Bay Journal

December 2013 - Volume 23 - Number 9

A walk in the woods with a different kind of forester

It’s a chill November morning, the rising sun sloshing light on the tree tops. Larry Walton and I are about a half-mile into the woods that line the Nanticoke River near Vienna, MD, when he wraps his arms around a great old Atlantic white cedar.

The species once shaded thousands of acres of Delmarva Peninsula swamps with its dense, evergreen canopies, before rampant logging and wetlands destruction made cedars relatively rare. Today, you seldom see specimens like this.

I’m about to kid my friend Larry, a career commercial forester, that he’s become a tree hugger as he approaches retirement at age 65. But he’s just measuring the massive, columnar trunk to see how much wood the cedar’s added since he was here some years ago. 

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Environmental groups file legal challenges to VA pipeline

A coalition of environmental groups and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation have each appealed a state board’s decision to approve the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, the largest of two controversial natural gas projects, for which Dominion Energy is seeking approval to build across Virginia.

The Bay Foundation and the Southern Environmental Law Center, on behalf of more than a dozen environmental groups, each filed their appeals on Friday, the last day they could do so after the State Water Control Board’s Dec. 12 decision.

The board voted 4–3 that day to approve the pipeline after a tense, two-day public meeting in Richmond. Opponents of the pipeline initially claimed the approval as a partial victory, arguing that it was contingent on the state releasing more information about environmental impacts. But they later realized that merely submitting the information — with or without getting the board’s approval of its contents — would satisfy the requirements and allow the project to go forward.

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Invasive spotted lanternfly threatens Chesapeake’s crops, hardwoods

They are asleep for the winter in ugly little egg cases that look like splotches of dried mud plastered on all manner of smooth outdoor surfaces. They are found on trees, park benches, decks, walls, cars and rocks.

Experts believe that the latter, stone shipped from somewhere in its native China, was the vehicle on which the invasive spotted lanternfly first hitched a ride to Pennsylvania a little more than three years ago.

Since the lanternfly’s arrival, agricultural agencies and extension offices have been sounding the alarm and asking for help in reporting it and killing it, hoping to stave off its spread to other states in the Bay watershed. Important crops in the region at risk include apples, peaches and grape vines, as well as hardwoods such as maples, walnuts and some pine.

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MD leaders pledge support for environmental protections amid Trump rollback

Maryland’s legislative leaders delighted environmental advocates Thursday by vowing to strengthen the state’s forest conservation law, increase renewable energy and pass other green initiatives, while resisting environmental rollbacks by the Trump administration. It remains to be seen whether election-year politics will help those prospects.  

The 23rd annual environmental legislative summit in Annapolis drew a standing room only crowd to hear pitches — and pledges of support — for green groups’ top priorities during the 90-day General Assembly session that began Jan. 10.

“We’re going to make us the most environmentally friendly state in America,” House Speaker Michael Busch declared, to enthusiastic applause. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller voiced similar sentiment, predicting that amid upcoming debates over taxes, spending and other tough issues, “the one thing we’re going to agree on is the environment.”

Save the date(s) for 2018!

Celebrate the Chesapeake year-round! Get out your 2018 calendar and save these dates that mark activities and resources to help you get the most out of living near the Bay.

EPA lifts ban on pesticide known to cause brain damage in children

Science tells us that nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment are the systemic pollutants of the Bay and its tributaries. The Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint seeks to reduce those pollutants to sustainable levels.

It is working. Water quality is improving, dead zones are diminishing and underwater grasses are at levels not seen in 30 years.

But these are not the only pollutants of concern. A recent decision by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will reverse a prior agency decision to ban the use of a chemical pesticide, chlorpyrifos, which is acutely toxic to Bay life and has been found to cause brain damage in children.

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Is organic farming good for the Chesapeake?

Organic agriculture is the fastest growing sector of the food industry in the United States, and its footprint in the Chesapeake Bay watershed is growing in kind.

The brand of agriculture that eschews the use of pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics and genetically engineered ingredients now makes up 20 percent of Perdue Farms’ poultry production on the Delmarva Peninsula, where the company is headquartered.

Smaller poultry producers in the region also are growing their organic operations at a steady clip: Bell & Evans, which is based in Fredericksburg, PA, and sells its chicken meat to high-end retailers such as Whole Foods Market, launched its line of organic products in 2009 and opened a certified organic hatchery this year. Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley Organic opened its first processing facility in Harrisonburg in 2014, providing contract growers interested in making the switch with an alternative buyer in that region.

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How big was last year’s dead zone? It depends on when you ask

It was quite a surprise: Two reports on Chesapeake Bay dissolved oxygen levels in 2017 came to starkly different conclusions. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources reported improvements and a vastly reduced dead zone. The Virginia Institute of Marine Science found oxygen conditions at their worst since 2014.

Scientists at both organizations were caught off guard last fall when the seemingly contradictory findings were released within a few weeks of each other and sent them scrambling to analyze the cause. 

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Trauma center provides creature comforts for injured, ailing animals

Tucked away on the outskirts of sleepy Waynesboro, VA, there’s a bustling trauma center for sick and injured wildlife. Think “M*A*S*H” with feathers and fur, featuring the tough triage decisions doctors have to make upon admitting new patients. But here, the patient list is wildly diverse: On any given day, the Wildlife Center of Virginia might see a listless bear cub brought in sick from eating rat poison, a bald eagle dying from ingesting lead bullet fragments in a deer carcass, and a king snake run over by a lawnmower. And that’s just before noon.

