Bay Journal

June 2001 - Volume 11 - Number 4

Group aims to weed out development on prime farm land

When it looked like development was coming to the rural farmland surrounding Earleville last year, alarm spread through the community.

Two farms, which contained a “grandfathered” subdivision under old zoning, were going up for sale. Soon, people feared, 84 new houses would crop up in fields around the village on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

To stop that, people allied themselves with the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy. In just six weeks, local volunteers raised the $450,000 needed to buy the farms from more than 150 contributors. ...

Pennsylvania ‘megahatchery’ fouling stream and Chesapeake

The April Bay Journal contains a seriously flawed representation of the facts by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission concerning hatchery problems, including Big Spring Creek near Newville, PA.

For nearly five years, Dr. Jack Black of Buffalo, NY and I conducted a study of Big Spring Creek. We examined the history, chemical and biological conditions of the stream as affected by the effluent from the hatchery.

This peer-reviewed study was released as a report, “An Ecological Survey of Big Spring Creek with Emphasis of the Effects of Fish Hatchery Effluent,” in 1997 to the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission and the Department of Environmental Protection. It was the impetus for two follow-up studies by DEP biologists whose data and results backed up our work (1998 and 1999, Botts of DEP). ...

Gilmore submits report to counter Corps’ opposition to reservoir

Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore has submitted a detailed report designed to counter the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opposition to efforts to build a reservoir in King William County.

Weighing in on one of the state’s most contentious environmental fights, Gilmore submitted a 30-page review dismissing most of the major points made by Col. Allan Carroll, the Army Corps’ top local officer in Norfolk, who denied permits for the city of Newport News to build the reservoir in April.

“I strongly believe that the King William Reservoir Project is needed and in the best interest of all Virginians,” Gilmore wrote in a letter during a 45-day public comment period that ended in May. ...

Virginians strongly favor more money for land conservation

A new poll suggests Virginians, worried that tracts of environmentally sensitive lands could be permanently lost to development, strongly support additional state spending for land conservation.

The survey of 750 voters conducted by a team of Republican and Democratic pollsters found that Virginians ranked preserving and protecting open spaces nearly as high as reducing crime and improving education, and higher than tax cuts.

In a summary report, the pollsters said support for land protection had grown significantly in the past decade. ...

VIMS shelling out bounty for predacious rapa whelks

It’s too early to tell how abundant the veined rapa whelk, which eats other shellfish, is in the Chesapeake Bay, but preliminary numbers don’t look good, researchers say.

Scientists first detected the non-native predator in the Bay in 1998. More than 1,300 whelks have been brought in since the Virginia Institute of Marine Science has been monitoring the species; 411 of those in late April and early May.

“You can see, there’s been a lot of them collected just recently and that number isn’t a good sign,” said Roger Mann, VIMS marine science professor. “That tells you that there are a lot of them out there.” ...

Bay states urged to show bold, united front to secure funds

The Bay states are moving toward forming a unified strategy to lure more federal funding for Chesapeake restoration efforts, something a recent estimate said could cost $8.5 billion over the next decade.

State officials have asked the Chesapeake Bay Commission to head an informal group that will try to put together proposals that could draw added support as Congress considers a variety of legislation, such as the Farm Bill and measures aimed at shoring up the nation’s deteriorating water infrastructure. ...

Piedmont region reports record conservation easements

More than 17,700 acres in Virginia’s historic Piedmont region were protected from development last year, the Piedmont Environmental Council recently announced.

Land placed in conservation easements last year doubled the rate of donations in 1999 and set a record for land conservation in the area, said PEC Chairman Christopher Miller.

“The dramatic growth in easements in 2000 shows how much local citizens want to protect Virginia’s countryside,” Miller said. “We thank those landowners who are committed to saving these rural open spaces from urban sprawl, land speculation and increasing pollution. We urge others to join in this vital cause.” ...

Paddle up! River sojourns taking place all over

More than a decade ago, when a group of canoeists floated along a stretch of the Susquehanna on a canoe trip sponsored by a local conservation group, the germ of an idea took root.

The excursion was nice, but wouldn’t a trip on a grand scale — with scores of canoes spending a week on the river — be great?

