Bay Journal

September 1998 - Volume 8 - Number 6

Bay forests losing ground to fragmentation

Suddenly, there they were. After traveling down a bumpy, ridge top, dirt road after miles of nothing but trees, a new crop had sprouted up: houses. Large ones, with trees cleared for lawns and mountaintop views.

A paved road veered to the right; a sign advertised a dozen, two-acre building lots for sale.

This particular scene was in a Pennsylvania forest, but it could have been found in woodlands throughout the Bay watershed.

Bit by bit, the public’s appetite for land is taking a bite out of the region’s woodlands. The Chesapeake watershed, according to Bay Program figures, is losing more than 100 acres of woodlands a day. ...

Susquehanna, Potomac named ‘American Heritage Rivers’

The Potomac and portions of the Susquehanna watershed were included among the first 14 “American Heritage Rivers,” a designation intended to bring an added measure of federal coordination to restoration activities.

“Rivers are the lifeblood that connects our communities, and the lifeline that connects us to generations past and future,” Vice President Al Gore said at a White House ceremony naming the rivers in late July. Protecting America’s rivers is “not only a priority, it’s a moral obligation,” he said. ...

Shad fishing to be phased out along coast

Shad are the first major fish species to enter the Bay and its rivers to spawn each spring. Historically, their arrival was eagerly awaited by hungry colonists after lean winter rations, sometimes saving them from starvation.

Now, East Coast fisheries officials want to try to save depleted shad populations in the Bay and other coastal rivers by ending shad fishing in the ocean.

The Shad Management Board of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission — the multistate body responsible for managing migratory fish species — voted in August to reduce the coastal shad catch 40 percent in the next three years, and to close it completely in five. ...

VIMS casts net for anglers’ help in red drum study

The Virginia Institute of Marine Science in Gloucester Point is seeking help from recreational anglers who catch red drum this summer.

VIMS scientists are collecting life history data on adult red drum — also known as channel bass — in a research project funded by the Virginia Salt water License Fund to get information, as well as remove reproductive organs and otoliths.

Otoliths are small bones in the heads of fishes that can be used to estimate growth rates. By cutting the otoliths and reading the bands — somewhat like counting rings on a cross-cut tree — scientists can determine the age of an individual fish. ...

Lower VA tributary strategies designed for living resources

When Capt. John Smith arrived in Virginia nearly 400 years ago, he was awed by the abundance of its waters. He wrote of once seeing enough striped bass near Jamestown to fill a 100-ton ship. Another time he reported seeing “more sturgeon than could be drowned by dog or men.”

Today, the rivers in Virginia appear far different. They are cloudy with sediment, while in some areas the oxygen level is often too low to support most aquatic species. Grasses occupy only a fraction of their historic habitat. And in some places, there are concerns about the potential for outbreaks of fish-killing pfiesteria. ...

July flows to Bay 12% higher than 1996

The average daily flow into the Chesapeake remained at a record-setting pace through July, and the flows were taking a toll on Bay water quality, monitoring showed.

Through July, flows into the Chesapeake averaged 100.5 billion gallons per day, about 12 percent higher than 1996 — the previous record — when flows averaged 90 billion gallons per day, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

This year’s flows are 157 percent higher than the 48-year average compiled since records have been kept. ...

Pfiesteria remains at bay in Chesapeake

Though mid-August, it remained mostly quiet on the Chesapeake’s pfiesteria front.

On Aug. 19, a Maryland Department of Natural Resources crew found lesions on 89 of 535 menhaden caught in Shiles Creek in Wicomico County Creek, where biologists had found signs of toxic pfiesteria earlier this month.

Health officials did not close the creek because there is no evidence of a major pfiesteria outbreak. “It’s certainly not enough to trigger a closure, but it is greater than we’d like to see and we’d like to keep an eye on it,” said DNR spokesman John Surrick. ...

Journal reports findings that support claims of pfiesteria-related illness

A year after a spate of reports that Pocomoke River watermen were becoming ill from pfiesteria, a Maryland medical team’s findings have been published in a well-known journal, strengthening the claim that the toxic microorganism that kills fish can cause attention and memory loss in humans.

Doctors and neurologists who worked with the team in examining the watermen and others apparently affected by Pfiesteria piscicida reported in the Aug. 15 issue of The Lancet that their findings support a new clinical syndrome apparently caused by pfiesteria’s toxins. ...

Service links MD landowners to habitat, water quality programs

A new service is available to connect Maryland homeowners interested in improving the fish and wildlife habitat and water quality on their property to programs that will help them accomplish their goals, Gov. Parris Glendening recently announced.

