Wetlands 42 [no change from 2000]
Despite a new law and regulations governing wetlands in Virginia, losses continue to occur, offsetting promising gains from increasingly widespread restoration projects. Virginia’s regulations implementing its state law governing nontidal wetlands went fully into effect in October 2001. Despite the law, local court decisions have allowed the continued destruction of wetlands, and large projects such as the King William reservoir threaten hundreds of additional acres.
Forested Buffers 54 [+1 from 2000]
The CBF estimates that riparian forests buffer 54 percent of the watershed’s 110,000 miles of streams and shorelines. More than 1,000 miles of streamside buffers have been restored throughout the watershed through programs such as the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program. Maryland announced that it has already reached its initial 2010 buffer goal and Pennsylvania has devoted significant funding for restoration efforts. The extent of buffers lost to development, remains unknown and of concern.
Underwater Grasses 12 [no change from 2000]
Again this year, underwater grasses showed no substantial improvement Bay-wide, with increases in some areas and declines in others. Underwater grasses remain at 12 percent of their historic levels and below their recent peak in 1994.
Resource Lands 30 [-3 from 2000]
Recent government estimates, although not universally accepted as accurate, indicate that the annual rate of open land loss in the watershed has increased substantially beyond the 90,000 acres estimated by the CBF in past reports. Although the U.S. Department of Agriculture pegs the number at 128,000 acres, the CBF believes it is probably less. Because of the lack of consensus, it has reduced the index only slightly.
Water Clarity 15 [no change from 2000]
Water clarity remains seriously degraded. New EPA analyses of status and trends in the Bay and its tributaries show widespread poor water clarity — with many of the major tributaries still getting worse. Without clear water, sunlight cannot penetrate strongly enough to the Bay’s bottom to give underwater grasses the energy they need to grow.
Phosphorus & Nitrogen 15 [No Change from 2000]
In a year of average rainfall, pollution from nitrogen and phosphorus remained at the high levels of the recent past, with resulting algae blooms and fish kills occurring at what has become “typical” levels. Estimates from the EPA’s Bay Program Office suggest that nutrients must be reduced by roughly 50 percent from today’s levels to reach the 2010 goals for water clarity, dissolved oxygen and underwater grasses.
Toxics 30 [no change from 2000]
Despite encouraging actions, including a strong new permit reducing toxic pollution from the Bethlehem Steel plant in Baltimore, a large amount of toxic materials continues to enter the Bay watershed. Therefore, the CBF’s index remains at 30, which indicates a degraded Bay.
Dissolved Oxygen 15 [no change from 2000]
The Bay’s “dead zone,” although not as large and notorious as that in the Gulf of Mexico, was evident again this year and does not appear to have shrunk. Fish kills that appeared to result from anoxia occurred in “typical” numbers. Reductions in nitrogen and phosphorus pollution from all sources are essential to restoring adequate oxygen levels.
Fish & Shellfish
Crabs 42 [-4 from 2000]
An increasing amount of scientific information, as well as another year of extremely low harvests, indicates that the crab population is in even more trouble than previously thought, leading to a four-point decrease in the score for 2001. Intense fishing pressure and extremely low levels of underwater grasses, especially in areas critical to the crab’s life cycle, continue to depress the abundance of crabs. Efforts led by the Bi-State Blue Crab Advisory Committee are under way to reduce fishing pressure significantly over a three-year period, but it is too soon to evaluate their effectiveness.
Rockfish 75 [no change from 2000]
A vibrant Chesapeake Bay fishery is offset by continuing concerns that there are too few large, old fish. In addition, it is increasingly apparent that the population is kept down by the limited abundance of its food supply, particularly menhaden.
Oysters 2 [no change from 2000]
Restoration efforts continued to move forward this year, but population levels are still exceedingly low by historic perspectives, keeping the index at two. Although the rating for oysters did not change, last year held many positive developments for this keystone species. Spurred by the Chesapeake 2000 commitment to increase oyster populations tenfold by 2010, significant additional funding was secured from federal, state, and private sources. Major new sanctuary reef projects are under way and more citizens than ever are committed to growing oysters and returning them to reefs.
Shad 5 [+1 from 2000]
Record shad numbers returning to the Susquehanna River, as well as strong runs in other systems, are responsible for the increase this year. Still, the Bay’s shad population remains at only a fraction of its pre-colonial level.