Bay Journal

June 2019 - Volume 29 - Number 4

PennDOT hopes plantings will put pollinators on road to recovery

The roadsides, rest stops, interchanges, traffic islands and even urban intersections across Pennsylvania may soon look a little more unkempt or sprout what passing motorists may mistake for weeds out of control.

But it’s really “conservation mowing” and carefully planned plantings as part of a new initiative by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to help struggling bees and other pollinators that are vital to the state’s agriculture.

PennDOT is reaching out to civic and environmental groups, scouts, gardening clubs and willing individuals in a search for volunteers who can establish and maintain carefully sited pockets of plantings and small meadows as part of the agency’s Pollinator Habitat Plan.

Hopewell’s revival strategy recognizes that all roads lead to the rivers

Nestled in the crook of the James and Appomattox rivers, the small Virginia city of Hopewell has for more than a century been synonymous with industry and pollution. But recently, ambitious efforts to address stormwater runoff and reconnect residents to nature are rewriting that familiar story.

“I feel like Hopewell is on the cusp of returning to its former glory,” said Ann Jurczyk, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Virginia director of advocacy and outreach. “It’s got a bad rap because of all the chemical plants that are there, and there’s some legacy sediment issues that are horrible, but I feel like it’s poised to rebound.”

Microplastics are everywhere, but how do they harm the Bay?

Extremely small bits of plastic are everywhere, and the Chesapeake Bay is no exception. The so-called microplastics, often 5 millimeters or less in size, can be scooped from the surface waters of the Patapsco River and combed from the Bay’s underwater grass beds.

Microplastics that originated as tiny beads in some face scrubs, soaps and toothpastes are now banned by federal law. But most microplastics begin in much larger pieces: chunks of litter and debris — water bottles, car tires and even plastic piers — that break down into increasingly smaller pieces but don’t biodegrade for hundreds of years. Those plastic bits can leach chemicals or become a carrier of toxins and invasive species they pick up as they float through the water.

Atlantic white cedars helped to build nation, now need help rebuilding their population

A flock of sixth-graders fanned out across a field pocked with thorny vines and a curious congregation of evergreens.

“I’ve got two more trees!” called out Travis Anthony, a crew leader with the Maryland Conservation Corps. “Who wants them?”

“Trees” was putting it politely. These reedy specimens looked more like Christmas trees that only Charlie Brown could love. Nonetheless, two girls immediately thrust their hands into the air and were soon nudging the lower extremities of their saplings into the soft earth.

Small-scale study finds no link between poultry farms, fouled streams

Fresh evidence collected in a corner of Virginia where chicken farm construction has boomed in recent years casts doubt on one of the most enduring criticisms of the industry: that the operations contaminate local streams with nutrients and harmful bacteria.

A Virginia Institute of Marine Science study found no “smoking gun” to suggest a link between chicken farms on the state’s Eastern Shore and downstream pollution, said Richard Snyder, the report’s lead author.

His samples revealed a mixed bag of results. Streams near poultry sites typically had higher amounts of nitrogen and bacteria associated with animal guts than those not affected by farm runoff. But they also had lower ammonia and phosphorus counts.

Impact of voluntary Clean Marina program hard to gauge

Marinas, boatyards and yacht clubs across the mid-Atlantic have joined an effort to curb water pollution: the Clean Marina program.

The title, awarded by marine officials in 32 states, is reserved for facilities that take steps to reduce contaminants from boats and boatyards that would otherwise foul the waters beneath their docks. Participants affix specially designed logos to their brochures and websites and fly flags that boaters can easily spot from the water.

The first Clean Marina program took effect 20 years ago — in Maryland. Elsewhere in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, initiatives in Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia were all operating by 2006. Although the campaign has improved stewardship practices at many facilities, their measurable impact is largely unknown

Biologists fear catfish spread after last year’s record deluge

Last year’s record-setting rainfall brought more into the Chesapeake Bay than pollution and debris. Biologists say the freshwater deluge helped the nonnative blue catfish, which was already invading the estuary, to spread farther in the region’s rivers.

