless trees allow you to see for miles across the park’s nearly 200,000 acres. Portions of Skyline Drive and visitors’ services are closed through March, but hiking, backcountry camping and simple Sunday drives are still welcomed! Look for bobcat tracks in the snow along the trails. If you’re brave and fit, check out the magnificent view at the top of Old Rag.

view from Shenandoah Park

(Image courtesy Brandon Feagon/Flickr)

Now you tell us: what’s your favorite Chesapeake Bay place to explore in winter?

Caitlin Finnerty's avatar
About Caitlin Finnerty - Caitlin Finnerty is the Communications Staffer at the Chesapeake Research Consortium and Chesapeake Bay Program. Caitlin grew up digging for dinosaur bones and making mud pies in Harrisburg, Pa. Her fine arts degree landed her environmental field work jobs everywhere from Oregon to Maryland. Now settled in Baltimore, she is eagerly expecting her first child while creating an urban garden oasis on her cement patio.



Oct
28
2011

Washington’s Anacostia River: A haven for birds?

When you think of the Anacostia River, you may not think of it as being a place that’s abundant with wildlife. But did you know that more than 170 species of birds call the Anacostia River and its watershed their home?

Great egret (image courtesy Anacostia Watershed Society)

(Image courtesy Anacostia Watershed Society)

The Anacostia Watershed Society shows off some of the river’s beautiful birds in its latest blog post.

From the American Crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos), a notable species during this time of the year for its Halloween symbolism, to all the raptors, herons, chickadees, warbles, vireos, ducks and turkeys, the lands and waters of the Anacostia watershed have lot to offer for birdwatchers and wildlife enthusiasts.

To learn more about the Anacostia’s important role as wildlife habitat and see some great bird photos, visit the Anacostia Watershed Society’s blog.

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.



Oct
05
2011

More Than $10 Million Awarded to Help Protect and Restore Wetlands, Forests and Waterways

The Chesapeake Bay Program and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation have awarded $10.9 million in grants to 55 environmental projects in Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia. Collectively, the projects will preserve 3,729 acres of land, restore 32 miles of forest buffers and stream banks, and install runoff-reducing practices on 2,878 acres.

Grant recipients with big check

The funding was awarded through the Small Watershed Grants Program and the Innovative Nutrient and Sediment Reduction Grants Program. Both are part of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund.

The Small Watershed Grants Program provides grants to organizations and municipal governments that are working to improve the condition of their local watershed through on-the-ground restoration, habitat conservation and community engagement. The program, funded by a combination of public agencies and private support, awarded $2.8 million to 37 projects. Grant recipients provided an additional $4.4 million in matching funds.

This year’s Small Watershed Grant projects are expected to involve 8,645 volunteers and engage 2,228 landowners in conservation and restoration practices. Many recipients will reduce polluted runoff through techniques such as rain gardens, as well as through outreach and marketing initiatives that promote sustainable landscaping practices.

Recipients of this year’s Small Watershed Grants include:

  • Lands and Waters (Va.), which will work with local schools to conduct hands-on schoolyard conservation projects that will promote student stewardship while helping Fairfax meet its TMDL requirements.
  • The Pennsylvania Institute for Conservation Education’s Master Naturalist Program, which will educate and train citizens to be leaders in protecting, restoring, monitoring and conserving natural resources in their communities.
  • The Tioga County Soil and Water Conservation District (N.Y.), which will develop a berm removal program in partnership with local highway departments in effort to restore 8,000 feet of streamside forests.

The Innovative Nutrient and Sediment Reduction Grants Program provides grants to innovative and cost-effective projects that dramatically reduce or eliminate nutrient and sediment pollution into local waterways and the Bay. The program, funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, awarded $8.2 million to 19 projects. Grant recipients provided an additional $11.7 million in matching funds. This year’s projects are expected to prevent 600,000 tons of sediment, two million pounds of nitrogen and 700,000 pounds of phosphorus from entering the Bay.

Recipients of this year’s Innovative Nutrient and Sediment Reduction Grants include:

Through these grants, diverse agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Forest Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Natural Resources Conservation Service are able to pool resources with corporate sponsors like Altria, Wal-Mart and FedEx to increase the impact any one of them could have alone, according to Tom Kelsch, vice president of conservation programs at the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

Since 2000, the Small Watershed Grants Program has provided more than $29 million to support 663 projects in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. These projects have leveraged close to $95 million in local matching funds for a total investment of more than $125 million toward on-the-ground restoration.

Since 2007, the Innovative Nutrient and Sediment Reduction Grant Program has provided $26.8 million to 54 projects that reduce the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

For more information, visit www.nfwf.org/chesapeake.



Jun
16
2011

Online guide helps homeowners choose Chesapeake Bay native plants

The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have launched the Native Plant Center, an online guide to help homeowners identify and choose plants that are native to the Chesapeake Bay region.

Users to the website, www.nativeplantcenter.net, can search for native plants by name, plant type, sun exposure, soil texture and moisture. Users can even find native plants with the same characteristics as some of their favorite non-native plants. The website also includes a geo-locator feature to identify plants suited to a user’s specific location.

Planting native plants is an important part of restoring the Chesapeake Bay. Residents who replace their typical backyard landscaping with native plants use less fertilizer and pesticides, provide critical habitat for pollinators, and reduce polluted runoff to storm drains.

The portal uses the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service’s native plant database, associated with the publication Native Plants for Wildlife Habitat and Conservation Landscaping: Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

To learn more about native plants, visit www.nativeplantcenter.net.



Mar
21
2011

Fewer wintering waterfowl counted in Maryland in 2011

Scientists observed more than 640,000 ducks, geese and swans along Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay shoreline this winter as part of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ annual Midwinter Waterfowl Survey. This is a decline from 2010, when approximately 787,000 waterfowl were counted.

The decline is largely due to fewer Canada geese and snow geese being counted for the survey. Large numbers of geese likely went undetected because they were on farms and other inland habitats. Overall, the wintering Canada geese remained high.

