Simple truths - that may be an oxymoron. Already I can see the Bay scientists rushing to their computers to remind me that managing a large watershed and a complex ecosystem is never simple. That's fair enough. But if we can't translate those complexities into a few simple truths, how can we hope to have the public's support or to even set a clear course for ourselves?
After eight years as a Bay Program "insider," here are a few of my "simple truths," designed mainly to get us to think outside the box and to seek better ways of managing and protecting this valuable resource we all love.
SIMPLE TRUTH #1
This Is a Lot More than a Cleanup Program
We've all done it - called it the Bay Cleanup. Don't get me wrong, water quality is important - vitally important. But is is only one of several issues critical to the health of the Bay. It may not even be the most important. In any case, unless we address all of these issues with the same vigor, we are not likely to "Save the Bay."
SIMPLE TRUTH #2
We've Got to Improve our Fisheries Management
I've come to believe that overharvesting is the single most important cause of the decline of the Bay. I may not be able to convince you of that, but I can provide evidence in just a few examples.
Where have all the oysters gone? On one of my skipjack sails, the old oysterman who was with us didn't have much doubt about where or why. He told stories about illegal nighttime dredging under power with the push boat. He was clear about where he thought the oysters went - we dredged them to near extinction.
But what about the disease theory? In my opinion, that's just another example of the "We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Someone Else" Syndrome. (More on that later.)
The diseases are real, but as one presenter at a Chesapeake Bay Program Implementation Committee so accurately pointed out, they mostly became a problem after we harvested and ate all the disease-resistant oysters.
Another example is my version of the striped bass "success" story. For me, it is a story of egregious failure that is useful only if we learn from itand take measures to prevent it from happening again. My version goes something like this:
We were badly overharvesting striped bass, and in spite of numerous warning signs, we did not take the necessary measures to preserve the stock. Finally, a massive collapse of the species occurred. A multiyear fishing moratorium was declared, and luck and Mother Nature restored the striped bass. The lesson for me is not about "success" but rather the need for wisdom and courage - the wisdom to recognize the warning signs of overharvest sooner and the courage to act before a crisis is reached.
SIMPLE TRUTH #3
"We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Someone Else" Is So Much Easier than "We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us"
Just to prove how simple-minded I am, I believe Pogo's revelation sitting on his skiff in the Okefenokee Swamp was one of the defining moments of the 20th century. Taking responsibility for our own actions is difficult. Watermen, heal thyselves! Farmers, you have a nutrient problem! Is the source of pollution the factory down the street, or is it my home as well? Collectively, the enemy is us, and we forget this at our own peril and the Bay's.
SIMPLE TRUTH # 4
There Are Too Many People on the Planet
We are trying to address the growth issue by coming at it in a politically acceptable fashion - by looking at ways of accommodating growth with measures that will minimize the adverse impacts of development. Indeed, this approach has great promise. But ultimately, there are limits to how many people this watershed (or planet) can hold. This is one of the Bay's unmentionables. Don't expect a government-sponsored program to tackle this issue. But as citizens of a free society, we should not ignore the question. How many people, and animals, and automobiles can this region tolerate and still sustain its natural beauty and productivity?
SIMPLE TRUTH #5
Poop is Poop
Great wisdom like this comes from reading books to my 4-year-old grandson. Imagine all I'll know as I spend more time with him and can do more research. The point is that we spend considerable time trying to project the impact of human population growth. We need to also be looking at the large and growing concentrated animal populations in the basin - from Pennsylvania to the Eastern Shore to the Shenandoah Valley and the South Branch Potomac in West Virginia. My grandson's book explains that "Everyone Poops," including cows, pigs and chickens. Poop is poop, and we already have too much.
SIMPLE TRUTH #6
We Need to Look at Who Pays and Who Gains
Another topic we try not to talk about it in the Bay Program is who pays and who gains.
I'm a strong believer in a "whole basin" approach to environmental management and the need for cooperation across jurisdictional lines. But at some point, the dual questions of who pays and who gains needs to be asked. A clean productive Chesapeake Bay is worth hundreds of billions of dollars to Maryland and Virginia. It adds very little to the economies of Pennsylvania or West Virginia or New York. Yet, at times I've been amazed at the reluctance of our Bay partner states to invest in a cleaner Bay. (Given the return on the dollar, its seems like a no-brainer.) It's also somewhat amusing to see the looks of outrage and disbelief when Pennsylvanians or residents of other states are less than enthused about major new investments for a cleaner Bay.
SIMPLE TRUTH #7
What Appears to Be Our Biggest Weakness is Our Greatest Strength
In all my years with the Bay Program, the most frequent criticism I've heard and the one I've had the most difficulty overcoming is "Oh, that's the overbloated bureaucratic mess with all those committees and meetings in Annapolis." It's hard to overcome first impressions. How do you explain the need to reach consensus among three states and a host of federal agencies - not to mention citizens, local governments, a large scientific community and the business community? At times, it seems an impossible task, but it works - not perfectly, but it works. I've come to realize that these institutional arrangements - that even directly involve the legislative branches of three states as equal partners - are the program's greatest strength. Consensus is never easy. That this cooperative venture works at all is amazing. This sort of partnership needs to be happening worldwide. Which brings me to ...
SIMPLE TRUTH #8
Look Around, Life Exists Beyond the Chesapeake
Because I am moving to Arizona, where water is a fighting word, I would like to say that I'm taking the lessons that I've learned on this little East Coast mud puddle and transferring them to a real basin (the Colorado) and a true enclosed coastal sea - the Gulf of California, Steinbeck's Cortez Sea. It is more than three times the size of the Chesapeake. So what's my point? Only that hundreds of valuable estuarine systems throughout the United States and neighboring countries need our protection as well. The Chesapeake is not the only estuary in the world, nor is it the most endangered. I'm not suggesting that we should lessen our efforts, but only that we maintain some perspective.
SIMPLE TRUTH #9
Eight is Way Over One Person's Quota for Simple Truths