Bay Journal

April 2014 - Volume 24 - Number 2

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.

DC forging path to restore C&O Canal as Georgetown destination

Less than one of the 184.5 miles that make up the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal is located in the District of Columbia, where it originates.

This section of the canal in historic Georgetown is the last remnant in the nation’s capital of a bygone transportation era that lasted for nearly a century.

And it has seen better days.

Oyster restoration at Harris Creek showing real promise

Hidden under the surface of Maryland’s Harris Creek is what looks like — at least for now — one of the Bay’s greatest successes. It is, unfortunately, one that hardly anyone can see.

Work completed through the end of last year restored 188.6 acres of oyster reef habitat on the bottom of the Choptank River tributary, most of it in places more than 6 feet deep.

That’s already made it more than twice the size of any sanctuary-based oyster restoration previously undertaken around the Bay. Yet another 85 acres of new reef construction is under contract — some is already under way — for this year.

Public access authorities preserving coastal access in VA

State Road 110 in Gloucester County ends in a small parking lot, crowded in between modest homes to one side and Belvins Seafood warehouse on the other.

There’s parking for eight cars, a boat ramp and a commercial wharf that’s recently been expanded to accommodate up to 15 boats.

On a cold and overcast February afternoon, this road ending — and the pier beyond — seemed unremarkable, blending into a gray landscape and the watery horizon a half mile beyond where the Perrin River empties into the York River.

With river in his blood, Fred Tutman stands his ground wholeheartedly

Fred Tutman’s office’s backyard features a postcard-perfect view of his beloved Patuxent River. Clumps of brown spatterdock are turning tan, creating a lovely marshy look as the late afternoon sun dips. Boats glide through the channel, their captains waving as they pass. The first osprey of the year surges past the purple martin birdhouses on its dive for a fish.

But the longtime Patuxent Riverkeeper looks deeper and sees something disturbing: a continued assault on Maryland’s longest river — a waterbody that can’t speak for itself — from development and industry, as well as a history of injustices in which the wealthiest communities receive the best environmental protection.

Scientists: New Bay goals should be based on results, not numbers

Over the last year, Bay Program officials have been immersed in setting quantifiable objectives to include in a new Bay agreement. How many acres of wetlands should be restored? How many acres of forest buffers planted? Even how many blue crabs should be in the Bay.

But scientists advising the state-federal partnership say agreement writers are on the wrong track.

Boat rental service could boost access on the Bay

Boatbound, the fastest growing peer-to-peer boat rental company in the country, plans to officially launch its service in the Chesapeake Bay region this summer. The addition of similar rental operations could improve boating access in the region while making boat ownership more affordable.

Boatbound co-founder Aaron Hall lived in Arlington, VA, for nearly a decade before launching the startup venture out of California last year — and he’s been wanting to bring it back to the Chesapeake ever since.

Local actions leading to better water quality in some watersheds

When one looks at the Bay as a whole, the picture is often grim. Water clarity is worsening, underwater grass beds are declining, and oxygen-starved dead zones aren’t going away.

But when taking a broader look at the rivers that feed the Chesapeake, a new report points out, there are numerous, though scattered, signs of success throughout its watershed.

Plan to export liquefied gas at Cove Point divides community

When Keith Lavender tells his Southern Maryland neighbors that he works at the Cove Point liquefied natural gas plant, most have no idea where it is. No, not the nuclear plant at Calvert Cliffs; that’s two miles away. No, not the coal-fired plant at Chalk Point; that’s in the next county. If they still look blank, Lavender tells them it’s that platform in the Chesapeake where the fishing used to be so good.

Lavender’s explanations are about to become much shorter. Cove Point LNG’s owner, Richmond-based Dominion Resources, plans to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) from its 131-acre plant in Lusby. If its plans are approved, the plant will send out 85 LNG tankers a year, build its own power plant to chill and liquefy the gas, and bring in more than a thousand workers to complete a vast construction project on these once-sleepy shores eight miles north of Solomons Island.

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