More ducks were counted in 2011 (199,300) than in 2010 (173,700) due to snow and cold weather north of Maryland, according to DNR. In particular, there were more mallards and canvasbacks, as well as an exceptional number of gadwalls on the Susquehanna Flats.

The Midwinter Waterfowl Survey has been conducted annually throughout the United States since the early 1950s. Maryland survey results are ultimately pooled with results from other states to measure wintering waterfowl distribution and populations throughout the Atlantic Flyway, according to DNR Waterfowl Project Leader Larry Hindman.

“The survey is conducted in a coordinated manner across the Atlantic Flyway states to provide an annual index of the population size for important waterfowl species like black ducks, Atlantic brant and tundra swans,” Hindman said.

Visit Maryland DNR’s website to view the full survey results.



Mar
10
2011

Chesapeake Brrr! What it's like to work on the Bay in winter

You may think being a Chesapeake Bay scientist is a fun, easy job, but have you ever wondered what it's like to work on the water in the middle of winter? U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service biologists Pete McGowan and Chris Guy give you a first-hand account of their experiences on the Bay in the frigid cold. It may be freezing, but as you'll read, they wouldn't want to be anywhere else.

The weatherman is calling for another frigid day with high temperatures just above freezing. Most people have long since winterized their boats and would not dream of boating 20 miles down the South River and across the Chesapeake Bay, putting on waders and plodding through thigh-deep (often ice-topped) water, to see if muskrats are active. But then again most people are not U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists working at the Paul S. Sarbanes Ecosystem Restoration Project at Poplar Island, better known (and easier to say) as Poplar Island. We remain very active outdoors even in the coldest of weather.

Before you pity us, let us tell you that winter is often our favorite time to be out working in the marshes and Chesapeake Bay. In fact, while working in the hot and humid days of July and August, we often talk about those cold winter days without mosquitoes and biting flies, when the vegetation has died back and the marsh has frozen, making it easier to walk and do our work. 

Often in the warmer months we are dodging thunderstorms and are rushed in our work because eggs are hatching, the chicks are fledging and everything seems to be coming at once. In the winter things slow down a bit and we can take the opportunity to regroup and prepare for the upcoming nesting season. This is the time of year when we build, repair, and install osprey platforms and bird boxes, and use old Christmas trees to develop snags for egrets to roost and nest upon. The Christmas trees also provide cover and nesting cavities for black ducks.

Boating is a little more relaxed, as you rarely see another boat on the water, and we can move freely without getting in anyone’s way or having them in our way. In this sense, winter is a time to pause and think about what we have accomplished and what we want to accomplish. It is a time of hope and optimism in our efforts to restore the Chesapeake Bay.

This is not to say that winter is an easy time to be a wildlife biologist. During the winter we have the real and ever-present threat of cold, icy water.  Although we do not often speak of it, it is always on our minds. Unlike cars, most boats (including ours) do not have heating; the only heat we have available is that generated by the crew in our 25’ Boston Whaler. Did we mention there is only room for one or two people in the cabin?  This means that on most days the crew rides outside and often has to deal with a formidable wind chill. Even on the calmest of days when the boat is operating at speeds of 25-30 knots, an air temperature of 32 degrees Fahrenheit equates to a wind chill of 17 degrees. Then there are the days where icing on the gunnels and deck (and at times the crew) from boat spray adds an extra layer of slipperiness to our day. And of course, there is always the task of shoveling fresh snow from the boat’s deck.  Last year’s record snowfall made for lots of shoveling. 

During extreme cold periods when ice forms on the rivers and Bay, trying to get our boat out of the marina can be frustrating.  On many occasions while departing the South River this winter, we have had to break skim ice for miles.  We are always checking to make sure it is not so thick that we will get stuck, or worse, put a hole through the boat’s fiberglass hull. Our boat is supposed to be one that can be cut in half and won’t sink, but who really wants to put that theory to the test in the middle of winter? 

We prepare for the cold mostly by layering on the clothes, with as many as four layers to separate our flesh from the cold elements. Then there is the bulky survival suit with built-in flotation, plus hats, scarves, gloves and heavy boots. All these layers reduce our flexibility, not to mention causing us a bit of discomfort (try carrying around an extra 50 pounds of clothes when you work). Believe us, you need a lot of extra time if you need to use the bathroom! We often joke that the hardest part of our day is getting dressed and undressed.

Winter weather conditions wreak havoc on field gear. Batteries in electronics such as cameras, GPS units and field computers drain faster in cold temperatures. And trying to write field notes can be a bear when your fingers are numb.

Not to be forgotten is that pinhole leak in waders or gauntlet gloves that you can never seem to find and repair, and always seems to get bigger when standing or working in cold water. This makes for extended uncomfortable conditions, particularly when temperatures are near or below freezing. Drying these and other wet field items always takes longer in winter, too.

On a crisp winter day when the air is still, sometimes we just stop and wait to see the world around us. We see the marsh hawks that have come to the Chesapeake Bay for the winter zigzagging around the marsh looking for field mice and voles; what a thrill when they find one!  There are always a few bald eagles around, either perching on an osprey nest or majestically soaring through the air. The great blue herons are always present and never seem to mind the cold. Short-eared owls and the occasional snowy owl will show up in the winter, and it is alwaysa real treat to get a glimpse. Then there are the wintering waterfowl – puddle ducks, diving ducks, bay ducks and sea ducks – as they fly into the Bay and marshes in the thousands.

Winter is an active and lively time on the Chesapeake Bay. It is amazing to think that we have an opportunity to experience something that few others get to, especially considering we are doing it within 40 miles of the Washington/Baltimore metropolitan area. We wouldn’t trade our jobs in any season.

