Paddle up the Rappahannock River from the Chesapeake Bay, to where the river narrows as it takes a westward turn, and you’ll stumble onto the scene of a battle. More than four centuries ago, explorer Capt. John Smith encountered a not-so-warm welcome from the Rappahannock people here as they volleyed arrows from the 100-foot-heights of Fones Cliffs, which form a 4-mile bank along the river.
Today, those cliffs have become the setting of a grueling, modern-day clash — unfolding for more than a decade between conservation groups and the private landowners who have new visions for the cliffs’ future.
The Chesapeake’s underwater grasses — critical havens for everything from blue crabs to waterfowl — surged to a new record high last year, surpassing 100,000 acres for the first time in recent history.
“I never thought we would ever see that,” said Bob Orth, a researcher with the Virginia Institute of Marine Science who has overseen the annual Baywide underwater grass survey since it began in 1984. “But things are changing.”
It was the third straight year that acreage of these underwater meadows has set a new Baywide record.
- Karl Blankenship
- April 24, 2018
- Wildlife + Habitat
- 5 Comments
Nearly 60 years ago, the oysters in Maryland’s Breton Bay were so plentiful that you had to be careful where you set foot on the bottom. Chuck Bright, who spent his summers there in those days, learned that the hard way. “I jumped off the pier and sliced my foot on an oyster shell,” said Bright, 68, a dentist who now lives year-round in the waterfront home his father built there in the 1950s.
As in so many other places around the Chesapeake Bay, oysters are now scarce in Breton Bay, a short, relatively wide tributary of the Potomac River that zigzags south like a question mark from Leonardtown, MD.
But the bivalves may return to this picturesque and comparatively remote estuary if a proposal by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources comes to fruition.
- Timothy B. Wheeler
- May 14, 2018
- 1 Comment
April showers bring May flowers — and mosquitoes. This spring, a team of researchers with the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science is looking into whether the annual onslaught of those pesky blood suckers can be curbed by some tiny, shrimplike critters called copepods.
Copepods are an amazingly diverse group of miniscule crustaceans found in great numbers almost everywhere there’s water, fresh or salty. Their name is Greek for “oar foot,” which describes the way they use their antennae and appendages to paddle through the water.
The 15,000-odd species of copepod play a key role in aquatic and marine food webs, feeding on algae and other plankton, and in turn being fed upon by larval fish and other creatures. They’ve drawn interest for biological insect control because studies have found that at least some of them devour mosquito larvae.
- Timothy B. Wheeler
- May 10, 2018
- 3 Comments
When Marcellus Shale drilling came to Pennsylvania state forests, it brought a few hitchhikers along — invasive plants. They got a free ride into remote northcentral interior forests that previously had been spared the influence of heavy truck traffic.
Yes, truck traffic. One does not generally associate deep forest interiors with lumbering construction vehicles, but with about 700,000 acres of state-owned forest land open to gas and oil exploration (about half of the total that is underlaid by shale deposits), a lot of ad hoc roads have been cut through those woods.
It’s the only way drilling companies can get to well sites and lay concrete gas-drilling pads, which often sprawl over several acres. In the process, the trucks bring in the seeds of nonnative plants — in their tire treads, on their undercarriages or in loads of gravel and other materials.
It took eight years, but Gail Litz finally got her day in court — three weeks, actually.
Along the way, she won a potentially important legal ruling for enforcing water quality in Maryland. But she fell short in her quest for damages from the state and an Eastern Shore town for their failure to fix pollution that she contended caused the loss of her family’s campground business and property.
When you spend nearly 40 years working for the same employer, you are bound to experience change.
Dan Devlin, Pennsylvania’s state forester and director of the Bureau of Forestry, retired in March with four decades’ worth of observations about protecting and managing public forests. During his career, he navigated fundamental changes in the philosophy and science of forest management, as well as grappling with a game changer that few people saw coming: the surge of drilling for natural gas using a controversial technique known as fracking.
- Donna Morelli
- May 02, 2018
- People + Society
- 0 Comments
Congress has started to debate how to direct hundreds of billions of dollars to implement the nation’s farm and nutrition policies in the coming years, and the outcome could have a major impact on Chesapeake Bay cleanup goals.
That’s because the massive legislation being crafted, known as the Farm Bill, is also the biggest source of funding to help farmers throughout the Bay watershed reduce nutrient and sediment runoff from their operations.
“It will define the future of clean water efforts,” said Ann Swanson, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, a legislative advisory panel.
A statewide coalition in Pennsylvania announced on Tuesday an effort to plant 10 million trees in the state by 2025, while members stood in a Lancaster County farm field ready to plant the first 100 trees along Little Chiques Creek.
The aim of the Keystone 10 Million Trees Partnership is to help Pennsylvania restore its streams and rivers — and do its part for the Chesapeake Bay cleanup — by putting the benefits of trees to work in reducing nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment levels in local waterways and ultimately, downstream in the Bay.
Maryland lawmakers took action this year to thwart the Trump administration’s move to allow oil and gas exploration off the state’s Atlantic coast, and expanded efforts to take sea level rise into account in planning state-funded projects.
But during the General Assembly session that ended April 9, legislators refused to strengthen the state’s forest conservation law or even study whether more needs to be done to protect woodlands from development. They also balked at getting more energy from renewable sources and banning the use of polystyrene foam food containers statewide.
- Timothy B. Wheeler
- April 13, 2018
- Politics + Policy
- 0 Comments
On Virginia’s portion of the Eastern Shore, it’s the growing number of chickens — not people — that has residents worried about the quantity and quality of their water supply.
Scientists have known for at least a decade that the use of groundwater from the region’s Yorktown-Eastover system of aquifers has been drawing down the supply more quickly than rainfall can replenish it. But residents started to worry last year that water demands from the growing number of new poultry houses in Accomack County could put too much pressure on an already fragile system.