A successful program to restore the Chesapeake Bay - particularly as the region's population continues to grow - will depend upon citizens throughout the watershed taking individual actions that begin in their own backyards and gardens.
That is the message behind the BayScapes program, which was featured as part of a walking tour through gardens of Annapolis in conjunction with the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay's annual meeting June 10.
"It's a critical program to deal with us - people," said John Wolflin, supervisor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services' Chesapeake Bay Field Office, which helped develop BayScapes with the Alliance. "I can't think of a better way to start an environmental education program than in our own back yards."
The fact that millions of new people are expected in the Bay watershed in the coming decades - many building homes with lawns and gardens - "only intensifies the need for programs like BayScapes," Wolflin said.
The BayScapes program urges people to adopt a variety of techniques in maintaining their lawns and gardens that benefit the environment, such as using natives species, minimizing the use of chemicals, and improving wildlife habitat. The overall result is less pollution from yards into local streams and, ultimately, the Bay.
Some 80 participants joined a tour that wended its way through back yards, down to the main street of town where a major tree-planting project is planned, and finally to historic Paca Gardens and the State House grounds.
While the lawns and gardens shown were not perfect BayScapes examples - blending all aspects of the program - "they are a starting point - a first step," said Fran Flanigan, executive director of the Alliance. "You can do this a step at a time - start w ith what you have."
In small backyard gardens, individuals were practicing techniques such as composting, directing down spouts into the ground under their gardens rather than allowing it to run off their land and into storm sewers, and landscaping with native plants.
At Paca Gardens, Superintendent Steven Jahncke explained how he attempted to minimize the use of fertilizers and pesticides to save both time and money. If a particular plant ended up requiring too much pesticide, for example, he would get rid of it. Som etimes, he finds innovative solutions: When maggots destroyed ornamental apples on a tree, he put up fake apples coated with "sticky stuff" to capture the maggots.
Tom Simpson of the Maryland Department of Agriculture, who also chairs the state's Urban Nutrient Management Working Group, noted that there are more acres of "maintained landscapes" - such as lawns and golf courses - than there are acres of corn in Virg inia and Maryland. Computer models estimate that urban areas contribute 9 percent of the nitrogen and 8 percent of the phosphorus that enters the Bay - and Simpson said those numbers could be underestimates.
Simpson noted that homeowners apply nutrients at a greater per-acre rate than farmers, and often apply fertilizers - and other chemicals - close to pavement where it can be quickly washed into nearby streams.
Excess amounts of the nutrients phosphorus and nitrogen have been blamed for much of the Bay's water quality problems because they spur algae growth which depletes the water of oxygen and blocks sunlight to important underwater grasses. The Bay states are developing strategies to reduce the amount of nutrients reaching the Bay by 40 percent by the year 2000.
To minimize the need for nutrients, Billy Mills of the Alliance said that gardens need to be planned for the long term. Decisions to use native plants, for example, will help gardeners use less water, less fertilizer, and less pesticides over time.
"Our concern is for the future," Mills said, noting that the Bay states are to cap the amount of nutrients reaching the Bay at the year 2000 levels, despite population growth. "We're going to have to see some changes in the way that we use nutrients."