With one phone call to the Landowner Stewardship Referral Service, landowners can learn about the many federal, state, local and private programs that are available and in some cases offer free or cost-shared improvements designed to enhance habitat and water quality. ...

Migratory Canada goose season remains closed for 4th year

For the fourth year in a row, the hunting season for migratory Canada geese — the waterfowl that is perhaps most closely identified with the Chesapeake Bay — will be closed as biologists wait for populations along the Atlantic Flyway to rebound from historic lows.

This year’s annual survey of nesting grounds in northern Canada counted a 33 percent decline in the number of breeding birds observed last year.

But biologists believe the count was skewed by an earlier than normal spring on the breeding grounds, and they remain confident that, overall, the birds’ population is rebounding in response to the hunting moratorium that was imposed in 1995. ...

EPA appoints Perciasepe as assistant administrator for air and radiation

Two officials with long experience in the Bay region and with Chesapeake-related issues have been named to top positions in the EPA.

Robert Perciasepe was appointed the agency’s new assistant administrator for air and radiation. Previously, he was the EPA assistant administrator for water, where he oversaw reauthorization of the Safe Drinking Water Act and spearheaded development of the Clinton Administration’ Clean Water Action Plan, which seeks to refocus the nation’s water protection programs toward watershed management. In that position, Perciasepe had often expressed the need for the impacts of air pollution on water quality to be better addressed. ...

All sides say Corps’ new permits change is all wet

For years, Nationwide Permit 26 has been criticized as possibly the biggest single loophole in federal wetland regulations. Now, the Army Corps of Engineers plans to replace Nationwide 26 with a proposal that seems to have everyone fuming.

The Corps is the main federal agency for wetland regulation, and to manage its workload it has long relied on a series of “nationwide permits” that allow certain projects affecting wetlands to go forward with minimal checks.

Of the nationwide permits, 26 has been the most controversial because it could allow up to three acres of “isolated or headwater” wetlands to be destroyed. ...

Foreign worms taking bite out of eels in Chesapeake

Tiny worms accidentally imported from Asia are eating their way through eels in the Chesapeake Bay, impairing their ability to swim and potentially threatening the health of the eel population.

Scientists with the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science discovered the parasite last year when Patuxent River watermen reported finding eels filled with “worms.”

Since then, the researchers have found the parasites in hundreds of eels throughout the middle and upper Bay and are calling on scientists all along the coast to keep an eye out for it. ...

Woodrats’ habitat, food and population reduced to fragments

It’s tough to be a woodrat. First, of all, it’s name is a problem. Sure it’s a rodent, but so are chipmunks and squirrels. But those three letters — r-a-t — conjure up images of plague-spreading Old World rats. In reality, the woodrat is a New World rodent, rarely seen by most people, and a cousin of the pack rat.

And there’s another reason why it’s tough to be a woodrat. They’re disappearing. They are a threatened species in both Pennsylvania and Maryland.

No one is exactly sure of the cause, but scientists in Pennsylvania are working on a theory that its demise may be closely related to habitat fragmentation. ...

Computer program targets woods ripe for restoration

In a matter of hours, Don Outen can evaluate the extent and pattern of forest coverage in every watershed in Baltimore County.

And he never has to leave his office.

Instead, he can scan a series of color-coded maps that illustrate forest and woodland patch sizes. The maps show there is not much dark green “interior forest” in the county. But there is a lot of purple “edge forest” around the perimeters of the county’s numerous isolated forest patches. A palette of other colors illustrate forest fragments of different shapes and sizes — most are smaller than Outen would like to see. ...

Conservancy plan keeps forests, landowners in green

Some Virginians who want to protect their forests and local environment without having to give up woodland income may soon have an alternative: They can put their trees in the bank.

As part of a pilot project that may have nationwide implications, The Nature Conservancy is developing a “Timber Bank” in the Clinch River area of southwestern Virginia. The Clinch River contains one of the greatest collections of freshwater mussels in the world, many species of which are endangered.

The local forests help protect water quality, but are also an important part of the local economy. ...

As VA population grows, land use conflicts threaten forests

The biggest threat for Virginia forests, a new study suggests, may be people.

A recent report from the Virginia Department of Forestry warns that the state could soon reach the point where the consumption of wood, paper and other forest products exceeds the rate at which they can be produced from available land.

It’s not that the state is running out of forests, according to the “Virginia Forest Land Assessment” report, but rather that more people are moving into them, making woodlands unavailable for other uses — even as the public demands more from forests, both in terms of products, recreation and other services. ...

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