Editor’s Note: The Citizens Advisory Committee, which consists of members appointed from each Bay jurisdiction, offers advice from various constituencies to the Bay Program and the Executive Council. It recently sent its annual report to the Council regarding its concerns over implementation of the Chesapeake 2000 Agreement.
In 2000, the Citizens Advisory Committee placed a priority on providing input into the new Chesapeake Bay 2000 Agreement that was signed by the state and federal partners in June. The CAC participated throughout the drafting process, focusing on the importance of addressing land conservation and land conversion in the agreement. The priority which the CAC placed on the agreement consumed much of its time and effort during the past year. The CAC will place a similar priority on monitoring the progress toward achieving the goals of the Chesapeake 2000 Agreement.
Since the signing of the Chesapeake 2000 Agreement, the CAC has become concerned with an apparent weakening by some signatories on the implementation of the land preservation goal (20 percent of the Bay watershed). To that end, the CAC recently communicated to the Executive Council members its resolve that an additional 1.5 million acres within the watershed be permanently preserved. This is the baseline assessment represented to the public as the equivalent for the 20 percent figure.
Clearly, the goals of restoring and protecting the Chesapeake cannot be achieved without immediately addressing the issues of land preservation and the companion issue of land conservation.
The CAC applauds the reaffirmation of the Bay Program partners’ commitment to the restoration efforts through the signing of the Chesapeake 2000 Agreement. While this agreement and the preceding agreements that it encompasses set an ambitious agenda, we believe that with focused commitment they can be achieved. Throughout the drafting of the agreement, the CAC advocated three priority areas: sound land use and preservation goals; continued emphasis on public engagement and support of the program; and a recommitment to the focal point of the 1987 agreement that the partners will achieve and maintain a 40 percent reduction in nitrogen and phosphorous.
The CAC members feel that these three areas should continue to be the priority areas of emphasis as we enter into the implementation phase of this agreement.
Chesapeake Bay Toxics Strategy: It is with pride that we note the recent release of a Chesapeake Bay Toxics 2000 Strategy that will do much to achieve the goal of “zero release” of chemical contaminants from point and non-point sources into the Bay. The CAC played an essential role in the final language in the strategy, with members’ participation in workshops and through direct comments to the Implementation Committee providing the impetus for a stronger, more cohesive document. This strategy was signed by the Executive Council on Dec. 12.
Living Resources: The status of the living resources of the Chesapeake Bay is perhaps the most visible indicator of the health of the Bay to the public and is a reflection of the success of all other components of the restoration effort. For these reasons, living resources continue to be a focus of our attention.
The CAC continues to express concerns over the near-critical crisis of the blue crab population. To the public, the blue crab has become an icon for the health of the Bay. While we are pleased to see new initiatives made by the Bi-state Blue Crab Committee to address the overharvesting of a dwindling living resource, much more stringent measures must be taken immediately to assure the long-term abundance of the blue crab in the Chesapeake and a sustainable fishery.
The CAC is also expressing similar concerns about the overharvesting which confronts the horseshoe crab population. We urge you to foster better strong management practices for these living resources that ensure that these stocks are returned to sufficient levels that can support both the ecological and economic roles that this unique species plays in the Bay’s ecosystem.
The status of another Bay signature species, the American oyster, continues to be troublesome. With population levels at less than 2 percent of their historic status, it is clear that our management focus must shift. The CAC is optimistic that new approaches, such as reconstructing oyster reefs that are protected from harvest, hold promise for the future. We encourage the members of the EC to continue to support such efforts and maintain sanctuaries where oysters can grow and reproduce.
The CAC is very pleased with the commitment in Chesapeake 2000 toward developing the means to manage living resources in a multispecies context. Recent indications of the decline of the menhaden population, a key prey species for many other fish, raise the prospect that the collapse of a single species could have a detrimental domino effect on other important species, including striped bass. It is imperative that the signatories to Chesapeake 2000 dedicate the fiscal resources and scientific expertise necessary to develop the information base to successfully implement multispecies management regimens.
Program Commitment: As the Executive Council’s citizen advisers, we cannot stress strongly enough the need for continuity in the Chesapeake Bay Programs’ ongoing partnership efforts to restore and protect the Bay. As the most successful estuary restoration program in the country, if not the world, it is imperative that funding levels and political commitment be maintained and increased, lest the fruit of so many years achievements be lost and the laudable goals we have set not be achieved.
While recent reductions in the Bay Program’s budget may have forced a refocusing of funds on priority areas, further reductions could threaten to reduce the gains of the past decade. We have already seen reductions in several Bay Program areas, and we must be vigilant to prevent erosion in other areas. All federal agencies must continue contributing to the Bay restoration efforts and must be discouraged from making budget reductions in Bay-related monitoring and restoration programs. The CAC supports an increase in the amount of the annual appropriation to meet the $30 million authorized by Congress because the commitments which lie ahead are simply bigger than the current funding affords.
Communications & Education: We must also stress the importance of maintaining public confidence and support of the program. It is imperative that the Chesapeake Bay Program revitalize its efforts to engage the public in the restoration and strive to make advances in opening access to the Bay’s resources to a broader diversity of the public.
The signing of the Chesapeake 2000 was a shot in the arm for public awareness, but its recognition will be shortlived if communication and education components of the Bay Program are not adequately supported.
We must not lose sight of the fact that the Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts were initiated by grassroots support for the program and that continued support from the public and the private sector will be necessary just to maintain what we have achieved. Public education, youth education, cooperative partnerships and other innovative means to accomplish this must be initiated and supported.
CAC’S Commitment: As in past years, individual CAC members were integrally involved in aspects of work of almost all of the Chesapeake Bay Program’s numerous subcommittees. In 2000, CAC members were instrumental in areas including Budget Steering, Nutrient Trading, Toxics, Communication and Education, Living Resources, small watersheds, general program implementation and many others.
It is difficult to quantify the contributions of the thousands of hours that these volunteers invest in the Chesapeake Bay Program. Suffice to say, the unique independent perspective that CAC members bring to a process dominated by government agencies is invaluable in keeping the Bay Program on a course that is more reflective of the general public’s will and desires.