Bay Journal

May 1999 - Volume 9 - Number 3

Forests closest to Bay losing ground to development

T-I-M-B-E-R! Trees have been falling at a surprisingly rapid rate all around the Chesapeake Bay for the last two decades, according to a new study, but the decline isn’t the result of the logger’s chain saw — it’s mainly to the developer’s bulldozer.

An analysis of satellite data spanning a 24-year period by the conservation group, American Forests, found the average tree cover in the region closest to the Bay declined from 51 percent in 1973, to 39 percent in 1997.

“The dominant ecological feature here just 30 years ago was heavy forests,” said Gary Moll, vice president of the American Forests Urban Forest Center. “Today, it is development and lands sparsely covered with trees. These changes are so large they threaten to undermine many important natural functions performed by forest ecosystems.” ...

1999 Legislative Roundup for Maryland, Virginia

The hottest environmental debates in the Maryland and Virginia General Assemblies this year involved issues only tangential to the Bay restoration — solid waste management in Virginia, and utility deregulation in Maryland.

Still, several Bay-related bills were approved in each state. Significantly for the Bay, Virginia passed legislation regulating poultry waste [See “VA to require phosphorus-based nutrient plans for poultry growers,” Bay Journal, March 1999]. ...

Potomac groups select National Park employee as ‘River Navigator’

The Potomac now has a “River Navigator” to help communities along the waterway make connections with federal agencies that can help them carry out local visions for economically and environmentally sustainable development.

Last year, President Clinton named the Potomac as one of 14 American Heritage Rivers, a designation that brings no money, but does entitle each river to a federal employee who helps communities identify federal grants and programs that can help them fight pollution, build greenways and protect watersheds. ...

March flows below normal

March river flows into the Chesapeake Bay continued to be below normal, averaging 69.8 billion gallons a day, about 30 percent less than the average of 98.3 bgd.

River flow to the Chesapeake has been below average every month since last August, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, which has monitored flows since 1951. A record low-flow into the Bay was set in December.

Possible consequences of continued low-flow conditions include improved spring water quality as smaller amounts of nutrients and sediment are carried into the Bay. That would result in clearer water, which would help the growth of underwater grasses, which provide important aquatic habitat. ...

Scientists, watermen see big decline in crab population

The crab season has begun in Maryland and Virginia, but watermen and scientists agree that the population of the Bay’s most valuable shellfish is low again.

“There were none in the fall and if they aren’t there in the fall, they aren’t going to be there in the spring,” said Robert Evans, president of the Anne Arundel County Waterman’s Association.

Several winter surveys point to a catch similar to last year’s 25 million pounds Baywide, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. “What we are seeing is a season similar to last year,” said Phil Jones, director of DNR’s Resource Management Division. “There won’t be any big differences.” ...

What the Bills Would Mean for Bay Jurisdictions

Conservation & Reinvestment Act

Figures are based on royalties from outer continental shelf drilling of $2.8 billion, with 60 percent, or $1.64 billion, going to conservation programs. (Because of recent increases in oil prices, these figures could be underestimates.)

District of Columbia: $2.8 million, including $462,574 for local LWCF acquisitions, $1.3 million for wildlife conservation, and $1 million for urban parks. ...

Congress could pour money into conservation programs

Oil and the environment rarely mix with positive results, but that may soon change.

Congress is considering several bills, each with strong bipartisan support, that would dramatically — and permanently — increase funding for wildlife, land acquisition and coastal protection programs beginning next year.

The money would come from royalties paid to the federal government for oil and gas drilling activities on the outer continental shelf. That money, which has averaged about $4 billion annually over the years, was supposed to go for conservation programs in the past, but usually had been diverted to help balance the federal budget. ...

Group likely to sue to put Atlantic sturgeon on endangered species list

The head of a Colorado-based environmental group said he is “leaning” toward bringing a suit against the federal government for its decision last year to not list the Atlantic sturgeon, the largest fish native to the Chesapeake, as a threatened species.

“I’d say there is a very good chance that we are going to challenge it,” said Jasper Carlton, director of the Biodiversity Legal Foundation in Boulder, CO.

The group in 1997 filed a petition with the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service seeking to have the fish listed under the Endangered Species Act. After studying the issue for more than a year, the agencies last summer rejected the listing, saying that a 40-year ban on Atlantic sturgeon fishing imposed by coastal states last year should protect the species. ...

Coastal plain swamp sparrow, unique to area, is in peril

A tiny — often overlooked — sparrow found only along the shores of the Chesapeake and Delaware bays could be on the road to extinction, say a pair of scientists.

The coastal plain swamp sparrow, which lives in scrubby, brackish marshes around the two estuaries, appears to have declined dramatically in numbers during the past decade.

“I’d say they largely are no longer breeding — and they may not be breeding at all — in the Chesapeake Bay area, whereas they did before,” said Sam Droege, a biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. “Not in huge numbers, but they were around.” ...

Government finalizing recovery plan for shortnose sturgeon

After listing the shortnose sturgeon as an endangered species more than 30 years ago, the federal government has finally mapped out a strategy to bring it back.

The plan, in general terms, talks about the need to clean up spawning rivers, improve passages at dams, curb the kill of sturgeon in other fisheries — and even stock fish in places where they’ve vanished.

