Bay Journal

November 1999 - Volume 9 - Number 8

Waiting in the wings

Last Christmas Eve, I conned a friend from Pennsylvania into joining me for a day of birdwatching at Eastern Neck Wildlife Refuge in Maryland. We had the refuge and its wintering waterfowl to ourselves that chilly day. Even the planes from Baltimore-Washington International Airport, across the Bay, weren’t flying overhead. The only sound was the distinctive whir of wind through tundra swan wings.

Although we didn’t add any new birds to our life lists, thousands of ducks, geese and swans entertained us. Just the day before, more than 19,000 waterfowl had been counted on the refuge’s 2,285 acres: More than a thousand each of American widgeon, Canada goose, and tundra swan graced Eastern Neck’s open water and wetland coves. Three thousand canvasbacks and hundreds of northern pintails, mallards, American black ducks, gadwalls, buffleheads, and American coots foraged for vegetation and invertebrates. ...

Fishway construction starts at Little Falls Dam on Potomac

Back in 1886, Stephen F. Baird, head of the U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries, lamented that “many years will lapse,” before the Potomac River produced the numbers of shad seen decades earlier.

In his annual report, he noted that while the river was still “very productive,” it didn’t measure up to the standards of the 1830s when 4,000 shad were “frequently” taken in a single haul of a seine net and the total annual catch was about 22.5 million.

Baird’s concern was well-founded. More than a century after he wrote his assessment, things have continued to worsen. Today, the river supports only about 10,000 shad. ...

Biologists keep their eyes on the sky for trumpeter swan’s return

Scientists are anxiously watching the skies to see if the Chesapeake’s largest native waterfowl will return on its own this winter — two centuries after it was wiped out here.

Since 1997, biologists have been teaching migration routes to trumpeter swans by training them to fly behind an ultralight aircraft — a technique used successfully with Canada geese and sandhill cranes, and popularized in the movie, “Fly Away Home.”

After a successful experimental migration from Virginia to the Eastern shore in 1997, biologists last year tried to teach the birds to migrate from what is hoped will be their permanent summer home in Genessee County, NY, to wintering grounds on the Delmarva Peninsula. This year, they hope to see the flock of 11 birds make that trip without help. “When the freeze sets in, we believe this flock of healthy trumpeter swans will move south,” said Donielle Rininger, the lead biologist for Environmental Studies at Airlie, a nonprofit research organization which is in charge of the project. ...

As striped bass rebound, decline in menhaden remains a concern

Another bumper crop of young striped bass in Maryland’s portion of the Chesapeake comes as menhaden — one of their main sources of food — appear to have had another poor year of reproduction in the state.

This is fueling continued speculation that the mushrooming number of young striped bass is outpacing one of their most important food supplies, at least in some parts of the Bay.

Many striped bass, especially in parts of Maryland, have been unusually thin and covered with sores in recent years. Some believe the poor condition is stems from a 79 percent drop in the Atlantic coast menhaden population since 1991. ...

Striped bass reproduction up in Maryland, down in Virginia

Striped bass racked up another above-average spawn in Maryland this year, the eighth straight year that rockfish have either rivaled or exceeded the long-term average.

This year’s index was 18.1, far above the 45-year average of 10.9.

In no period since the annual survey began in 1954 have there been so many consecutive years of above-average spawning success — a sharp turnaround for a species in such dire straits only a decade ago that fishing for it was banned.

Ironically, despite the recent glut of young fish, fishery managers are worried that there is too much pressure on large, older fish in the population. They are planning to cut the coastwide harvest of large rockfish next year by 14 percent. ...

Flows to Bay return to normal in September

Boosted by Hurricane Floyd, streamflow into the Chesapeake Bay finally returned to normal levels in September, after flowing at below-average rates for more than a year.

Total streamflow into the Bay during September was about 30.6 billion gallons a day, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, about 49 percent above the long-term average of 20.5 bgd for the month. September flows into the Bay were about three times higher in September than they were in August.

Although flows from the two largest rivers entering the Bay — the Susquehanna and Potomac — rose because of Floyd, both were still below records for the month, the USGS reported. ...

VA panel urges action to protect, restore wetlands

A panel appointed by Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore is calling for the state to establish a new regulatory program to protect existing wetlands and to eventually restore more than 2,800 acres of additional swamps and marshes a year.