All images courtesy Pete McGowan and Chris Guy, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service



Dec
22
2010

Photo Tour: Merkle Wildlife Sanctuary and Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary in Upper Marlboro, Maryland

I gotta say… December 3 was not the nicest day ever to go out and shoot some pics, but it was well worth it anyway. Merkle Wildlife Sanctuary, located in Upper Marlboro, Md., was our first destination.

Here is a slideshow of the day, it features photos contributed by both Alicia and myself.

What’s great about Merkle is that it is huge and has plenty of trails to explore. It is perfect for hikers, bikers, and photographers. Many of the trails lead right out to the Patuxent River (which I unfortunately got too close to and stepped in within our first hour of walking).

Unfortunately, we missed the fall foliage by just a couple weeks, but we did have a chance to see some awesome sights. The clouds were abundant at sunrise and it made for some very interesting light. My coworker Alicia and I were overwhelmed by the amount of Canada geese. We captured some photos to illustrate exactly how many we saw (you can see them in the slide show above).

It was kind of crazy when we saw two white-tailed deer appear from the woods and run through a huge flock of these geese. All of a sudden, hundreds and hundreds of geese burst into flight going every which way. This made for some cool shots when mixed with the emerging sun.

After a few hours of exploration, the cold won out and we decided to work our way back to the heated car. Unfortunately, the Visitors’ Center was closed but some nice lady working there let me at least come in and run my shoes and socks under the hand dryer for a few minutes. Then it was on to the next destination, Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary, just northeast of Merkle.

I’m gonna guess that Jug Bay is pretty awesome in late fall or early spring, unfortunately we missed both those time periods. This is one place that I will definitely put on my list to check out when the leaves come back. Jug Bay, like many of the Chesapeake Bay Gateway sites, is a perfect way to escape the crazy, hectic, complex lifestyle and get back to appreciating things for their simplicity and natural beauty.

I would highly recommend visiting either of these locations for a number of reasons. Visits to places like Merkle and Jug Bay get you outdoors and experiencing all that the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries have to offer. After all, how are we going to start protecting and restoring the Bay the way we should until we start understanding and appreciating all that it offers?

Matt Rath's avatar
About Matt Rath - Matt was the multimedia specialist for the Bay Program.



Keywords: wildlife, photography
Dec
10
2010

What do Bay critters do during the winter?

Welcome to the latest installment of the BayBlog Question of the Week! Each week, we take a question submitted on the Chesapeake Bay Program website or a frequently asked question and answer it here for all to read.

This week’s question came from Sarah, who asked, “What do all the Bay critters do during the winter? Do they hibernate?”

Winter habits of Chesapeake Bay critters vary by species because each species tolerates the temperature changes of winter differently. Most critters don't actually "hibernate" but instead migrate to a different place.

Blue crabs have less of a tolerance for colder water temperatures in the winter, so they have to relocate. Blue crabs retreat to deeper waters and spend the winter months burrowed into muddy or sandy bottoms. This is not technically considered hibernation, but rather a dormant state.

Striped bass from the Chesapeake tend to head south to the warmer waters of the Virginia and North Carolina capes during the winter. Some do stay in the Bay throughout the winter.

Other Bay critters don't mind the cold. Oysters, for example, are actually in their best condition in the winter and early spring, or the “R” months of September through April.

While it may seem like all of the Bay's critters have left until spring, don’t forget about the many species that make yearly winter migrations to the Chesapeake. Each year, about one million swans, geese and ducks make the Chesapeake Bay their winter homes until it is time to head back north in the spring. And even more make rest stops in the Bay watershed before heading further south to even warmer climates. 

So even when the weather is cold, take some time to bundle up and see if you can spot any of these migratory waterfowl species during their winter stay along the Bay!

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.



Nov
05
2010

How can you tell the difference between a hardshell crab and a peeler crab?

Welcome to the latest installment of the BayBlog Question of the Week! Each week, we take a question submitted on the Chesapeake Bay Program website or a frequently asked question and answer it here for all to read. 

This week’s question came from Larry, who asked, “How can you tell the difference between male hardshell and peeler crabs?”

Peeler crabs are actually just hardshell blue crabs that are showing signs of molting. Molting occurs when a crab's hard shell is shed and a new soft shell is grown. “Peeler crab” is a term assigned to crabs that are in pre-molt stages.

The physical signs of change to a peeler are evident in the shell itself as well as the shell color. The new soft shell should be visible beneath the hard outer shell, which is easily seen on the outer edges of the swimming fins. The new shell will first appear as a white line around the edge, gradually turning pink and then red. A red line is a pretty reliable sign of a peeler about to shed its shell. Fine white wrinkles may also appear on the blue skin between the wrist and upper arm.

Abdomen color may also be a sign, but that is a much less reliable sign than the emergence of the new shell. A freshly shed male crab’s abdomen is often whiter, but a crab with a yellow abdomen can still be weeks from shedding.  

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.

Image courtesy Maryland Department of Natural Resources.



Keywords: questions, wildlife
Sep
17
2010

How do you protect dolphins in the Bay?

Welcome to the latest installment of the BayBlog Question of the Week! Each week, we take a question submitted on the Chesapeake Bay Program website or a frequently asked question and answer it here for all to read.

This week’s question comesfrom Tim, who is helping his students with environmental projects. Many of them focus on dolphins and how they are being protected around the world. He asked: “What is being done to protect the dolphins in the Chesapeake Bay?”

Small "pods" of bottlenose dolphins are frequent visitors to the Chesapeake Bay during the summer months. They are most often seen in the saltier lower Bay but have been spotted as far north as Annapolis, Baltimore and the Chester River.

Bottlenose dolphins are not thought to be endangered, but have been considered a “depleted” species since 1987-1988, according to the Bay Journal.

One of the major threats to dolphins that visit the Chesapeake Bay is excess pollution in the Bay and its tributaries. Dolphins depend largely on fish for food. If the fish they consume are not healthy due to water pollution, the dolphins' health can be affected. Because of this, some see the health of dolphins as a true indicator of the Bay’s health.

