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Restoring the "Coral Reefs" of the Chesapeake

Oyster Reef DAVE HARPA vibrant oyster reef. Photo by Dave Harp.

Who says there are no coral reefs in the Chesapeake?! Take a look at this interactive slideshow I put together with CBF's Director of Fisheries Bill Goldsborough to learn more. It tells the story of the Chesapeake Bay oyster reefs as first experienced by English colonists four hundred years ago. Huge reefs that grew up from the bottom, shell built upon shell over thousands of years. These structures placed the oysters high in the water column where dissolved oxygen was plentiful and currents brought plentiful food. Each year we learn more about how to restore these essential elements in the Chesapeake ecosystem. Take a look and find out how YOU can get involved in oyster restoration and how to incorporate restoration reefs into your angling season.

 —John Page Williams, CBF’s Senior Naturalist

We're aiming to plant 30 million young oysters in the Bay this oyster planting season—help us get there! Because it's so important, The Orvis Company will generously match every dollar you donate for oyster restoration, $1-for-$1, up to $25,000. Make a donation right now and double your impact on our Bay, on our favorite rivers, on our local streams and all the creatures and fish they support. 


Restoration Success on Pennsylvania's Centre County Stream

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Property owner Charles "Chip" Brown, left, and Ed Meiser, install a protective plastic tube around a freshly planted sycamore tree along Elk Creek. Photo by B.J. Small/CBF Staff.

Charles "Chip" Brown cupped his hands around the top lip of the four-foot plastic tube, peered down into it and shook his head, frustrated by the gnawed edges of a stunted silky dogwood. White-tailed deer prefer the dogwoods over the sycamores he planted.

Brown and his wife, Diane, have owned the Fox Gap Rod and Gun Club, 30 miles east of State College, for a decade. Creating a mature streamside buffer has been a priority for the 3.1 acres that parallel Elk Creek, because planting 450 trees benefits anglers, wildlife, and the water quality of the winding, Class A stream.

"Our long-range goal with the buffer, is get some terrestrial habitat for trout," Brown said. "It provides cover for all types of wildlife and enhances the stream by stopping the erosion. So everything we're trying to do is keep the siltation from moving away from here and stabilizing our bank."

Frank Rohrer, restoration specialist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, agreed that the buffers offer multiple benefits. "It's about water quality and the wildlife habitat created," Rohrer said. "It provides nesting and food, like acorns. For water quality, the buffer provides shade. Anything we can do to get shade helps lower the water temperature and raise fish survival. If you had a crop field it also catches and filters the runoff and pollution."

Leading up to the week that includes Earth Day and Arbor Day, Brown and his crew replenished the buffer with 150 new seedlings. The trees were part of 10,000 donated Arbor Day trees restoration specialists like Rohrer delivered to CBF projects within the Susquehanna River watershed.

Forested streamside buffers like the one hoping to mature on the Centre County property, are among the most cost-effective pollution-reduction tools. Streamside trees trap and filter nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment, the Commonwealth's most problematic pollutants, before they run off into waters like the 20 miles of Elk Creek, the Susquehanna River, and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay.

Brown's passion for maintaining the 108 acres of club ground, and dedication particularly to success of the buffer, rings clear by the excitement in his voice, the wealth of knowledge he shares about land and water issues, and the time he spends at it.

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Charles "Chip" Brown and members of the Fox Gap Rod and Gun Club in Centre County are maintaining a 450-tree streamside buffer along Elk Creek. Photo by Kelly Abbe/CBF Staff.

Brown was the first to receive a national volunteer award from the National Wildlife Federation. Fox Gap shares its facilities with wounded warriors for a hunt in the fall of each year.

Brown receives funding for his buffer project from Pennsylvania's Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). CREP pays 90 to 140 percent of the installation cost and annual rent, which is usually $40 to $240 per acre, per year. CBF and CREP partners in the Commonwealth have leveraged $95 million in state and federal funds and assisted more than 5,000 rural landowners to install over 20,000 acres, roughly 2,200 miles of forested buffers.

So far, the buffer has been able to maintain the three-year, 70 percent survival rate of its trees, as required by CREP. "We're probably at 75 percent, except they are not getting to where they need to be," Chip Brown added, looking again at the tree tube. "Survival and growth are two different things."

If only the deer would cooperate.