“The gate is open,” said Martin Gary, executive director of the Potomac River Fisheries Commission. “They have left and dispersed everywhere.”

Blue catfish, which can grow to lengths of 5 feet, were released into Virginia’s Bay tributaries in the 1970s as part of an effort to build a sport fishery.

Since then, they have reached numbers beyond what anyone imagined in rivers from the James to the Potomac, and they had begun spreading to other places in recent years. Biologists and state fishery managers had hoped to stem further expansion, fearing harm to native species such as blue crabs, yellow perch and white catfish.

Report: 40% of PA rivers, streams violate water quality standards

Pennsylvania’s latest water quality report has found that 40% of its 85,000 miles of streams and rivers are violating the state’s water quality standards in some way, with agricultural runoff and acid mine drainage mostly to blame.

That includes a stretch of the Susquehanna River, which flows into the Chesapeake Bay and has a major impact on the Bay’s health. The 46-mile segment of the middle and lower river, which has been plagued with sick fish in recent years, was found to be impaired for aquatic life because of high pH levels.

The draft 2018 Integrated Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment Report was released in May for public comment before submission of the final report to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Opponents of new Bay Bridge pushing for alternatives

As Maryland officials prepare to take a critical step toward deciding how people will cross the Chesapeake Bay for decades to come, they face growing criticism that the effort is bypassing options that don’t involve building a new multibillion-dollar bridge.

Maryland’s Bay Bridge consists of two adjacent spans between Annapolis and Kent Island: a two-lane bridge constructed in 1952, which serves as the eastbound route, and a three-lane westbound span that opened in 1973. After more than two years of study, the Maryland Transportation Authority, which operates the 4-mile structures, plans to release a narrowed-down list of possible routes for a potential third span in the coming months.

Fones Cliffs property to be preserved

For more than a decade, an empty blue house perched on the edge of an otherwise houseless sweep of cliffs along the Rappahannock River loomed as a symbol of its future — which included plans for two housing developments in an ecologically and historically significant area of Virginia’s Northern Neck. But, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service completes its purchase of that Fones Cliffs property this month, dismantling that house will be among the first priorities.

In its place, a different story about the generations of people and wildlife who have lived around these 100-foot cliffs has already begun to emerge. Conservationists hope that narrative will persuade neighboring landowners — one of whom filed for bankruptcy on its development project in May — to consider conservation, too.

Chesapeake blue crab population grows despite 2018’s rains

Last year’s never-ending loop of storms may have rattled the Chesapeake Bay’s ecosystem, but it didn’t scuttle the estuary’s blue crab population.

Results from the annual, Baywide winter crab survey, released May 6, showed a 60% increase in the crustacean’s numbers over 2018. At 594 million crabs, it was the highest count since 2012.

“This is good news,” said Ellen Bolen, deputy commissioner of the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, which regulates the fishery in the commonwealth’s waters. “But crab stocks can vary like they have in the past, so we want to make sure we have a balanced plan going forward to ensure the stability of this resource.”

Community works more than a little magic to preserve Baltimore woodlot

Look closely as you stroll through Fairwood Forest, and you might spot a tiny fairy or gnome lurking in the greenery at the base of a big oak or poplar tree. The fanciful images are a bit of whimsy, planted by a neighboring resident who has long hoped to protect this sylvan oasis in Northeast Baltimore from the bulldozer.

For years, Daisy Sudano-Pellegrini and her neighbors in the Glenham-Belhar community have tended to this once-neglected swath of woodland surrounded by homes and apartments. As unofficial forest stewards, they’ve repeatedly removed trash and invasive vines, blazed trails, documented its flora and fauna and strove to persuade its owners to spare it from being developed.

Now, the community’s labors have paid off in a more lasting way.

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