Other threats to dolphins include getting caught in nets that are targeting other species and boat traffic that may disrupt courtship, nursing or calving activities.

In all of these cases, regulations exist or are being develop to try to protect dolphins and all other aquatic animals. By imposing limits on the amount of pollution that is allowed into the Bay and its tributaries, all of the species that depend on clean water will be more likely to survive.

Those who spend time fishing or boating in the Bay's waters should watch out for pods of dolphins to prevent inadvertently harming them.

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



Keywords: questions, wildlife
Aug
05
2010

Eleven Innovative Projects Receive $5.8 Million to Reduce Pollution Throughout Chesapeake Bay Watershed

Eleven innovative environmental projects throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed will reduce an estimated 1.5 million pounds of nitrogen, 51,000 pounds of phosphorus and 20,000 pounds of sediment from entering the Bay and its local waterways with $5.8 million in grants through the Innovative Nutrient and Sediment Reduction Program.

The Innovative Nutrient and Sediment Reduction Program, part of the Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund, provides up to $1 million to innovative and cost-effective projects that dramatically reduce or eliminate nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution into local streams, creeks, rivers and the Bay.

Collectively, the 11 projects exemplify creative and effective ways to build partnerships, bridge communities, advance technology and implement innovative practices such as green infrastructure and agricultural conservation — all of which are necessary to reducing polluted runoff from cities, suburbs and farmland.

The 11 projects are:

  • The South River Federation - Treating urban runoff in two mid-bay creeks using Regenerative Stormwater Conveyance (RSC) technology.
  • The Shenandoah Resource Conservation and Development Council - Facilitating a culture of “conservation from farm to table” and reducing nutrients and sediments in food and fiber production on a regional scale.
  • The Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University – Reducing ammonia emission and runoff from broiler litter on two farms in the Shenandoah Valley and two farms on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.
  • Lancaster, Pa. – Implementing six highly visible green infrastructure projects.
  • The Center for Urban Environmental Research and Education – Making subsoiling and pervious paving an integral element of sustainable urban landscaping to reduce nutrient and sediment loads.
  • Prince George’s County, Md. - Implementing three best management practices to reduce stormwater volumes and nutrient loads from the University of Maryland campus in the Anacostia River watershed.
  • The Chester River Association - Reducing nutrient and sediment loadings through implementation of agricultural practices like enhanced nutrient management; septic upgrades, rain gardens and expanded urban tree canopy in developed areas; and restoration of natural filters.
  • The Herring Run Watershed Association - Retrofitting the Butchers Hill neighborhood and alleys in Baltimore City with several green infrastructure projects for the small, dense urban area.
  • The Maryland Department of Agriculture – Implementing statewide adaptive cover crop management tools to more effectively manage winter cover crop programs for water quality protection.
  • The Potomac Conservancy - Promoting Low Impact Development (LID) through an assessment of 37 counties and cities in the non-tidal portion of Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay watershed.
  • The Chesapeake Bay Foundation – Creation and implementation of the Onancock Watershed Restoration Project, a “whole-community” approach to watershed restoration through urban and agricultural best management practices.

The grants are funded by the U.S. EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program and administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Grant awardees provided an additional $10 million in matching funds.

“These projects demonstrate innovative strategies for how we can continue to live, work and play in one of the most densely populated regions of the country, while at the same time minimizing the impact on our downstream neighbors and the thousands of fish and wildlife species that call the Chesapeake Bay their home,” said Tom Kelsch, Director of Conservation Programs of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

For more information about the Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund, visit www.nfwf.org/chesapeake.



Jul
09
2010

Question of the Week: How can you tell where sea nettles will be this summer?

Welcome to the latest installment of the BayBlog Question of the Week! Each week, we take a question submitted on the Chesapeake Bay Program website or a frequently asked question and answer it here for all to read.

This week’s question is one many people ask this time of year, especially during the recent heat wave when they will be trying to cool off on and in the water: “How can you tell where in the bay sea nettles will be this summer?” 

Sea nettles (Chrysaora quinquecirrha) are the most abundant jellyfish in the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries. These whitish-colored jellies soar in numbers in summer and can be a pesky (and painful) nuisance to swimmers. But thankfully, scientists can predict when and where sea nettles will be present in the Chesapeake Bay based on environmental conditions. 

Scientists use a computer model to predict the probability of encountering these stinging jellies in your local river or favorite Bay swimming hole. The computer model compares salinity, water temperature and sea nettle density data from the spring, summer and fall of 1987-2000.

Based on this data, scientists found that sea nettles prefer water temperatures ranging from 78.8 - 86 degrees Fahrenheit and a salinity of 10-16 PSU (practical salinity units). For comparison, seawater has an average PSU of 35 and tidal fresh water has a PSU of less than .5. So when conditions in the Bay are within these temperature and salinity ranges, you will likely encounter sea nettles.

NOAA has created a sea nettle presence probability map that displays the likelihood of encountering sea nettles throughout the Bay and its rivers.  This is your best resource to beat the sting and see if sea nettles are present in your area.

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!



Keywords: questions, wildlife
May
28
2010

Question of the Week: What is a cownose ray doing in the Gulf of Mexico?

Welcome to the latest installment of the BayBlog Question of the Week! Each week, we take a question submitted on the Chesapeake Bay Program website or a frequently asked question and answer it here for all to read.

This week’s question came from Gail in Florida: "For the past three days there have been hundreds of cownose rays along the beach. Not knowing what they were, we are surprised to find they are from the Chesapeake Bay when we researched them. Thought you would be interested to know they were down here in the gulf...even with the oil! Why would they be here?"

It's important to remember is that many of the species we associate with the Chesapeake Bay are actually just seasonal visitors. So, while an Internet search for a cownose ray may have brought Gail to, for example, our Bay Field Guide entry on the cownose ray, that does not mean they are only present in the Chesapeake Bay.

