Bay Journal

June 2015 - Volume 25 - Number 4
Lead story image

Tiny insect toppling region’s majestic hemlocks

The grave of John McCaskey rests on a Pennsylvania ridge top, overlooking the hemlocks he fought to protect. In the early 20th century, McCaskey helped save the stand of majestic, old growth trees from harvest. In 1973, it became a National Natural Landmark.

But the fight to save these hemlocks is not over.

The trees grow in the Hemlock Natural Area of the Tuscarora State Forest and are under attack by a small but deadly insect: the hemlock woolly adelgid. Many of the hemlocks in the natural area — some hundreds of years old — have become standing skeletons. Others lie toppled on slopes and across Patterson Run, in a slow surrender to moss and decay.

Speakers open up on population, which is usually left out of conversation

The Chesapeake Bay is troubled by many things. Manure. Sewage. Pesticides. Oil. Litter. Fertilizer. Sediment. But one source lies behind all of them — us.

According to experts at a recent conference, the growing number of people in the Chesapeake region has thwarted the Bay restoration for decades and might make achieving current cleanup goals impossible.

Most troubling, they said, is the lack of leadership and open discussion about the negative impacts of population growth.

We need to learn how to discuss population growth before talking about it

The agenda seemed straightforward for the final day of the Bay Journal’s winter conference on Growth and the Future of the Chesapeake Bay—talk about how to slow or reverse population increase, a little-discussed but significant part of the Bay’s environmental problems.

Yet, by the end of the day it seemed that before we can talk about solutions to population growth, we need a deeper discussion on how to talk about population.

We at the Bay Journal knew the subject can be controversial. Indeed, most environmental groups avoid it.

Eagle watchers want to restrict fishing near Conowingo Dam

The Conowingo Dam is a hugely popular outdoors destination. Birders flock to the enormous structure that spans the Susquehanna River to watch eagles, herons and a pair of peregrine falcons. Anglers crowd along Fishermen’s Park to cast for walleye and perch. Photographers turn their long lenses across the river to capture stunning images of eagles catching fish or feeding their young.

But one longtime dam visitor is wondering how long the user groups can co-exist. Dave Lychenheim, who runs the popular Conowingo Bald Eagles Facebook page, has become increasingly concerned that fishing hooks and fishing line are endangering the national bird, as well as the numerous cormorants and herons. Lychenheim and his supporters have launched a campaign to designate Conowingo a “sensitive bird area” and relocate the fishing pier.

MD oyster farmers form association to protect their interests

Maryland oyster farmers have formed an association to lobby for their interests in Annapolis, ease permitting red tape and educate the public about the benefits of growing bivalves.

The Maryland Shellfish Growers Association became incorporated this spring. Virginia has a similar association. There is also a regional association, the East Coast Shellfish Growers’ Association that looks out for aquaculturists’ interests in Washington, DC, and another for Southern Maryland oyster growers.

WV struggling to hold the line on trees, runoff

If there’s one sight visitors to West Virginia expect to see, it’s trees. Tree-covered mountains and tree-lined streams are central to the image of the state — and to the rest of the Chesapeake Bay’s water-quality equation.

But the eight-county portion of West Virginia that makes up its Eastern Panhandle in the Bay watershed is struggling to “hold the line” on tree canopy, let alone add more trees than it’s losing to increasing population and infrastructure projects.

“Out here, we are losing canopy at a very high rate,” said Frank Rodgers, executive director of the Cacapon Institute, a nonprofit based near its eponymous river in West Virginia.

VA seeing more ticks as species from North, South expand their range

Alexis White is, by choice, spending a lot of time this summer in places where ticks abound. White is a doctoral student at Old Dominion University, and part of a multiyear “surveillance” to determine the species and abundance of ticks throughout Virginia.

Virginia, it turns out, is a mixing bowl of tick species and the pathogens they transmit, including the most famous, Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria associated with Lyme disease. Man-made habitat alterations and climate change are culprits in the complicated ecological equation that has ticks spreading south and west from New England and north from the Gulf States.

Is renourishing beaches to fight sea level rise just a pipe dream?

This summer, visitors will flock to seaside resorts like Ocean City, MD, and Virginia Beach, seeking sun, surf and sand. But the sand would not be here — nor at the majority of beaches from Massachusetts to Florida — if it weren’t for multimillion-dollar, long-term beach replenishment projects that protect the physical and economic foundations of these beach communities from damaging storms.

Virginia Beach taxpayers invest between $2 million and $3 million annually to preserve this beachfront that draws a much-larger number of dollars from tourists who flock to this community, said Phillip Roehrs, Virginia Beach’s water resources engineer. “There’s one thing we can do quite easily to address sea level rise,” he said, “and that is to build the beaches higher.

Ruling halts Gunpowder pipeline construction

A Baltimore County Circuit judge ruled that the Maryland Department of the Environment improperly issued a permit to a gas company for its 21-mile pipeline along parts of the Gunpowder River in northern Baltimore County.

The move temporarily stops the pipe-line construction, which has riled neighbors, environmental groups and the Friends of Oregon Ridge, a county nature park that sits near the gas company right of way.

VA attorney general affirms local government authority on fracking

Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring has assured local governments in Virginia that they have the authority to restrict or ban gas drilling within their jurisdictions.

