Bay Journal

April 1999 - Volume 9 - Number 2

Bioinvasions: Aliens are invading Chesapeake habitats daily, with little or no resistance, or even notice, on our part

The nation’s land and water are being threatened by alien invaders, and the federal government is ready to map out a plan to fight back.

The “invaders” are nonnative species, which have permanently scarred ecosystems throughout the nation, from the diseases that have ravaged the Bay’s oyster populations to insects and fungus that have obliterated major forest species.

Warning that such exotic species threaten ecological, economic and human health, President Clinton in February signed an executive order which, for the first time, requires federal agencies to work together to stem the tide of problem nonnative species. ...

Exotic Pests in the Bay Region

Exotic species are found throughout the Bay’s waterways and landscape — a third of the 3,000 plant species found in Pennsylvania today are nonnative. Here are a few of the region’s more troublesome invaders:

  • Purple Loosestrife: This European wetland plant was probably brought here for ornamental or medicinal purposes in the 1800s. Today, it has overrun more than 1.5 million wetland acres nationwide, crowding out native vegetation, ruining the waterfowl forage base and making wetlands unsuitable for most other wildlife.
  • Chestnut blight: The chestnut blight fungus was accidentally imported from Asia with nursery stock in 1904. It has eliminated mature American chestnuts from the landscape. The chestnut, historically, was a “keystone” species of most eastern deciduous forests, and was one of the most important sources of food for wildlife. It was also a valuable source of lumber.
  • Gypsy moth: Originally imported to Massachusetts in the late 1800s as part of a failed attempt to establish a silk industry, the moth escaped into the wild and has been spreading through New England, Mid-Atlantic and Midwestern states, defoliating and sometimes killing oak forests, which have become more important to wildlife since the demise of the chestnut. Some evidence suggests that defoliated areas “leak” more nitrogen into waterways, and the Bay, than undisturbed forests.
  • MSX: This disease, which appeared in the Bay in the 1950s, is caused by single-cell organism. Since its appearance, the disease has caused losses of up to 90 percent of the oyster population in the Bay. Oysters are important not only for their economic role, but their ecological function. It has been estimated that the Bay’s oyster population could once filter all of the water in the Chesapeake in a matter of days; it takes today’s population about a year to do the same job.
  • Anguillicola crassus: A blood-feeding worm, which historically was found in the Japanese eel, was recently discovered infesting American eels in the Bay and other parts of the East Coast. American eels appear to have less resistance to the parasite, which weakens and reduces the eel’s swimming ability, perhaps affecting its ability to survive the migration to the Sargasso Sea, where it reproduces.


Study recommends placing dredged material in deep part of Bay

One of the deepest parts of the Chesapeake Bay is the best place to put some of the sediment dredged to maintain Baltimore’s shipping lanes, according to a draft environmental impact statement completed by the Army Corps of Engineers.

The Maryland Port Authority has proposed the placement of 18 million cubic yards of dredged material in an area just north of the Bay Bridge, known as Site 104, over the next nine years.

The Corps, which would be in charge of the dredging operation, completed a draft Environmental Impact Statement in February that concluded the project would not pose significant environmental damage. ...

Panel recommends overhaul of menhaden management / Scientists seek limits on catch, triggers with teeth in them

The recent decline of menhaden, an important source of food for striped bass and other predatory fish, is likely to continue in the foreseeable future, according to a panel of scientists who reviewed the management of the coastal fish.

The scientists also said it was “inappropriate” that coastal fisheries managers failed to limit the commercial menhaden catch last year despite continuing evidence of reproduction problems in the population.

They called for overhauling the way the small, oily fish is managed in the future, including the establishment of the first-ever catch quotas for menhaden. They also said the ecological role of menhaden should be taken into account when those quotas are set. ...

February flows 34% below normal

What a difference a year makes. Last year, February flows into the Bay were the highest on record. This year, flows were 34 percent below normal, according to figures from the U.S. Geological Survey.

The first six months of 1998 had the highest average flows for the first half of the year since the USGS began keeping records in 1951. But flows have been below average every month since last June.

Last February, flows into the Bay were 152.4 billion gallons a day. This year, the flow was 45.5 billion gallons a day; the average is 68.7 bgd. ...

Bill to boost Bay Program, Small Watershed Grants introduced

Legislation that would increase federal support for the Bay restoration effort and make permanent the popular, Small Watershed Grants Program, which supports local conservation efforts, has been introduced in the U.S. Senate.

The Chesapeake Bay Restoration Act of 1999, which refers to the Bay as “a national treasure and a resource of worldwide significance,” calls for increasing overall support for the EPA’s Bay Program Office to $30 million a year.

In recent years, the office — which coordinates restoration efforts and makes grants to states, research institutions and others to support the cleanup effort — has been budgeted for about $20 million. ...

Conservation easements win critical victory in MD case

Proponents of conservation easements, an increasingly important tool to protect land from development, won a critical victory late last year which they say makes the legal agreements harder to break in the future.

Months of legal maneuvering ultimately resulted in a settlement that prevented new housing on a tract of Eastern Shore farmland with an easement held by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The prospect that the the trust might allow development had sparked intervention by the Maryland attorney general’s office, the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy, and others who feared the precedent could destroy the value of easements in the future. ...

1999 Small Watershed Grants available

Local governments and grassroots citizen organizations that want to undertake activities to protect their local waterways can seek funding support through the 1999 Small Watershed Grants Program.

The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and the Center for Chesapeake Communities, which administer the initiative for the Bay Program, have jointly issued a “request for proposals.” The RFP lays out the guidelines for eligibility for this year’s program. Proposals are due May 15; announcement of grant awards is expected to be made around July 1. ...

Federal strategy to curb runoff from feedlots issued / Processing companies to share responsibility with farmers in permits

The federal government has finalized its strategy to reduce pollution from the 1.37 billion tons of manure produced on farms each year that threatens the Bay and other waterways.

In a change from a draft animal feedlot plan released last fall, the new strategy says the large livestock integrators — processing companies that often own animals but contract with farmers to raise them — should share responsibility for meeting regulatory requirements.

In another change from the draft, the strategy said states should immediately begin issuing discharge permits to new, large operations. New farms without permits could be liable for any pollution from the date the strategy was released — March 9. ...

Nutria literally eating other wetland creatures out of house and home

Wetland destruction typically brings violators stiff fines, or even prison. Now, biologists say the damage in one case is so severe they want a more dramatic penalty: the death sentence.

The violator in this case is a rodent from South America, the nutria.

At a time when Bay states are committed to increasing the amount of wetlands in the watershed, nutria are causing the loss of thousands of acres of Eastern Shore wetlands.

They chew away at the roots of the plants that hold together the soil of low-lying marshes. Without the root mat cementing the marsh together, the land is literally washed away with the tides. ...

Exotic whelk found in Bay may pose threat to shellfish, oyster fisheries

A whelk that apparently hitched a ride to the Bay from Europe may be the latest problem for oysters and other shellfish.

Since it was first discovered during a Virginia Institute of Marine Science trawl survey in Hampton Roads last August, more than 400 veined rapa whelk have been turned over to VIMS researchers by commercial fishermen. Most were found in the lower James and Norfolk area, but one was picked up from as far away as the Rappahannock.

Scientists believe whelk larvae were transported to Norfolk from the Black Sea, or the Mediterranean — a major trading partner for the port — in ship ballast water. Roger Mann, a VIMS scientists studying the whelk, estimates the introduction took place several years ago, based on the large size of the whelks being found — 120-160 millimeters. ...

A Bay Journal Film, Nassawango Legacy


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