In fact, in the case of the cownose ray, they are mainly summer visitors to the Chesapeake Bay area, reaching about as far north as Kent Island, Md. from the months of May through October. They are the most common ray found in the Bay, but are not necessarily found more often in the Bay than in other places.

Cownose rays are actually found throughout the Atlantic: in the eastern Atlantic near Mauritania, Senegal and Guinea as well as in the western Atlantic from New England to Florida and throughout the Gulf of Mexico. So Gail spotting hundreds of cownose rays in the Gulf is not that unusual. While they are not "from" the Chesapeake, those that she saw may have been in the process of migrating from the Gulf north to the Bay for the summer months.

Now to turn the tables: Have you ever seen a cownose ray in the Chesapeake Bay?

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!

Information from the Florida Museum of Natural History and ARKive.



Keywords: questions, wildlife
May
23
2010

Question of the Week: Is a muskrat the same thing as a beaver?

Welcome to the latest installment of the BayBlog Question of the Week! Each week, we take a question submitted on the Chesapeake Bay Program website or a frequently asked question and answer it here for all to read.

This week’s question comes from Sammy: “Is a muskrat the same thing as a beaver?”

Muskrats and beavers are two different, distinct animals. They are easy to identify on land, but can be confused for one another when seen in the water.

One of the most obvious differences between the two species is their size. The American beaver (Castor canadensis) is the largest North American rodent, weighing 35-68 pounds and measuring 39-47 inches in length. Muskrats (Ondatra zibethicus) are much smaller, weighing just 3-4 pounds and measuring 16-25 inches long.

Tails are another way to distinguish the two species. While the beaver’s tail is wide and flattened horizontally, resembling a paddle, the muskrat’s tail is narrow and flattened vertically.

The way muskrats and beavers use the land is also different. Beavers are the only ones that chew down trees. Tree limbs with the bark removed or lodges made of limbs and mud are telltale signs of a beaver’s presence. Muskrats also build lodges, but they are much smaller than those built by beavers and are made from marsh vegetation rather than trees.

Nutria (Myocastor coypus) are another rodent that look similar to muskrats and beavers. They typically weigh between 12 and 15 pounds and measure about 24 inches in length. Nutria are found mostly on the Delmarva Peninsula but have also been seen around the Patuxent, Potomac and Rappahannock rivers.

So if you see one of these animals in the wild, make sure to look at the shape of its tail and the overall size of its body, which are the two main ways you can tell the difference between a muskrat and a beaver.

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!

 

Information from Woodland Fish and Wildlife and University of Massachusetts.



Keywords: questions, wildlife
Jun
05
2009

Twenty-four Innovative Projects Awarded Grants to Reduce Pollution to Local Waterways

Twenty-four innovative projects in Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia have received a total of $12.9 million in grants from the Bay Program and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to reduce nutrient and sediment pollution to the local streams, creeks and rivers that flow to the Chesapeake Bay.

The grants for these projects were awarded through the Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund, which provides up to $1 million to innovative and cost-effective projects that dramatically reduce or eliminate the flow of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution into local waterways and the Chesapeake Bay.

“These innovative projects will have lasting benefits for the Chesapeake Bay and its network of rivers and streams, especially when you consider that they can be duplicated in communities throughout the entire watershed,” said William C. Early, acting regional administrator in EPA’s mid-Atlantic region.

The Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund is administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and funded by the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program. This year's grant recipients provided an additional $19.4 million in matching funds.

“These projects continue to stretch how we think about agricultural strategies that are good both for the Chesapeake and for the farmer’s bottom line, and stormwater strategies that ensure that those of us who live in cities and suburbs do our part as well,” said Tom Kelsch, director of conservation programs for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

The 24 grant recipients are:

  • The District of Columbia Department of the Environment will use its $800,000 grant to install LID techniques such as green roofs, vegetated swales and pervious pavement over 14 acres of the city’s Rock Creek watershed where the Washington Water and Sewer Authority is currently separating combined sewers. This project was chosen after a 2008 scientific assessment showed that installing multiple LID techniques could reduce runoff in some areas by up to 90 percent.
  • The Virginia Waste Solutions Forum will use its $799,998 grant to support the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s work to deliver Chesapeake Bay Farm Bill funding to high-density animal production areas around Smith Creek, a tributary of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River. The “Shenandoah Valley Clean Streams Initiative” will help farmers adopt cost-effective nutrient management practices that also reduce pollution to Smith Creek and the Shenandoah River.
  • The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation will use its $798,988 grant to create a “green corridor” of innovative stormwater management practices in downtown Richmond, including the capitol building grounds. The “Greening Virginia’s Capitol” project will reduce by 65 percent the amount of polluted stormwater runoff that flows from these sites to the city’s Combined Sewer Overflow system.
  • The Pennsylvania State University will use its $786,384 grant to increase implementation of new technology that applies dry manure on farm fields below the soil surface, rather than on top of the ground. Placing dry manure, which is used as fertilizer, beneath the soil surface improves crops’ ability to uptake nutrients while reducing surface nutrient runoff by 90 percent.
  • The Pennsylvania State University received $750,000 grant to coordinate the Conewago Creek Collaborative Conservation Initiative, a public-private partnership formed to reduce nutrient and sediment pollution to Conewago Creek in Pennsylvania. The initiative will help implement on-the-ground restoration measures needed to remove Conewago Creek from the state’s 303(d) impaired waters list.
  • The Rivanna River Basin Commission will use its $725,000 grant to install runoff-reducing practices at four highly visible sites: Charlottesville High School, Crozet Wetlands, the new Fluvanna County High School and Greene County Community Park. Additionally, the Commission will create an inventory of opportunities for leaders in Fluvanna and Greene counties to install runoff-reducing practices on public lands. The two-year project will culminate with a regional symposium that will bring together developers, engineers, planners and regulators to learn more about environmentally sound stormwater management.
  • The Science Museum of Virginia was awarded $700,000 to develop a low-impact development demonstration and training area that will be the first of its kind in central Virginia. The museum will install a green roof, rain collection cistern, porous pavement and other low-impact development techniques that will slow and filter polluted runoff from the museum building and parking area. This highly visible site will include real-time monitoring data and be used to train local officials, engineers, industry representatives and the public on how to manage urban stormwater runoff.
  • The Iowa Soybean Association will use its $699,890 grant to create the “Bay Farms On-Farm Network” to facilitate among participants the exchange of nutrient management data. By learning about other farmers’ manure and fertilizer applications, participating farmers will be able to fine-tune their own practices and make better nutrient management decisions that have positive environmental and economic results.
  • The Environmental Defense Fund was awarded $651,631 grant to establish a community composting site for farmers at Oregon Dairy in central Lancaster County, Pa. The composting site will collect excess manure from local farmers and use it to produce compost that will be available for sale. The Environmental Defense Fund estimates that the project will reduce nitrogen pollution to the Susquehanna River by 673,200 pounds and phosphorus pollution by 637,200 pounds.
  • Lycoming County, Pa., received $600,035 to implement an innovative credit-trading program to supplement mandated wastewater treatment plant upgrades in the county. The Lycoming Conservation District will work with the county’s farmers and homeowners to generate a renewable supply of locally produced nutrient credits. Wastewater plants in the county can then choose the most economical options for upgrading their infrastructure to comply with Pennsylvania’s nutrient reduction requirements.
  • The Capital Area Resource Conservation and Development Council, Inc., will use its $509,967 grant to implement or improve prescribed grazing systems on 5,000 acres of farmland in Pennsylvania’s lower Juniata River watershed. The funding will support the South Central Project Grass Committee’s efforts to improve the economic viability and environmental quality of livestock operations by promoting grazing. The committee will provide on-farm grazing demonstrations and one-on-one training to participating farmers, as well as tools for developing nutrient and carbon credits and marketing grass-fed beef.
  • The Chesapeake Club received $500,000 to create a new social marketing campaign that teaches residents of Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia to better manage stormwater runoff on their properties. The Chesapeake Club will reach residents using a combination of traditional media and internet networks such as YouTube and Facebook.
  • The Chesapeake Stormwater Network will use its $500,000 grant to create a “Stormwater Training Partnership” for stormwater design professionals and local government plan reviewers. The partnership will advance environmentally sound stormwater management in four of the Chesapeake Bay states by developing training that teaches participants about more effective ways to reduce runoff.
  • The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) was awarded $500,000 to engage Amish and Mennonite farmers in Pennsylvania’s Lancaster and Chester counties in conservation efforts. The project’s goal is to install 200 pollution-reducing practices like barnyard runoff controls, streamside forest buffers, no-till farming and cover crops. CBF estimates that these efforts will reduce 450,000 pounds of nitrogen, 87,000 pounds of phosphorus and 2.1 tons of sediment.
  • The Upper Susquehanna Coalition was awarded $490,000 to reduce pollution from unstable stream banks, flooding events and farm runoff to the streams that feed the Susquehanna. The coalition will plant 47 acres of streamside buffers, restore 45 acres of wetlands, rehabilitate 6,000 feet of streams, and build fences along 45 acres of streams to keep cows out, which will stop 37,000 pounds of nitrogen, 1,400 pounds of phosphorus and 13.3 tons of sediment from flowing to the upper Susquehanna’s most sensitive streams.
  • The Herring Run Watershed Association will use its $450,000 grant to reduce nutrient and bacteria pollution from Baltimore City and County landowners to Herring Run and Jones Falls. Using community-based restoration strategies, the Herring Run Watershed Association and its project partners will reduce urban runoff from the neighborhoods around Herring Run and Jones Falls, which flow to the Patapsco and Back rivers. One method will be to divert rooftop downspouts to lawns or landscaped areas, rather than flowing directly to sidewalks, streets and storm drains.
  • The Finger Lakes Resource Conservation and Development Council, Inc., has received $399,995 to restore 1.4 miles of eroding stream banks in New York’s Chemung River Basin, part of the upper Susquehanna River watershed. Using new “natural stream design” techniques that reduce erosion and enhance underwater habitat for fish, the Finger Lakes RC&D will create demonstration sites for municipal highway superintendents in Chemung, Schuyler and Steuben counties. The Finger Lakes RC&D estimates that these restoration activities will reduce 1,000 tons of sediment from flowing to the Chemung River.
  • The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay has received $390,000 to engage residents, businesses and civic leaders in the Reedy Creek watershed in reducing polluted stormwater runoff. The Alliance will conduct environmental surveys and stormwater audits to show homeowners how they can manage stormwater runoff on their property. Participants in the program will be able to connect with each other and share their success stories through a “My Watershed Experience” online network.
  • The Maryland Association of Soil Conservation Districts (MASCD) was awarded $345,000 to advise 600 farmers across the Chesapeake watershed on their ability to implement carbon and nutrient trading options. MASCD will work with conservation organizations in the other five Bay states to help farmers expand their market-based conservation efforts and incorporate them into a new “bank” of environmental trading credits.
  • The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation has received a $325,000 grant to engage the Harrisonburg community in reducing polluted stormwater runoff to Blacks Run. By the end of the three-year project, more than 200 rain barrels, rain gardens, green roofs, streamside forest buffers and other practices will be installed. These runoff-reducing practices will stop 509 pounds of nitrogen, 78 pounds of phosphorus and 19 tons of sediment each year from flowing off lawns, schoolyards, public lands and commercial properties into Blacks Run.
  • Virginia Tech received $319,000 to install “floating islands” of wetlands that filter and treat polluted stormwater runoff in the city of Fairfax’s Accotink Creek. Virginia Tech and its project partners will design environmental education and outreach programs to help Fairfax residents learn about how floating islands reduce water pollution and what they can do on their own properties to reduce polluted runoff.
  • The Center for Urban Environmental Research and Education received $312,177 to address polluted runoff from compacted soils in parks, school yards, athletic fields, residential lawns and inner city vacant lots in Baltimore City and County. The center and its project partners will develop technical specifications needed to incorporate subsoiling -- a type of deep tilling that breaks up soil, allowing more water to soak in -- around Gwynns Falls, Herring Run, Henry Run and Watershed 263 in Baltimore City.
  • Water Stewardship, Inc., was awarded $300,000 to conduct an innovative supply chain-based program that will help 50 poultry and dairy operations in the Shenandoah Valley reduce the amount of nutrients they contribute to nearby streams and rivers. The long-term goal of this project is to help participating farmers reduce their nutrient contributions to a level that is 40 percent beyond what is needed to meet government cleanup goals for the Shenandoah Valley’s waterways.
  • Lancaster Farmland Trust has received $215,000 to research, develop and implement a program that links nutrient credits to conservation easements used to preserve farmland in Lancaster County, Pa. Linking nutrient credits to preserved farms will give the fledgling nutrient credit trading market more stability and increase the confidence of potential credit purchasers.