—B.J. Small, CBF's Pennsylvania Media and Communications Coordinator


Floating Classrooms Foster Love of Nature

The following first appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

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CBF's 42-foot, Coast Guard-inspected boat, "Baywatcher"

Many RVA residents have become spoiled by living near the James River and its wonderful amenities: stunning vistas, fishing, paddling, swimming, hiking, birding, and wildlife watching.

But imagine if the closest you ever got to the James was in a car driving over a Richmond bridge. What if you'd never dipped a toe in the river, cast a line to fish, or rock-hopped across the rapids to picnic or sunbathe? What if you'd never seen a great blue heron stalking the riverbank or touched the whiskers on a blue catfish? What if you'd never, ever seen a bald eagle soaring over the James?

Believe it or not, thousands of Richmond-area youngsters have never had such experiences. They are among a growing number of children suffering from nature deficit disorder, a term coined by Richard Louv, author of the 2005 book Last Child in the Woods. It refers to a near-total unfamiliarity with the outdoors caused by a preoccupation with indoor electronic devices — televisions, computers, cellphones, electronic games and other gadgets. On average, kids 8 to 18 years old spend more than 7.5 hours a day using entertainment media, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. That's more than 50 hours a week.

Fortunately, a beautiful natural world still awaits anyone willing to disconnect from electronic gizmos and venture outdoors. And this year, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation celebrates 30 years of unplugging Richmond-area students and taking them outside onto the James to explore nature and the river.

Since CBF launched its James River Education Boat Program in 1985, some 55,000 students have participated in these hands-on, get-wet-and-dirty environmental education experiences. The kids board Baywatcher, a 42-foot, Coast Guard-inspected boat and one of CBF's many "floating classroom" vessels, and spend three to six hours on the water. There they read maps, identify landmarks, note shoreline land uses, take water samples, fish, crab, and ooh and aah at the critters they find.

But the boat trips are more than just fun days on the water. These science-based discovery experiences are led by professional environmental educators who reinforce knowledge and skills in Virginia's Standards of Learning and complement teachers' own classroom studies.

For many students, the CBF field experiences represent the first time they've ever been on a boat. For still others, the trips are watershed experiences that spark a lifelong love of science and nature. Many teachers have confided they were inspired to be science educators by a CBF discovery trip they took as youngsters. For testimonials and more about CBF's outdoor education experiences, go to cbf.org/education.

But environmental education provides other big benefits as well. Studies demonstrate that it:

  • Generally improves student achievement in science, likely because it connects classroom learning to the real world.
  • Improves student interest and engagement in the classroom. Students just seem to like environmental studies, opting to focus science fair and service projects on environmental topics more than any other.
  • Boosts reading, math and social studies achievement when integrated into other school subjects.
  • When used as a common thread in all classes, reduces student discipline problems, increases student enthusiasm, and generates greater pride and ownership in accomplishments.
  • Teaches critical thinking and basic life skills necessary for a 21st-century workforce.

All of which is why CBF encourages the McAuliffe administration and the Virginia General Assembly to make environmental literacy a priority in Virginia. A new Chesapeake Bay Agreement, signed last year by Governor McAuliffe and the other Chesapeake Bay partner states, includes an important environmental literacy goal: "Enable students in the region to graduate with the knowledge and skills to act responsibly to protect and restore their local watershed."

CBF urges the private and public sectors to work together in planning and funding a bold vision for all Virginia students to have the opportunity to become environmentally literate. Armed with this knowledge, Virginia students can become tomorrow's leaders, making sound decisions to restore the Chesapeake Bay and to protect Virginia's precious natural resources.

Still, it's hard to imagine the commonwealth will achieve these laudable environmental literacy goals unless more kids get outside and experience the wonders of nature. You just have to be there.

So during this Earth Day season, consider taking a young person you know to a park, on a hike, to a lake or stream, or just out into the backyard. Look around. Smell the air. Touch. Explore. You might even see a bald eagle and change a life.

—Ann Jennings, CBF's Virginia Executive Director


Council Opts for Reason on Stormwater

The following first appeared in the Capital Gazette.

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Stormwater is an issue that can't be ignored. Photo by Krista Schlyer/iLCP.

Is it possible? Has the long stormy winter of "rain tax" propaganda finally passed? Is the spring of reasonable thinking here?

I hope that is the take-away from the April 6 vote by the Anne Arundel County Council to affirm the importance of the county's stormwater fee program. The council rejected two bills that would have repealed the county stormwater fee and the program it enables.

