How good is good?

There is a problem in talking about environmental improvements in the Chesapeake Bay when we use conditions from the recent past as our base of comparison. While it is good to know whether things are headed up or down in the near term (i.e., SAV acreage is up from earlier years, oyster stocks are up over the past year, etc.), the Bay has already been significantly degraded and we need to capture this in our discussion of change. Compared with when the Bay was healthy, all of our desired parameters are in low numbers and all of our less desired parameters are in continued overabundance.

Take the discussion of SAV in the June Bay Journal. From the article, we are told that there has been an 8 percent increase in Bay grass acreage from 1998 to 1999. This is good, but how good? We don’t know the estimated acreage of Bay SAV in its pristine state, but we do know the estimates for Tangier Sound. It was about 3 times the current 6,612 acres or 19,838 acres. The SAV increase in Tangier Sound in 1999 was not 8 percent but more like 60 percent. The way to put this big improvement into proper perspective is to consider how much of the Sound returned to grasses, relative to how it was when it was healthy. That is, in 1998, the Sound’s grass beds had shrunk to one third their 1992 size. In 1999, they had rebounded to one half the 1992 acreage. Good, but current acreage still has to double, to get back to the 1992 level.

Now assume that the increase in the Tangier Sound SAV beds was only 8 percent. Then, using the same numbers as above, we would have gone from having one third (33 percent) the healthy SAV acreage to having 36 percent of it. A change of 3 percentage points. If the rest of the Bay grasses were as severely diminished as Tangier Sound’s (and, maybe not against 1992 but certainly against the pristine state, this is probably not too wild an assumption) then we would have seen an improvement toward our overall Bay goal of 3/100.

I don’t intend to rain on good news. But, as our goal is a healthy Bay, we should keep our eyes fixed firmly on that prize. If we have moved from one third of the original SAV endowment to 36 percent of it, this is good news, but it is not nearly good enough.

And, if the improvement was more significant than that, we need to know that, too. This issue comes up in a number of other venues — in particular news about oyster stocks and other fisheries. When scientists talk about percentage change in terms of existing, diminished stocks, it all sounds great. But if you use an estimate of traditional stocks as your base, the picture changes significantly.

The important issue for the long haul is how we are doing against our goal — a healthy Bay. Measuring things in terms of our goal keeps us aware of how far we have yet to travel, and, knowing how far we have to go is essential to getting there in a timely fashion.

Robert Wieland
Trappe, MD

Preserve open space or face consequences

In “Bay leaders agree to curb sprawl, protect open space,” [June 2000] I note a significant omission. There is no indication as to what measures will be taken if the signatories of the new Chesapeake 2000 Agreement do not meet their proclaimed goals to slow sprawl and preserve 20 percent of the watershed’s open space.

I note in the discussion of a deadline to reduce sediment and nutrient pollution by 2010 that if the goal is not achieved by that (distant) deadline, then an alternative enforceable cleanup plant (TMDL) would be instituted.

Is there a similar enforcement provision in the Chesapeake 2000 Agreement that would be triggered if the states in the watershed fail to meet their conservation goals?

Please specify what the consequences will be for the states in question if the agreement’s provisions on fighting sprawl and preserving open space are not met.

Ed Morrison
Alexandria, VA

Centralized installations contribute to area’s sprawl

Cliff Terry’s commentary, “Unless we control population growth, we’re only delaying Bay’s decline,” [April 2000] does not mention the single most important factor promoting growth in the Bay area, i.e. the federal government.

In all of the debates about the role, efficiency and expansion of the federal government, nothing is ever said or written concerning the wisdom from all angles, including the environmental, of continuing to pile up federal installations in the Baltimore-Washington-Richmond region.

Not only do these installations house workers who necessarily live in the region, but they also attract vast numbers of private sector service and technical support organizations, as well as lobbying, legal, public relations and nonprofit organizations. The whole bundle makes for an ever-expanding mass of employees whose individual and family demands put uncontrollable and constantly growing pressures on the regional environment, including the Bay.

In the age of the internet, the closed-circuit TV network, the video-telephone connection and all the rest, it is simply ridiculous to assume that all of the federal department, agency, board commission, investigatory machinery, etc., that installations and headquarters now extant in the region need to remain here.

If the Bay is to survive, the federal government will have to set concrete goals for decentralization to other parts of the United States. Otherwise, Bay lovers are fighting a losing battle.

Joseph C. Doherty
Chestertown, MD

Immigration curbs needed

It is troubling to find that a commentary on human population growth in the Bay area can appear in the Bay Journal, [“Unless we control population growth, we’re only delaying Bay’s decline,” April 2000] with its generally topnotch, well-researched articles, and see no mention of problems wrought by immigration.

Virginia’s population has increased more than 50 percent in the last 30 years, with terrific negative impacts on habitat, forest fragmentation, water pollution, water scarcity and so forth. This pattern has been occurring in most states and in fact, few people realize that the United States has already passed the official mid-1960’s population projection for the year 2050.

Why is this occurring and why is Virginia growing even more rapidly? There are the problems of tax-subsidized second homes, especially in waterfront areas; the problems of households increasing faster than the population; and the problems of sprawl, but central to the issue are the changes to U.S. immigration policy in 1965 and again in 1980.

These changes have brought a surge in legal foreign immigrants to our shores, and without them, our population change would be generally flat. This onslaught of people is unprecedented in the history of the United States, and there is no sign of a change in immigration policy or even in debate or public knowledge of the situation.

Population growth is not necessary for a growing economy (Witness the United Kingdom and many Western European countries with flat population growth.) and immigrants are not needed for low-paying service jobs which have held down wages for entry positions and diminished collective bargaining efficiencies.

This writer is the first to point out that ethnic diversity strengthens our country. But a 40-year surge of immigration — which has pushed forward our population growth by almost 80 years — and which will continue to push it faster and faster, is not a desirable public policy.

When I queried Bill Matuszeski, the regional EPA director, on this issue at the Forest Fragmentation Conference in Annapolis last fall, he stated that Virginia could easily contain a billion people. I suggest that this poppycock mentality is the most serious impediment to the environmental improvement of the Chesapeake Bay region.

John M. Roberts
Richmond, VA

Growth is growth

S. Robert Kaufman, in his May letter, “Better, not less, development” would convince us that development is good for the Bay. He would have us believe that clustering, density zoning and other gimmicks would take the growth out of growth.

No matter how you slice it, growth is growth and the impacts are inescapable and irreversible. Unfortunately, we live with a public mindset where not to be in favor of development is anarchy.

To propose zero growth would be to do a “John Rocker.” Yet that may be the only thing that can save the Bay.

During the last decade or so, there have been enough scientific studies to portray the fragmentation of the watershed lands. What is happening in Maryland is only a small part of the whole picture.

Mr. Kaufman says we are controlling population. I submit we are doing just the opposite. Now that our country has opened its doors wide to mass immigration, the world is pouring in on us. And, believe it or not, they all have to live somewhere.

Mr. Kaufman makes a case for development. I make a case for reality.

H.H. Bush
Bridgewater, VA