The idea simmered for some time. In 1991, it germinated as the “Susquehanna Sojourn,” a weeklong trip covering roughly 100 river miles and focusing local attention on the Bay’s largest tributary. ...

New menhaden plan removes industry reps from committee

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has adopted a new plan for menhaden that removes industry representatives from the decision-making committees and promises to better account for the ecological role played by the fish.

The plan, adopted in April, comes amid new evidence that the fish population is at its lowest level in three decades. Preliminary estimates from the National Marine Fisheries Service indicate the stock size has fallen more than 60 percent in the past three years. ...

Record number of American shad pass through dams on Susquehanna

American shad swarmed back to the Susquehanna River this spring, eclipsing last year’s record spawning run by mid-May, with several weeks still to go in the run.

As of May 19, more than 184,000 shad had been passed over the Conowingo Dam, the first obstacle encountered by migratory fish. In 2000, the previous best year on record, 153,546 fish were carried over the 100-foot-high dam by a mechanical “fish lift.”

The three upstream dams had all surpassed last year’s mark as well. Typically, the spawning run continues into early June. ...

Striped bass only taking nibble of crab population

The Bay’s burgeoning striped bass stock is eating tens of millions of baby blue crabs each year, but probably not enough to take a significant bite out of the total crab population, according to new research.

A study by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science estimated that striped bass ate about 73.5 million small blue crabs that were inhabiting underwater grass beds in the lower and midportions of the Bay last fall.

But that number was dwarfed by the 1.6 billion crabs that the scientists estimated were taking refuge in the same grass beds. “That is an astounding number,” said Jacques van Montfrans, the VIMS scientist who oversaw the study. ...

Deadlines to make key Bay cleanup decisions drawing near

Early explorers described the Chesapeake as a “faire Bay” teeming with fish, shellfish and waterfowl. Its clear waters allowed sunlight to reach underwater grass meadows that sometimes grew at depths of 10 feet.

Today, it’s often difficult to see much more than a couple of feet into the Bay. Algae blooms are a common occurrence, sometimes killing underwater sea grass meadows by blotting out their sunlight.

When those blooms die, they sink and suck oxygen out of the water. In most years, any fish venturing into deep parts of the Bay would choke because of the lack of oxygen. ...

Students submerge selves in SAV project

The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay has been working with two schools in the District of Columbia to help restore underwater grass beds in the Anacostia River.

For the past semester, the Alliance staff has been training and supervising students and teachers to raise SAV, or submerged aquatic vegetation, in the classroom as part of their science education curriculum.

In late May, the students, working with the Alliance and other project partners, transplanted the SAV just upriver from Anacostia River Park. ...

Report suggests states may want to accelerate efforts to save crab fishery

The blue crab stock shows no sign of rebounding from near-record lows that have persisted in recent years and the Bay states may want to take faster action to reduce harvests, a new report suggests.

The annual blue crab advisory report of the Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee calls the current situation “risky” and warns that the population could be vulnerable to a stock collapse if the wrong combination of factors come together.

Derek Orner, a biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Chesapeake Bay Office, who chairs the CBSAC, said multiple surveys continue to show that the blue crab stock remains low, with no sign of recovery. ...

Bay SAV levels changed little in 2001

The amount of underwater grasses in the Bay — often considered the best indicator of the Chesapeake’s health — remained almost stagnant last year.

Although much of last year was marked by low stream flows into the Chesapeake, which typically means less water-fouling nutrients and sediment, a dense algae bloom blocked sunlight from reaching grass beds in much of the mid-Bay.

Huge losses of submerged aquatic vegetation in that area — some rivers lost all of their grass beds — offset gains in the upper and lower parts of the Bay. ...

Researchers working to define ‘critical mass’ of farmland

New research in Maryland is aimed at answering a key question: When it comes to preserving farmland — and an agricultural economy — when is enough, enough?

The study is aimed at determining whether there is a “critical mass” of farmland that must be maintained to keep agriculture at the county, regional and state level.

“We can’t continue to erode the land base and expect to have an agricultural industry in the state,” said Russell Brinsfield, executive director of the Maryland Center for Agro-Ecology, a nonprofit organization formed two years ago by government, environmental and agricultural leaders in the state, which is funding the study. ...

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