Bay Journal

June 2014 - Volume 24 - Number 4
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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.

Resolve to do the best you can to advance clean water in 2018

As we start to turn the page on 2017, I wanted to brainstorm some ideas for resolutions we can share as a community for 2018.

The new year is a time to reflect on where we’ve been and what we’ve accomplished in the past year and to commit to new habits and practices moving forward. The start of a new year is a time of transition and an opportunity for intentionality. In this list of resolutions, I offer some thoughts on opportunities that we, as the community focused on improving the Chesapeake region, have together in 2018.

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Hogan announces MD will join state coalition to fight climate change

Declaring that the need for states to work together to fight climate change “grows stronger every day,” Gov. Larry Hogan announced Wednesday that Maryland would join the U.S. Climate Alliance, a mostly Democratic coalition of states committed to reducing greenhouse gases.

The move, disclosed in a letter released by Hogan’s office, represents a shift for the Republican governor, who had remained noncommittal to pleas last year for Maryland to join the alliance, saying he wasn’t sure what the group’s intentions were.

In the letter to the alliance, Hogan recalled that he had publicly disagreed with President Donald Trump’s decision last year to withdraw from the 2015 Paris climate accord reached by nearly 200 nations, including the United States.

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PA fishing fee politics could close shad hatchery on the Juniata

Since it began rearing shad 41 years ago, Pennsylvania’s Van Dyke Research Station has released more than 227 million tiny fish into the Susquehanna River basin.

But this might be the last year that the hatchery — located along the Juniata River, one of the Susquehanna’s main tributaries — rears and releases the migratory fish. The operation may fall victim to a budget dispute between lawmakers and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.

Larger-than-average dead zone predicted for Bay this summer

A slightly larger-than-average dead zone is predicted for the Chesapeake Bay during the early portion of this summer, scientists say.

The prediction, which means fish and shellfish will find substantial portions of the Bay off-limits because it has too little oxygen, is driven largely by a slightly higher-than-average amount of nitrogen reaching the Bay from the Susquehanna River during the first five months of the year.

New Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement is more pragmatic than its predecessors

The Chesapeake Bay restoration effort gained new partners — and new goals — as leaders approved a multi-state agreement that they insist will hold them, and their successors, more accountable in producing real results.

After nearly a year-and-a-half of negotiations, the Chesapeake Executive Council on June 16 signed its Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, which pledges to restore water quality, improve habitats, conserve more land and expand environmental education, among other goals.

Task force sets goal of increasing streamside forest buffers

A task force will convene in each Bay state beginning in July to identify needed changes to state and federal programs to reverse sharp declines in streamside forest plantings seen in recent years.

Streamside forest buffers can be highly effective at reducing runoff and also improve stream health and aquatic habitats. The new Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement calls for planting 900 miles a year, and state cleanup plans call for planting even more to meet Bay cleanup goals.

Members of Congress join legal challenge to Bay cleanup plan

Thirty-nine members of Congress last week sought to join agricultural and homebuilder groups in their legal challenge to the Bay cleanup plan, saying the EPA went “far beyond” its authority when it set limits on Bay pollution and required states to develop plans showing how they would meet those limits.

The group, which includes 11 members from the Bay watershed, contend that the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load, if allowed to stand, would “usurp…traditional state authority over economic development and land use management decisions.”

New rules for transporting oyster seed in Bay region proposed

Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources may soon change the way it issues permits for transporting shellfish over state lines.

Currently, oyster growers in Maryland need a shellfish transport permit to import seed or oyster larvae across state lines — even if that line is just a few miles away in Virginia. Maryland law requires the hatcheries supplying the seed to test each batch to make sure they’re free of the pathogens that cause MSX and Dermo, the two oyster diseases that have devastated populations in the last 50 years. The testing can take several weeks, and the “health certificate” is good for 30 days. That means if oyster growers need more seeds a couple of months later, they will have to endure the process again.