Dec
04
2008

Partnership Protects Virginia Marsh from Erosion

A partnership between the James River Association, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Corporate Wetlands Restoration Partnership and several other organizations has protected from erosion more than 500 acres of tidal freshwater marsh on Herring Creek in Charles City County, Virginia.

The newly protected marsh, known as Ducking Stool Point, is a spit of land located at the confluence of Herring Creek and the James River. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ducking Stool Point provides important habitat for waterfowl, bald eagles, largemouth bass and a number of other birds and fish.

To protect the marsh from further erosion, the partnership installed an 1,825-foot-long structure of sloping stone between the marsh and the James River. Stabilizing Ducking Stool Point will help protect stream habitat for migratory and residential fish species, many of which are recreationally valuable to area residents. The project also protects bald eagles and other wildlife that nest and roost in the area.

The project was completed in November and unveiled at a ceremony this month.

Visit the James River Association’s website for more information about the Ducking Stool Point project.



Oct
15
2008

Partnership Tackles Removal of Invasive, Marsh-eating Rodent from Delmarva Peninsula

On Maryland’s Eastern Shore, pollution from development and agriculture are much-debated issues affecting the Chesapeake Bay's health. But one of the region's most destructive forces is unseen by many: a large, beaver-like rodent that digs out and feeds on the roots of marsh grasses.

Nutria are an invasive species that live in the Delmarva Peninsula's marshes and wetlands. Since their introduction in the 1940s, nutria have eaten through thousands of acres of marshland on the Eastern Shore. Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Dorchester County has been especially hard-hit: nutria have destroyed more than half of the marshes there -- nearly 7,000 acres.

Marshes and wetlands are important because they protect clean water by filtering out pollutants and reducing shoreline erosion. They also provide opportunities for outdoor nature activities such as paddling, hiking, hunting and bird-watching.

Additionally, wetland destruction by nutria costs Maryland’s economy $4 million per year in lost environmental services from the degradation of farmland, property, water quality, commercial fisheries and outdoor activities. Recent reports estimate that figure will increase to $30 million per year by 2050 if nutria are left unchecked.

To combat nutria’s destruction of valuable marshland, a group of federal, state and local organizations has come together to eradicate the invasive rodent from the Eastern Shore.

The Maryland Nutria Project began in the late 1990s as the Maryland Nutria Project Partnership, a group of 22 organizations that joined together to investigate the potential to eliminate nutria from Eastern Shore marshes. In 2000, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service received federal funding to develop a strategy to eradicate nutria in Maryland.

Today, the Maryland Nutria Project is one of a small handful of highly successful invasive species programs in the United States. Since its work began in 2002, the Project has removed nutria from almost 150,000 acres of wetlands in Caroline, Dorchester, Somerset, Talbot and Wicomico counties.

The Maryland Nutria Project’s trapping efforts were originally concentrated in a 95,000-acre “nutria eradication zone,” which included Blackwater, the state-owned Fishing Bay Wildlife Management Area, the privately owned Tudor Farms, and other nearby private lands.

“Except for monitoring activities, the Project is finished in the nutria eradication zone,” said Dan Murphy, program supervisor with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Chesapeake Bay Field Office. “We are continuing to expand out of Dorchester County into nutria-infested marshes in Caroline, Somerset, Talbot and Wicomico counties.

Marshes have shown a remarkable ability to recover once nutria are removed from an area. But without a continued effort to eradicate them, nutria will re-infest and once again destroy wetlands. The Project must expand its efforts into the remaining five southern Maryland Eastern Shore counties and the Delaware and Virginia portions of Delmarva -- a total of more than 400,000 acres of wetlands.

“The challenge ahead is for the Project to continue to expand into surrounding marshlands while preventing re-infestation of previously trapped habitats on state, federal and private lands,” Murphy said. “This will require the trapping team to work in much larger areas and expand the trapping zone on a much broader front.”

Based on current staffing, progress and field efforts, the Maryland Nutria Project estimates that it will eradicate nutria from the Eastern Shore by 2013. After that time, Project members will continue to monitor  marshes and remove any nutria they find.

The Nutria Management Team, led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Chesapeake Bay Field Office, oversees the nutria eradication project. Other members of the Maryland Nutria Project include:

  • The Chesapeake Marshlands National Wildlife Refuge Complex
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Wildlife Services
  • The Maryland Department of Natural Resources
  • The U.S. Geological Survey
  • The University of Maryland Eastern Shore
  • Tudor Farms

Learn more about nutria and the Maryland Nutria Partnership from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.



Dec
01
2006

Watershed Forests Hit by Deer Population Growing Pains

At the turn of the 20th century, market hunting had caused white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) populations to reach historic lows across the United States, with numbers hovering between an estimated 300,000 to 500,000 deer. In some areas white-tail deer disappeared completely, while in the Chesapeake region deer were usually only found along the extreme western edge of the watershed.