The program, three years in the making, is overhauling the county's vast but long-neglected drainage system. Prior to this program, public dollars traditionally focused on maintaining the sewer or water systems. But when your basement or street floods, or your local creek is too polluted for safe swimming, that's often at least partly due to the poor condition of the county's stormwater system. Runoff from storms doesn't properly drain or filter into the ground. It washes pollutants straight into creeks and rivers.

That all changed in 2013 when the county started collecting a fee dedicated exclusively to improving the stormwater system. Numerous projects are now underway throughout the county as a result of this revenue stream. Had the council voted differently, all those projects would have been canceled.

County Councilmen John Grasso, Andrew Pruski, Pete Smith, and Chris Trumbauer showed real leadership. In voting to continue the county's stormwater upgrade program, these four dismissed the rain tax rhetoric for was it was: electioneering. It swept into Maryland like a nor'easter in 2013, uprooting facts and flooding newspapers with misinformation.

A March 13 statewide poll by OpinionWorks found that the rain tax disinformation campaign in Maryland was clever and effective. The poll found one out of every two Marylanders still believes he or she will be taxed when it rains. Not true, of course. A stormwater fee is similar to any other public utility fee — like paying for garbage collection or sewer service. A stormwater fee charges a mall more than a mom-and-pop grocery because the mall parking lot produces more polluted runoff. But talk of a rain tax was brilliant propaganda.

That's why the April 6 vote was a breath of fresh air. The four councilmen who defeated the repeal didn't just stick their fingers up to gauge the prevailing political winds. Reasonable thinking won out. And there's evidence in other parts of Maryland of the same change in the political climate. The storm is passing.

On March 23, for instance, the Salisbury City Council voted unanimously to start collecting a stormwater fee. The vote was grounded in facts. The city hired the Environmental Finance Center at the University of Maryland to explore ways Salisbury could finance an upgrade of its 105-year-old, badly neglected stormwater system. The EFC concluded a dedicated fee was the smart way to go. Salisbury joins nearly 1,500 communities nationwide that have opted for a stormwater fee to attack polluted runoff.

Also, representatives from Prince George's County spoke out forcefully in legislative hearings this spring to defend their own stormwater program from meddling. That county has estimated that by collecting a stormwater fee it actually could cut costs of upgrading its drainage system by 40 percent. Such fees typically are the preferred means of financing major capital expenses.

We just hope the leadership shown by Anne Arundel, other jurisdictions in Maryland, and across the country will inspire elected officials in places such as Baltimore, Howard, Harford, Carroll, and Frederick counties to finally face facts. Polluted runoff is the main cause of fouled, unhealthy water in many urban and suburban areas of the state. The Maryland Department of the Environment still warns us not to swim in local creeks and rivers for 48 hours after a rainstorm.

A campaign of distortions doesn't actually change the condition of our streams any more than a house of mirrors makes us skinnier. We can only do that by dedicating real dollars to put real projects in the ground.

Let's stop talking and get to work.

—Alison Prost, CBF's Maryland Executive Director


Barrels by the Bay

 

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Clinton Global Initiative Scholar and United States Naval Academy Midshipman Megan Rosenberger presentd her Barrels by the Bay Project to a packed house at CBF.

Clinton Global Initiative Scholar and United States Naval Academy Midshipman Megan Rosenberger shares what inspired her to create her Barrels by the Bay Project.

In 2004, my family and I were sitting at the dinner table discussing the never-ending rain from Hurricane Ivan. I took 10 steps "just to check" the basement with my dad and the water began soaking into my shoes a little more with each step. In a matter of hours, my community was flooded because of the immense amount of rain filling the streets.

Years later, I first learned about rain barrels while painting one at a local environmental fair. I remember my excitement when I cut the downspout and installed my own rain barrel at my home in Natrona Heights, Pennsylvania. I even made it my first science project and spent hours in the backyard after school. In 2011, I was honored by President Obama to accept the President's Environmental Youth Award at the White House Summit on environmental education for the hydroelectric rain barrel science project that I built in my backyard.

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Young Megan with her first rain barrel!

When I started at the Naval Academy I experienced similar weather to my hometownthe fall and spring were full of rainy days. But, what I wasn't prepared for was flooded sidewalks and streets, sitting water that that had a film of contaminants suspended on top, and people unaware of how a rain barrel could change all of this. This past October, I was trudging through sidewalks in Annapolis and started thinking that maybe there was something I could do.