Ignoring growth won’t make it go away, nor restore the Chesapeake

Growth is good. Growth is necessary. Growth will come. Growth can be accommodated. These are the greatest, most uncritically accepted and fatally flawed assumptions made by those charged with protecting Chesapeake Bay.” — “Growing, Growing, Gone,” an Abell Foundation report, 2008.

Six years after the author of this piece wrote the “Growing, Growing, Gone” report for the Baltimore-based Abell Foundation, limiting growth remains absent from discussions on restoring the Chesapeake ecosystem. It is the missing piece of the puzzle, the taboo subject.

MD to study ocean acidification’s effects on Bay’s oysters

As waters worldwide become more acidic from an increase of carbon in the atmosphere, Maryland is devising a plan to better understand acidification in the Chesapeake and other waters of the state to determine whether it will become a problem for oysters.

A new law, House Bill 118, which passed easily in the 2014 legislative session, established a task force that the Department of Natural Resources will staff. Other task force members will include representatives from the Maryland Department of the Environment, the Maryland Watermen’s Association, the National Aquarium and the state’s aquaculture industry.

Coastal program turning the tide for VA’s working waterfront towns

The replica paddle wheel steamer, the City of Fredericksburg, was high and dry, cradled on a 150-ton marine railway at Chesapeake Boat Works in Deltaville, VA.

Jon Farinholt watched as more than half of the 25 boatyard staff removed the sand that the most recent high tide deposited around the railway’s steel beams tracking from the railway’s engine shed into the water of Fishing Bay off the Piankatank River.

Farinholt pointed to a second railway lying idle next to the first. “This railway was rated to 300-tons, but the underwater sections of rail supports are rotting, and we had to stop using it last year.”

New rules for transporting oyster seed in Bay region proposed

Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources may soon change the way it issues permits for transporting shellfish over state lines.

Currently, oyster growers in Maryland need a shellfish transport permit to import seed or oyster larvae across state lines — even if that line is just a few miles away in Virginia. Maryland law requires the hatcheries supplying the seed to test each batch to make sure they’re free of the pathogens that cause MSX and Dermo, the two oyster diseases that have devastated populations in the last 50 years. The testing can take several weeks, and the “health certificate” is good for 30 days. That means if oyster growers need more seeds a couple of months later, they will have to endure the process again.

Turns out that when the going got tough, Bay’s oysters got tougher

Not long ago, Ryan Carnegie decided to take a look at some old samples of the oyster parasite dermo that had been archived for decades at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

What the shellfish pathologist saw when he peered at Perkinsus marinus through the microscope may change the way people look at oyster disease in Chesapeake Bay.

“The first sample I looked at was like, ‘Wow, this is not our Perkinsus,’” Carnegie recalled.

Scientists baffled by drop in Bay’s crab population

Fishery managers are moving forward with proposals to slash harvest pressure on female blue crabs by 10 percent after an annual survey found their numbers had dipped slightly below the level deemed “safe” by scientists.

But managers and watermen alike are frustrated that the iconic blue crab population — after showing signs of recovery — has slipped back to low levels seen prior to ramped-up management efforts imposed in 2008 that included an initial 33 percent reduction in fishing pressure on adult females. There is no single, clear explanation for the decline.

Green infrastructure jobs outpacing pool of skilled workers

It’s clear that stormwater projects are going to bring a deluge of jobs to counties and municipalities in the Chesapeake Bay watershed at a time when recession-weary workers are looking for steady employment.

But it’s less clear that the people who want those jobs will have the skills to do them.

The new jobs include landscaping, installing rain barrels and rain gardens, engineering new storm drain outfalls and fixing old ones. But they will also include monitoring green-infrastructure projects to ensure they are reducing runoff; measuring the runoff that’s there; designing and maintaining computer apps that allow for easy data entry on project sites; and more jobs that have yet to be created.

Winter Wildlife Fest 2018

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