2009 MD waterfowl survey numbers similar to those in 2008

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources recently released the results of the 2009 Midwinter Waterfowl Survey during which biologists from the two agencies count ducks, geese and swans along Maryland's Chesapeake Bay shoreline and Atlantic coast.

In January 2009, the survey teams observed a total of 836,900 waterfowl, similar to the number of waterfowl observed in January 2008.

"When pooled with results from other states, the Midwinter Waterfowl Survey provides a long-term measure of the distribution and population size of most waterfowl species wintering in the Atlantic Flyway," said Larry Hindman, DNR Waterfowl Project Leader. "More typical winter weather led to higher numbers recorded for a few species this year."

Biologists said there was a notable increase in number of Canada geese counted by the survey crews.

The higher winter Canada goose count (498,200), was due to a combination of good gosling production from northern Quebec nesting areas, snow cover and cold temperatures north of Maryland that pushed geese south to the Chesapeake in search of open water and winter foods.

Canada goose estimates reflect a mix of resident and migrant goose stocks, so these survey estimates are not used to set hunting regulations. Hunting regulations change with the population status of Atlantic and resident populations of Canada geese. These numbers are tracked using breeding population and productivity surveys that are conducted each spring.

Most of the 17 species of ducks counted in the survey had numbers similar to last year, with a major exception: Scaup numbers were significantly lower (51,600) compared with the 150,000 that were observed on the 2008 survey. This year's drop in scaup numbers in the Maryland portion of the Bay may be related to environmental factors influencing migration, but the continental population of lesser scaup has been experiencing a significant long-term decline.

The precise reasons for the decline are unknown. Factors under investigation include reduced food resources, declining water quality, contaminants on spring migration stopovers and the degradation of breeding habitat in the boreal forest. Climate change may also be negatively influencing food resources on boreal forest and coastal habitats.

The decline in scaup numbers was the main reason the number of ducks counted in the survey declined from 330,000 in 2008 to 261,000 this year.

The survey has been conducted annually throughout the United States since the early 1950s. It provides information on long-term trends in waterfowl populations and is the only source of population estimates for important species such as Atlantic brant and tundra swans. The survey also provides supplementary information on other waterfowl species for which annual breeding population and harvest information is available.

Full survey results are available on DNR's website, www.dnr.state.md.us

MD nutrient plans to be made public

Nutrient management plans detailing how Maryland farmers handle animal waste will be made available to the public, a court has ruled.

The Anne Arundel County Circuit Court ruled March 3 that the plans, which describe pollution discharge practices of farming operations, will be made available for public scrutiny.

The ruling affects the Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations that create, store or discharge animal waste.

The court ruling came right after a federal permitting deadline concerning the plans. The U.S. Department of Agriculture said many Eastern Shore farmers missed the deadline to apply for the newly required EPA permit. The permit called for more stringent nutrient management plans. It concerned many in the chicken industry because the application for the permit would make the plans publicly available. Now the court ruled that the plans are public documents, and should be made available for review upon request, regardless of a farm's application status.

Bill Satterfield, executive director of Delmarva Poultry Industry, said chicken industry critics can use these business plans to push their cause and force delays and costs for chicken farmers trying to stay in business.

WaterKeeper Alliance is the umbrella conservation group that challenged the Farm Bureau request to keep the plans confidential. It says the billion pounds of poultry manure produced in Maryland each year pose a severe threat to the Chesapeake Bay and other waterways.

"Maryland is finally catching up with other states across the country that have for years given citizens the tools they need to help enforce our country's environmental laws through citizen actions," said Michele Merkel, Chesapeake regional coordinator for Waterkeeper Alliance.

Once-polluted stretch of James now deemed safe to swim

Virginia environmental officials say a long-polluted stretch of the James River in the Richmond area is now clean enough to swim in. Some parts of the 13-mile stretch from the Chesterfield County-Powhatan County line to the center of Richmond have been listed as polluted for more than a decade.

The state Department of Environmental Quality said in March that water tests during the last few years showed that fecal bacteria had dropped to acceptable levels. Officials aren't sure why, although some possibilities include people picking up after their dogs and farmers keeping their cattle out of feeder streams.

A 33-mile stretch from Richmond to Hopewell remains on the state's dirty-water list.

Annapolis will certify restaurants for green choices

Annapolis city officials have created a green certification program for restaurants that are careful to protect the environment.

City Environmental Program Coordinator Maria Broadbent says restaurants that buy local, organic food; recycle oil; save water; and reuse paper will receive the free certification.

Her office evaluates restaurants and assigns a grade out of a possible 700 points. For example, if a restaurant has solar panels, they are worth 50 points; recycling printer cartridges is worth two points. Restaurants need 100 points to receive the decal and certification.

She is also considering methods to certify other hospitality businesses, car dealers and county firms.

D.C. area buildings 4 th greenest in the country

The EPA has listed Washington as one of the top-performing regions when it comes to energy-efficient buildings.

D.C. placed fourth on the agency's 2008 list of the 25 metropolitan areas with the most Energy Star buildings. The Energy Star designation is given to buildings that are ranked in the top 25 percent in energy efficiency in the United States and generally use 35 percent less energy and emit 35 percent fewer greenhouse gases than average buildings.

According to the EPA list, released in March, the city has 136 such buildings.

An Energy Star program spokeswoman says the rating results from several measures the city has taken to encourage green building.

Los Angeles, San Francisco and Houston took the top three spots on the list.