In 1900, Congressional passage of the Lacy Act prohibited the interstate trafficking of wild game, relieving pressure on deer populations. White-tails received further reprieve in 1908, when 41 states established departments of natural resources, which placed strict protections on the animals and instituted restocking programs.

Deer populations rose steadily in the following decades. While careful deer management by wildlife officials is partially responsible for the white-tails' rebound, deer also adapted to and prospered in the landscapes of America's sprawling suburbs. Mass development in the Bay watershed during the 1980s and 1990s carved up forests and farmland, creating “fringe” habitat that allowed white-tails to thrive. Some current estimates place the national white-tail population at 30 million. In Maryland alone, the 2005-2006 white-tail population was estimated at 269,000 deer.

White-tail deer are a favorite of many watershed residents and their resurgence has been greeted with enthusiasm by those who thrill at the sight of a big buck or a doe and her fawns. But when deer populations become too large, they can have a negative effect on their environment.

In the Bay ecosystem, the largest impact is the over-consumption of vegetation. Forest regeneration bears the brunt of the white-tail's voracious appetite as seedlings and shoots are usually consumed before they can grow to a size that can withstand occasional “browsing.” Over-consumption also impedes and distorts forests that are trying to recover from fire or logging. When forest habitats become over-browsed, deer naturally turn elsewhere to feed. Many homeowners experience this impact through the loss of ornamental plantings in the home landscape.

Large whitetail populations can also wipe out native vegetation such as shrubs and grasses, opening the way for noxious weeds and invasive plant species to take root. Deer usually prefer not to browse on non-native species if their traditional meals can be found, thereby perpetuating a vicious cycle.

An overabundance of whitetail deer can also substantially impact other wildlife in the area. Decreasing forest understory deprives essential food and cover to songbirds, reptiles and small mammals, which have a direct effect on the wildlife that count on those species to survive.

To learn more about whitetail deer and their influence on the Bay, attend the 30th Southeast Deer Study Group Meeting on Feb. 25-27, 2007 in Ocean City, Md. This year's theme will be “Deer and Ecosystem Impact.” For more information, please contact Doug Hotton, Deer Project Leader with Maryland Department of Natural Resources, at dhotton@dnr.state.md.us.



Keywords: wildlife, hunting
Oct
01
2006

Bay Islands, Wildlife Habitat Succumbing to Sea Level Rise

The Chesapeake Bay faces environmental threats from over-development, nutrient pollution, chemical contaminants and many other sources. But there is another threat that becomes more evident in many coastal, low-lying areas along the Bay with every passing year: rising sea level.

The Bay, which was formed by the rising sea that flooded the ancient Susquehanna River valley, is constantly being reshaped by erosion. Since the Bay took on its modern form about 6,000 years ago, sea level in the Bay has risen about six inches per century. However, U.S. Geological Survey tide gauge records show that sea level in the Bay rose more rapidly during the 20th century. Currently, sea level at the mouth of the Bay is rising at a rate of about 1.3 feet per century—twice the worldwide average.

This relatively recent increase in sea level rise may have several causes. Land subsidence due to groundwater extraction is one common explanation. Another is human-induced global climate change, which is causing glaciers to melt and ocean volume to increase. Shoreline development that removes or blocks the migration of wetlands can also increase the effects of sea level rise. Without a wetland buffer between the land and the Bay, low-lying areas become more prone to flooding and erosion.

William B. Cronin's The Disappearing Islands of the Chesapeake documents the history and acreage losses due to sea level rise of over 40 Bay islands.

Less than one hundred years ago, Holland Island was a community of over 350 residents, complete with a church schoolhouse, a post office and a community center. In 1914 the island, which lies west of Deal Island in Somerset County, Md., was five miles long and about a mile and a half wide. Around that time, islanders began moving to the mainland to escape erosion that was threatening their homes. Today, Holland Island is less than 100 acres, and the remaining population is made up of terns, egrets, bald eagles and other wildlife.

Despite its name, Barren Island once held a church, a school and more than a dozen farms on its 582 acres. As recently as the 1950s, a fully functional clubhouse welcomed wildfowl hunters to the island, which is located just west of Hoopers Island in Dorchester County, Md. Today, Barren Island has been reduced to less than 120 acres, and the clubhouse is underwater. Recognizing its importance as a wintering ground for several species of ducks, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has made Barren Island part of the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge (NWR).

Sea level rise is not just threatening the Bay's islands; many low-lying mainland areas are also at risk of being lost. The Blackwater NWR loses about 130 acres of marsh each year to rising sea level. The U.S. Geological Survey forecasts that most of the refuge will be open water in approximately 50 years. Blackwater provides critical habitat to hundreds of species of wildlife, including osprey, hummingbirds, bald eagles and the endangered Delmarva fox squirrel.

While the effects of sea level rise seem dire, efforts are underway to bring back some of the Bay's islands and low-lying coastal areas. Poplar Island, in Talbot County, Md., is being rebuilt by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with dredge material from Baltimore Harbor. The island, which served as a retreat for presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman, was once 1,500 acres. By 1997, Poplar Island had become six separate islands totaling about 120 acres. The Poplar Island project, which is expected to be completed in 2016, will restore 1,000 acres of diverse habitat for wildlife that have historically used the island as a nesting and wintering ground.

Will more of the Bay's still-inhabited islands—such as Smith, Hoopers and Tangier—see the same fate as Holland or Poplar islands? Scientists continue to study the causes of sea level rise, as technology develops to combat erosion and restore the land, history and habitat that are being eaten away by the Bay's relentless waves.



Keywords: wildlife, history
410 Severn Avenue / Suite 112
Annapolis, Maryland 21403
Tel: (800) YOUR-BAY / Fax: (410) 267-5777
Directions to the Bay Program Office
Terms of Use | Privacy Policy
©2012 Chesapeake Bay Program | All Rights Reserved