The Bay Journal staff wishes you a happy holiday season

Season’s Greetings. We at Bay Journal wish you all happy holidays and a propitious New Year!

Thank you for your interest in our work, your letters to the editor, comments on coverage, and financial support (it keeps us going and is always welcome).

Have a healthy and safe holiday season, then join us in the New Year as we continue to explore the conservation issues facing the Bay and its watershed.

Geologists putting region’s overlooked streams on the map

When geologist Andrew Elmore came to the University of Maryland’s Appalachian Laboratory in 2008, he wanted to familiarize himself with the data on the area’s streams, the bedrock of his area of study.

It didn’t take long for Elmore to realize the data he sought didn’t exist.

The National Hydrography Dataset, which the U.S. Geological Survey has used for more nearly 100 years to map streams, was missing many of the waterways. Some of the unmapped streams had been buried long ago, trapped in culverts to facilitate development. Others were too small to be part of the map. Still others were so deep in forests that those charged with searching for the streams never found them.

Lag times’ impact on Bay cleanup no drop in the bucket

Pull a bucket of water from the Chesapeake, and each drop will most likely be from a different place and tell a different story about how it got there.

For some, it’s been a pretty short trip that started as a drop of rain that smacked into a parking lot, then flushed quickly into a local stream and reached the Bay a few days later.

Some may have soaked into Piedmont soil a decade ago and only recently emerged in a stream after traveling through groundwater.

Some drops from the Eastern Shore may have fallen as rain when John F. Kennedy was president, seeped into the Delmarva’s slow-moving aquifers, and now, after 50 years, made it to the Bay.

Start the New Year on the right foot

Americans across the country have found yet another way to celebrate the start of a New Year — this time in the great outdoors with a First Day Hike on Jan. 1.

In 2013, more than 22,000 people logged a total of 43,011 miles on guided First Day Hikes that took place in all 50 states.

So when New Year’s Day arrives in 2014, pull on your boots and put the children in the car because there’s likely a First Day Hike at a state park near you.

Massive bee die-off coincides with use of systemic insecticide

In July 2012, beekeeper Steve McDaniel peered into one of his most productive hives and saw healthy, busy honeybees. He and his wife left for a week’s vacation, confident they could begin collecting the honey after a break at the ocean.

When they returned, the bees were dead. The honey was gone. The few guard bees that remained alive were listless.

Over the next several months, colony after colony on his Carroll County farm succumbed. In all, he lost 13 of 20 colonies. In 35 years of raising bees, McDaniel had never seen anything like it.

CREP helped plant seed of conservation in landowner’s outlook

Cliff Miller is the third of four J. Clifford Millers in his family. He’s the sixth of seven generations of a family that has owned and, at times, lived on an 845-acre property since 1827.

He knows what it means to have “a long-term association with the land.”

And he knows what it takes to — at an age when most are looking to retire — completely rethink his relationship to that land and how it’s managed.

“It was in our heritage and we wanted to continue to own it,” Miller, now 72, said during a drive through his property in October. “To do that, we needed to make some changes.”

VA Tidewater communities educating themselves on fracking issues

The Facebook page of Ruby Brabo, Dahlgren District’s county supervisor of King George County, VA, is all about communicating with her constituents: reminding them to “fall back” for the time change or reporting job postings or a minor school bus fender-bender that might delay their children’s getting home from school.

Brabo has also posted information about the number of leases sold by landowners in King George and counties to the east and south to Shore Exploration & Production Development Corp. of Dallas, TX, since 2011.

The leases convey mineral rights to deposits containing natural gas or oil that may lie 3,000–10,000 feet beneath their property in a geologic formation called the Taylorsville Basin.

River herring making a comeback in Patapsco River

Given the traffic roaring by along Interstate 895 as a backdrop and century-long reputation as a dumping ground, the Patapsco River, where it runs beside Baltimore’s South West Area Park, hardly seems a likely haven for rare fish.

Yet the river this year became the only place around the Bay to stock river herring.

River herring — alewife and blueback herring — were once among the most abundant species in the Chesapeake, but their populations are so low all along the East Coast that they were recently considered for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Frank Hamons, MD port official who navigated stormy issues, retires

The son of a baseball scout, Frank Hamons moved dozens of times before graduating from college. Always the new kid at school, he learned quickly how to make friends so he could survive the next few months. He learned to take in the mood of a lunch table, lose the accent from wherever he lived last and defuse hostile situations.

Those lessons prepared the future deputy director of harbor development at the Maryland Port Administration well for his first days on the job in 1980. He walked into a battle over placing dredge material at Baltimore County’s Hart-Miller Island that was so contentious it went all the way to the Supreme Court. Always being the new kid also armed him well for the fights to come, from little skirmishes about the port’s projects to the all-out war on the disposal of dredge material in the open waters of the Chesapeake in the 1990s.

Blue catfish taking bite out of key species

A new study confirms that nonnative blue catfish around the Chesapeake have the potential to take a significant bite out of populations of important native species such as blue crabs and river herring.

The study examined the diets of blue catfish in portions of several Virginia tributaries and concluded they “may contribute to substantial losses of key fishery resources.”

Those losses could be “ecologically significant” for some species such as blueback herring, whose populations are already at low levels, the study concluded.

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