Bay Journal

July-August 2014 - Volume 24 - Number 5

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.

Task force looking for ways to control invasive blue catfish

People may not learn to love blue catfish in the Chesapeake Bay, but perhaps they will learn to love them on their plate.

A draft report from a task force that spent more than a year looking for ways to deal with the large, voracious — and rapidly expanding — blue catfish population acknowledges that the invasive species has likely become a permanent resident of the Bay, and says action is needed to prevent “irreversible” harm to the ecosystem.

Tool would significantly cut phosphorus runoff in MD

Maryland’s proposed, but controversial, Phosphorus Management Tool would help achieve significant nutrient reductions from the state’s agricultural lands if implemented, according to an analysis by the Bay Program.

The phosphorus tool, which was proposed by the state Department of Agriculture last year, uses information about phosphorus concentrations in soil and other site-specific conditions to determine the likelihood that the nutrient would run off fields and into waterways. Farmers could be prohibited from applying additional phosphorus to fields that score too high.

Chefs hope to get area hooked on local fish, sustainability

After 15 years of restaurant ownership in the District of Columbia area, all the while harboring a particular passion for seafood, chef Robert Wiedmaier decided the best way to get onto the water more often was to buy a boat (or two) and a historic estate along the Chesapeake Bay.

“This is the Patuxent River,” he said on a cool morning in July, steering his 18-foot Parker as he narrated the familiar scene. “We’re right at the mouth, which is nice for fishing, because we can be out in the Chesapeake Bay in eight minutes.”

With Wiedmaier at the helm, his longtime fishing buddy and fellow chef, David Guas, set up a half dozen fishing lines to troll not far from the dock.

Balloons are no cause for celebration if you are a marine animal

Christina Trapani pulled a metallic-coated balloon, ribbon still attached, from the sandy beach on Fisherman’s Island — one of 22 that eventually were recovered from a quarter-mile of beach she and her team survey for Virginia’s marine debris program.

Trapani, from the Virginia Aquarium’s Stranding Response Program, knows that for every balloon she extracts from the sand, hundreds more have made their way into rivers, coastal waters and open ocean — and into the stomachs of sea turtles and other marine animals that mistake them for a favorite food, jellyfish.

VA’s marine debris program strives to change trashy behavior

At low tide on Fisherman’s Island, ghost crabs scurried in and out of holes on a beach still wet from the receding tide, their travels periodically interrupted by a small group of people walking slowly and peering intently at the sand.

The people were a team of marine debris surveyors studying sections of this remote stretch of beach at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.

Toxic conversation: Panel addresses contaminants in local waterways

Chemical spills in West Virginia, North Carolina and Virginia this year have brought toxics to the forefront of discussions about common pollutants in the Chesapeake Bay, even though each of them occurred just outside the watershed.

A panel discussion on toxics and water quality at the Choose Clean Water Coalition conference in Staunton, VA, in early June brought to light how little is known about substances that, in many cases, are permitted to be released into waterways. The panel included local experts on toxic contamination who discussed current regulations, with a focus on the status of permits and laws in Virginia.

Despite higher score, Baltimore waterways still get failing grade

Baltimore’s harbor and the streams that feed into it again merited a failing grade on their 2013 annual report card, indicating the waters around the metro area suffer from continued loads of nitrogen, phosphorus, sediment and garbage.

The report card, which is part of the Healthy Harbor initiative of Blue Water Baltimore and the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore, looks at multiple indicators of human health and pollution, and maps where they are, before giving its grade. Factors include dissolved oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus, chlorophyll a and water clarity. It also looks at conductivity from chemicals, particularly those laden with salt, and fecal coliform bacteria, which is coming from sewage and septic systems.

Census: Farmland growing in Bay states

After decades of decline, one resource in the Bay watershed is making a comeback — farmland.

Figures from the most recent agricultural census from the U.S. Department of Agriculture showed that the Bay watershed gained about 125,000 acres of agricultural land between 2007 and 2012, bringing the total to more than 12.6 million acres of crops, pastures and other farmland.

While that’s small — and within the census’ margin of error — it does signal that the region’s once precipitous rate of farmland loss halted in recent years as the housing market weakened and prices for many crops hit record highs.

VA groups influence gas decisions through education, cooperation

While the country enjoys relatively stable energy prices, largely because of the increase in natural gas development, residents in parts of Virginia remain unsure how their communities will contribute to the supply.

But conservation, land trust and citizen groups are taking lessons learned from fracking educational campaigns in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley and applying them to their work with Virginia’s Tidewater communities that lie atop the Taylorsville shale oil basin.

In 2010, a Texas gas developer sought a special use permit from Rockingham County in the Shenandoah Valley to drill into Marcellus Shale.

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