Bay Journal

November 2019 - Volume 29 - Number 8

Scientists raise alarm as North American bird populations plummet

It’s hard to imagine a world without birds chirping outside in the morning or during a stroll in the woods. But a new study has found that birds are in serious decline across North America, including in the Chesapeake Bay region.

There are nearly 3 billion fewer birds in North America than there were in 1970 — a 29% decline during a single human lifetime, according to the study published in October by the journal Science. The study was done by eight scientists with government and private bird research organizations in the United States and Canada.

Populations of even the most common species that people see at backyard bird feeders or outside have plummeted — think cardinals, titmice, wrens, goldfinches, house finches, sparrows and blue jays, to name just a few.

Is air cleaner on other side of the block? Museum, residents to test theory

Summer temperatures in Richmond can be 16 degrees hotter in a downtown ward than in a wealthy, tree-lined neighborhood five miles away. But the citizen scientists who found that out in 2017 now hope to answer a new question: Does the quality of air that citizens breathe also depend on their ZIP codes?

The project, led by the Science Museum of Virginia in Richmond, aims to again harness the data-collection efforts of volunteers to paint a more accurate picture of the air around them and the ways urban development and climate change could be altering it.

Striped bass decline spurs new look at mycobacteria

When Wolfgang Vogelbein peered at striped bass sores through a microscope 22 years ago, he knew he was looking at something very different than what was grabbing headlines at the time.

Pfiesteria piscicida — the so-called “cell from hell” — was being blamed for fish kills in Maryland and making people sick.

But what Vogelbein saw through his lens wasn’t the result of a harmful algae toxin. It was a nasty bacterial infection, creating ugly sores on the outside of fish and lesions on the inside.

The infections were caused by mycobacteria, a type of bacteria that are widespread in the environment, but not typically associated with problems in wild fish. Suddenly, though, it was turning up in large numbers of the Chesapeake Bay’s most prized finfish.

VA wants to boost its environmental agency, but will it get the money?

Ralph Northam campaigned for Virginia’s highest office on his Chesapeake Bay roots, and he seemed to be making good on those promises when he made reforming the state’s environmental agency his sixth order of business last year.

A new report details what the state’s Department of Environmental Quality needs to fulfill its mission, though it will face some financial hurdles to be enacted. Since 2001, DEQ’s general fund appropriations have been reduced by $46 million, and 74 positions have been lost. Overseen by Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew Strickler, the report suggests that restoring the agency’s budget and staff won't be enough.

New Bay grant projects range from stream buffers to soil health

One of the largest grant-making initiatives dedicated to the Chesapeake Bay cleanup has announced it is doling out nearly $13 million this year.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation said Oct. 10 that the funding will be divided among 47 projects spread across the Bay region. The amounts range from $1 million to Virginia Tech for improving agricultural soil health to $38,629 to test buffer alternatives on poultry house properties in Delaware.

Coalition to think beyond state borders to offset Conowingo flows

Here’s one of the toughest jobs in the Chesapeake Bay cleanup:

  • Write and enact a plan to eliminate millions of pounds of nutrient pollution washing into waterways.
  • Do it without duplicating the pollution reduction plans that states will be using to meet their own goals, which typically contain the cheapest and potentially most effective options.
  • Oh, and come up with a way to pay for it, too.

Surprisingly, people have signed up for this seemingly impossible job. A coalition of nonprofits is developing a plan to reduce nutrient pollution to the Upper Bay to offset the impact of the Conowingo Dam — and to pay for it.

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