The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the United States. It has more miles of shoreline than the entire west coast, encompassing six states and D.C. But what you can't see on a map is that this watershed, which is home to 17 million people, has many streams and rivers on EPA's dirty waters list.

I truly believe Barrels by the Bay can change this. On March 23, I launched Barrels by the Bay at CBF's Philip Merrill Environmental Center. I established the non-profit to bring awareness to World Water Day and water resources. Together with students from 13 different schools, we are painting 22 converted Coca-Cola syrup barrels to reflect one of the past 22 World Water Day themes. We will then donate these rain barrels to public buildings around Annapolis to help collect rain water and prevent polluted runoff from running into our local rivers and streams.

Nearly a thousand students are involved in the painting of these barrels, and they are also learning about preserving water resources in the process through weekly curriculum prepared by the EPA. After the barrels are installed, 34,000 residents and 4.5 million visitors to Annapolis each year will see these barrels before walking into county buildings, senior centers, or even the Naval Academy gates.

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Students paint rain barrels at the Barrels by the Bay kick-off.

Barrels by the Bay will increase community awareness and improve the sustainability of Annapolis buildings. To combat the flooding and polluted runoff concerns, 631,400 gallons of potentially contaminated water will be collected with the 22 rain barrels.

In the coming months, I plan to expand this effort throughout Maryland to educate more students and individuals about the environment and the importance of restoring the Chesapeake. Two years from now, I hope for Annapolis streets free from contaminated runoff because there will be less water flowing off the streets.

There is so much we can do to educate individuals about the environment and to work together to solving polluted runoff problems. I am proud to share that Barrels by the Bay is doing just that. 

Megan Rosenberger


Talbot County Should Fund Ditch Project

The following first appeared in the Star Democrat.

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An Eastern Shore road. Photo by Megan Collins.

The Talbot County Council has been presented a golden opportunity. Other local governments would be green with envy at such a gift.

Talbot has been offered the chance to significantly reduce pollution to local creeks and rivers at a cut-rate price. In the expensive world of Chesapeake Bay restoration, it's like winning the lottery.

We urge the county council to take advantage of this opportunity.

The gift-horse in this case is a proposal to convert roadside ditches in the county into pollution filters. Talbot has about 370 miles of county roads that are lined by such trenches. They channel rain water from roads and farm fields into nearby creeks and rivers. The trouble is that runoff in these ditches also contains lots of pollution—oil, exhaust particles, fertilizer, and manure.

The county engineer has proposed a solution—one already proven in other areas of the country. Ditches could be modified slightly to soak up pollution before it reaches the creeks. This is low-tech, common sense, high-efficiency innovation. It's the kind of ingenuity for which Americans were once famous, farmers especially.

Maybe that's why Talbot farmers such as John Swaine, chairman of the board of supervisors at the Talbot Soil Conservation District, are in support of the proposal.

The ditch work would be focused on stretches of ditches where pollution is worst, making the strategy all the more cost effective.

There are several techniques available to turn the ditches into filters. One popular one used widely in agricultural ditches in the Midwest is to enlarge the ditch just enough so runoff has more space and time to soak into the ground. The county, along with The Nature Conservancy and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, have been working on pilot projects to ensure this "two-stage ditch" technology and other similar approaches would work here.

The price to convert 150 of the most polluted ditches would be about $3 million—paid for in small increments over 30 years.

That's a bargain compared to many other strategies to clean up local water. For example, the price tag for upgrading the Easton sewage plant in 2007 was about $40 million. And polluted runoff is a particularly expensive type of pollution to reduce using traditional methods. But under the ditch program, county staff estimated that tens of millions of dollars could be saved over conventional techniques, reducing costs an estimated 90 percent.

The ditch program also could create jobs—for engineers, heavy equipment operators, and laborers.

Given all this you'd think the Talbot County Council would be embracing the proposal whole-heartedly. It's the kind of smart investment any smart businessman would recognize. But the council has not revealed its position.

The council's draft budget for the upcoming fiscal year is being released on April 14. Whether or not that budget will illustrate a firm commitment to cleaning up Talbot's polluted rivers is uncertain. We can only hope the council isn't penny wise and pound foolish.

If the Talbot council rejects the ditch program, the hundreds of miles of trenches will remain a problem. They will continue to sluice pollution straight into our local waters where we swim, where crabs and oysters try to survive.