The attorney general’s opinion, issued on May 8, reverses that of his predecessor, Kenneth Cuccinelli. It stopped short of commenting on any specific local regulations and left many to believe that the courts may ultimately decide local authority.

Environmental groups, including Friends of the Rappahannock and the Southern Environmental Law Center, praised the opinion. The groups are active on Virginia’s Northern Neck and Middle peninsulas, which lie atop the Taylorsville geologic formation that the U.S. Geological Survey has identified as likely to contain commercially viable amounts of natural gas.

Report recommends helping farmers to keep cows out of streams

The Chesapeake Bay watershed includes 3.5 million livestock, among them beef and dairy cows, swine, horses, goats and sheep. More than half of those are cattle, which too often can be found standing in streams.

Cattle and streams are not a good combination. The cattle erode the stream banks, contributing to sediment loads. They defecate in the water, adding unwanted nitrogen and phosphorus and high bacteria counts. In return, the streams can harm the cattle. Cattle become susceptible to warts, foot rot, lameness and various pathogens that rodents carry. They can also drown, costing farmers thousands of dollars and much heartache.

Clean Water Conference challenges organization to seek diversity

At clean water conferences throughout the country, Jill Witkowski says someone usually stands up and makes a comment along the lines of, “Why are we so white?”

At the Choose Clean Water Coalition conference this week, which she organized, she encouraged environmental groups in attendance to make that more than a passing observation. Attendees filled out diversity surveys at the registration table to help the coalition collect baseline data about the demographics of the attendees and the groups they represented. And they had the chance to hear from speakers who specialize in both diversity and environmental justice, areas of admitted weakness for several Chesapeake Bay organizations.

“Our priority is ensuring that all the investments we make in the Bay and in the Bay cleanup are shared equitably,” Witkowski said. “People across the region should all share in the benefits of clean water.”

Harrisburg’s river projects highlighted at clean water conference

To get to this year’s Choose Clean Water Coalition conference in Harrisburg, PA., most of those traveling from other portions of the Chesapeake Bay watershed had to cross the Susquehanna River.

The 444-milelong river is the largest tributary to the Bay and gets its name from a Native American word meaing oyster river. Its more than 27,000-square-mile watershed comprises 43 percent of the land area in the Bay watershed and is where more than half of the water flowing into it originates.

As Eric Papenfuse, mayor of Harrisburg, the city that’s also the capital of Pennsylvania, said in his opening remarks at the conference that river also is “the lifeblood of Harrisburg.”

MD Public Service Commission approves Exelon-Pepco merger

The Maryland Public Service Commission last week approved the merger between Exelon and PEPCO — a move many environmental groups, as well as the Maryland attorney general, have vigorously opposed.

The commission, whose approval is required, voted 3-to-2 to allow Chicago-based Exelon to merge with PEPCO, the utility responsible for supplying power to Washington, D.C., its suburbs and a large part of the Delmarva Peninsula and New Jersey.

MD high court to rule if MDE is co-defendant in Lake Bonnie suit

Maryland’s highest court has again agreed to hear arguments in the case of a Caroline County resident who lost the use of her lake because of pollution.

The Court of Appeals granted the petition of Gail Litz, the woman who once owned the Lake Bonnie Campground, to hear her request to make the Maryland Department of the Environment a defendant along with the town of Goldsboro. Litz argued in her petition that the state failed to enforce its environmental laws and halt the pollution that ruined her lake. A lower court, the Court of Special Appeals, had ruled the case could proceed against Goldsboro, but not the state.

If the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, rules that the state should be a party to the lawsuit, it could set a precedent that Maryland is expected to enforce its consent orders. Maryland officials have said in the past that the state has discretion over what orders it enforces, and how.

Virginia Treasures initiative to conserve land, create public access

The “Virginia Treasures” initiative ushers in a new era of land conservation in the Commonwealth – one that emphasizes creating public access to natural, cultural and scenic outdoor recreation resources while continuing to protect significant natural resources through conservation easements.

Governor Terry McAuliffe set the goal of identifying, conserving and protecting at least 1,000 so called Virginia Treasures over the course of his four-year administration, which started in January 2014.

He linked the conservation goals to economic prosperity. “Parks, natural areas, agricultural lands and historic sites are part of the foundation needed to build a new Virginia economy,” Governor McAuliffe said. “These are the assets that support our thriving tourism, fishing and farming industries, and enhance the quality of life for thousands of Virginia residents.”

Blue crab population up thanks to nature, management

The Chesapeake Bay’s overall population of blue crabs increased 38 percent over last year, with high numbers of juvenile crabs that will likely be ready to harvest by late summer, according to the annual Winter Dredge Survey. Maryland and Virginia use the survey to count crabs burrowed in the mud and estimate population size.

The estimated total number of crabs in the Chesapeake is now at 410 million. That number is than the 454 million-crab average in the 26-year history of the survey. But not by that much, and it’s certainly a comeback over the past couple of years. After a high of nearly 800 million in 2012, the crab population nosedived in 2013. Last year, both states and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission instituted a 10 percent cut in the harvest.

A Bay Journal Film, Nassawango Legacy


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