But don’t expect to see a lot more of the 4-foot fish in the Bay anytime soon. A lack of money and priority will likely hinder recovery efforts. If the recovery plan was aggressively carried out, the plan states that the shortnose sturgeon could be delisted by 2024. ...

Role of habitat plans growing in endangered species management

Nearly a decade ago, the northern spotted owl burst onto the nation’s radar screen with a barrage of media coverage over the legal fights portrayed as a battle between loggers and the bird’s survival.

In the wake of that and other species vs. development controversies, federal management agencies began searching for new ways to head off such environmental “train wrecks.”

One of the most important tools to emerge was the widespread use of “Habitat Conservation Plans” — or HCPs for short. ...

Delmarva fox squirrel to get region’s 1st habitat plan

The Delmarva fox squirrel — fat, furry and slow — may soon be first in a dubious category.

The endangered squirrel is the subject of the Bay region’s first “habitat conservation plan,” which is expected to be approved soon by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. That would clear the way for a 56.6-acre, 16-home, waterfront development in Maryland’s Queen Anne’s County that has been in limbo since a fox squirrel was spotted several times on the site last year.

In Habitat Conservation Plans, or HCPs, landowners make specific commitments to protect endangered species and their habitats. In exchange, the USF&WS issues a permit exempting the landowner from hefty Endangered Species Act penalties if a protected animal is inadvertently harmed. ...

To Learn More, Leaf Through These Reports

Those who want to learn more about the Bay region’s forests, might want to look into the following items:

  • “Forest Fragmentation in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed: Ecological, Economic, Policy and Law Impacts,” is a report summarizing a series of professional roundtables conducted in 1998 by the Society of American Foresters and the U.S. Forest Service. For a copy, contact the Society of American Foresters, 5400 Grosvenor Lane, Bethesda, MD 20814-2198, or call 301-897-8720.
  • “Conserving the Forests of the Chesapeake: The Status, Trends, and Importance of Forests for the Bay’s Sustainable Future,” is a report available from the Bay Program. Call 800-968-7229.
  • “Building Greener Neighborhoods: Trees as Part of the Plan,” is a guide to maintaining and incorporating trees as part of new developments, while “Growing Greener Cities,” is a guide to reforesting urban areas and costs Both are available from American Forests.


Study focuses on effect of forest disturbance on water quality

The Bay Program calculates that — on average — about 3 pounds of nitrogen run off a typical acre of forest land in a given year and makes its way to the Chesapeake.

That is based on estimates of average forest runoff which are then applied to the entire 64,000-square-mile Bay watershed. But not all forests are equal.

In reality, research has shown that the amount of nitrogen “leaking” from forests varies greatly from place to place. In some cases, it can rival nitrogen runoff from suburban settings. ...

A little bird may tell them — Fragmentation study looks for links between habitat, water quality

Scientists from the University of Maryland are examining an intriguing question: Is what’s good for the birds good for the Bay?

The question stems from a rule of thumb stating that the more forest within a watershed, the better the water quality. This is because forests act as massive filters, removing pollutants before they can reach streams or groundwater.

Most areas will never regain forests to the extent that existed prior to settlement. Which raises the question: If you can’t have forests everywhere, where do you want them, and how big should they be? ...

Forests Offer Tree-Mendous Benefits

Trees provide a host of benefits, even in urban areas, such as flood control, streambank stabilization, shading, wildlife habitat and pollution control — just to name a few. Many benefits are quantifiable. Some examples:

  • Cities with an adequate urban forest can save 4 percent on heating costs and an additional 10 percent on cooling.
  • Deciduous trees provide shade and can save 10–50 percent on a single home’s summer cooling costs.
  • Evergreen trees block winter winds and can save 20 percent on a home’s winter heating needs.
  • One acre of trees can remove 40 tons of carbon dioxide, a gas that contributes to global warming, a year.
  • One acre of trees annually produces enough oxygen to sustain more than 1,000 people.
  • Trees reduce stormwater flow by intercepting rainwater on leaves, branches and trunks. Some of the intercepted water evaporates back into the atmosphere, and some soaks into the ground, thereby reducing the total amount of runoff that must be managed in an urban area.
  • A medium-size tree can absorb up to 400 gallons of water a day.
  • Retaining forest area and buffers has reduced stormwater costs in Fairfax County, VA, by $57 million.
  • A single urban tree can provide the following economic benefits each year: air conditioning: $73; controlling erosion and storm water: $75; wildlife shelter: $75; and controlling air pollution: $50.
  • On average, trees add 5–7 percent to the value of a house lot.
  • Energy savings of 10 percent can result by increasing tree cover as little as 10 percent to buffers near buildings.
  • Trees provide $5.3 million in direct summer energy savings to residential homes in Dade County, FL. If live oaks were put in place of palms, those savings would increase 20 percent.
  • A single mature tree releases about 100 gallons of clean water vapor per day into the atmosphere and provides the cooling equivalent of nine room air conditioners operating at 8,000 BTUs per hour for 12 hours a day.
  • Cold water trout streams were once common in the mid-Atlantic states, but they have been greatly reduced because of the loss of riparian trees. Studies have shown that when stream surface shade is reduced to 35 percent, trout populations can drop by as much as 85 percent. In 1991, Maryland anglers contributed $467 million to the state economy.
  • The wood products industry is a major employer in the Bay region, responsible for 228,370 jobs in Virginia, more than 100,000 in Pennsylvania and more than 41,000 in Maryland.


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