Gilmore, who pledged the state would have an increase in wetland acreage by the time he left office, appointed the Citizens Wetlands Advisory Committee early this year to recommend ways of “reversing Virginia’s long-term loss of wetlands.”

The committee, consisting of scientists, environmentalists, farmers and others, had been charged with finding innovative ways to increase wetland acreage through voluntary conservation methods to meet both the governor’s promise and Bay Program goals for wetland increases. ...

Pennsylvania officials unable to agree on best way to ‘grow greener’

While Maryland’s 1997 Smart Growth initiatives represent a “milestone” in managing land use and curtailing sprawl, environmentalists say counties need to do a better job of directing where growth takes place, and that state agencies should steer their spending toward those areas.

“Certainly, the program here in Maryland deserves the national attention it is getting,” said Theresa Pierno, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Maryland executive director. “But it has a ways to go before it realizes its full potential.” ...

Report sets room for improvement in MD’s smart growth plan

While Maryland’s 1997 Smart Growth initiatives represent a “milestone” in managing land use and curtailing sprawl, environmentalists say counties need to do a better job of directing where growth takes place, and that state agencies should steer their spending toward those areas.

“Certainly, the program here in Maryland deserves the national attention it is getting,” said Theresa Pierno, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Maryland executive director. “But it has a ways to go before it realizes its full potential.” ...

4 new members appointed to Citizens Advisory Committee

Four new members were recently appointed to the Bay Program Citizens Advisory Committee, bringing the panel to its full capacity of 24. The committee was established in the Chesapeake Bay Agreement to provide input from various constituencies to the Executive Council and the Bay Program’s Implementation Committee.

Four members are appointed from each state and the District of Columbia, with nine at-large members appointed by the board of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay. New members include: ...

VA lags behind MD, NC in funding for open space

Rapid development in Virginia, rich with Civil War battlefields, rolling farmlands and historic sites dating to the nation’s founders, is fueling an effort to dedicate $40 million annually to conserve open spaces.

Compared with neighboring states, Virginia is miserly when it comes to buying precious lands, according to the Conservation Land Coalition. Maryland spends $70 million annually and North Carolina $60 million to protect open lands.

In fact, Virginia is one of the only states on the East Coast that has no automatic annual funding for land conservation. ...

Bay Program mapping road to cleaner Bay

After spending more than a decade heading in the right direction, the Bay Program is starting to map out where it wants to go and when it is going to get there.

Bay Program officials have developed a detailed timeline spelling out for the first time when they will:

  • Determine what a “clean” Bay is (by 2001);

  • Decide what nutrient reductions are needed to get there (also by 2001);

  • Incorporate those nutrient reductions in tributary strategies (by 2002); and


There’s no place like a proper habitat for Bay’s waterfowl

When it comes to restoring waterfowl habitat, wildlife biologists say it is a case that, like the "Field of Dreams," if ou build it (correctly), they will come.”

Matthew Perry, a wildlife biologist with Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, notes that although waterfowl populations may be maintained through the wise manipulation of hunting regulations, increases in waterfowl cannot occur without improvements in habitat.

Chesapeake Bay watershed landowners and governments can’t control the weather on northern breeding grounds. But, they can provide extensive wetlands and forests along the water’s edge. Perry notes that the wetlands will provide the necessary habitat and the forests will help protect the wetlands from degradation caused by excessive nutrients and sediments. ...

Mallards join humans in encroaching on black duck habitat

American black ducks nest throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed, from the rivers and streams of Pennsylvania to the tidal freshwater wetlands of Virginia. Thousands of black ducks also migrate from breeding grounds in the extreme northeastern United States and southeastern Canada to overwinter in Bay tributaries and wetlands.

Although most of the Bay’s migratory waterfowl are increasing, the number of both migratory and resident black ducks continues to decline. Once the premier dabbling duck pursued by hunters, their numbers have dropped from more than 100,000 in the mid-1950s to around 30,000 in the late 1990s. ...

Chesapeake Bay Waterfowl 1999 Status Update

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and state biologists have counted waterfowl that winter on the Bay since 1938. The Chesapeake Bay Program established a goal of restoring waterfowl populations to 1970 levels by the year 2000. Many duck populations have reached or surpassed that goal, but several species remain of concern.

Resident populations of mallards, Canada geese and mute swans are rapidly growing and causing problems in the Chesapeake Bay region. ...

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