We hope the council sees the wisdom of spending smart now in order to save money long term.

With rivers such as the Choptank getting more polluted, it's time for action in Talbot County. The ditch program not only is cost effective, it's inspiring. It will provide an example to other communities around Eastern Shore and throughout the region. On the Shore we have plenty of ditches, but too often a shortage of political will to act for clean water.

—Alan Girard, CBF's Eastern Shore Director

Are you a resident of Talbot County? Make your voice heard, and tell the Talbot County Council you support this ditch program!


Photo of the Week: Few Places I'd Rather Be

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This was taken near Bloody Point on the southwest side of Kent Island from a jet ski rocking in the waves. It evokes in me the history of the Bayits people and its historyalong with the beauty, nature, and serenity that can be found here.  

Having moved to Kent Island about 12 years ago, I've come to love the area, the nearness to the Bay and the peace that comes just driving over the Bay Bridge at the end of a long day at work on "the other side." There are few places that I'd rather be.

Craig Powell

Ensure that Craig and future generations continue to enjoy extraordinary sights like these along the Chesapeake. Support the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint! 

Do you have a favorite Bay photo you'd like to submit to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Photo of the Week contest? Send your digital images to CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media, Emmy Nicklin, at enicklin [at sign] cbf.org, along with a brief description of where and when you took the photo, and what the Chesapeake Bay means to you. We look forward to seeing your photos! 


Talbot County Ditches Can Help Save the Bay

The following first appeared in the Talbot Spy.

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An Eastern Shore road. Photo by Megan Collins.

It seems the lowly roadside ditch can have a higher purpose in life—saving the Bay.

Talbot County, and much of the Eastern Shore, is replete with roadside trenches. They are so prevalent along Talbot's 370 miles of rural roads you hardly notice them. They have a humble purpose. They simply channel runoff from roads and farm fields into nearby creeks. But sometimes it's the humble among us who have the greatest promise.

A recent article in the Chesapeake Bay Journal said parts of the Midwest have similar ditches. But in Indiana, Ohio, and other states people have discovered great potential in these otherwise ordinary gullies. The Nature Conservancy, local soil conservation districts, and local governments have discovered the ditches can help clean up storm runoff, not just flush it wholesale into creeks. With a few relatively simple tweaks, the trenches can become "wastewater treatment plants for farms," as one Midwest environmentalist called them.

In one county in Indiana, 11 farmers have reduced nitrate flowing out of their ditches by 31 percent, and phosphorus by 50 percent. Similar projects are underway in 21 counties in Indiana alone.

If only we could do this on the Eastern Shore, the Journal article suggested. Well, guess what? We can. And we are.

The Nature Conservancy, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and other groups are working with the Talbot County government on pilot programs to modify roadside ditches, so they filter out pollutants that run off roadways and nearby farms.

The Talbot County Council has the opportunity to turn these experimental projects into a full-blown program. That's exciting. Talbot County could be a pioneer on the Shore in this promising, cost-effective method for cleaning up local creeks and rivers. The county is currently eligible to apply for a low-interest loan of about $3 million to do over 150 ditch projects at targeted locations over the coming years. The loan would be paid off in relatively small increments over 30 years. And county staff have estimated that using ditches in this way could save county taxpayers tens of millions of dollars over alternative pollution controls over the long term.

Converting a roadside ditch into a filtration system can be a pretty simple thing. One strategy is to widen the upper portion of the ditch and seed that shoulder area with native grasses and wetland plants. When it rains, water coming off the road spreads up onto the shoulder and soaks in, instead of gushing straight into nearby creeks. The modified ditch is called a "two-stage" ditch.

On a recent day, Talbot farmer John Swaine watched as a backhoe carefully created 400 feet of two-stage ditch along one of his fields adjacent to Bellevue Road in Royal Oak. Swaine, the chairman of the Board of Supervisors of the Talbot Soil Conservation District, agreed to the pilot ditch project on this property because he values clean water. He said he had watched for too many years as brown, muddy water flushed off his fields after a rain storm into the county ditches, and eventually into a creek near his home.

Also watching the construction at Swaine's farm was Talbot County Engineer Ray Clarke. He has proposed to the County Council that this sort of work could easily be underway throughout the county.

"We are in a position where we can make things happen," Clarke said.

The expanded ditch program won't be a "silver bullet," for clean creeks, Clarke said. The county will still need to potentially hook some failing septic systems to sewer lines, continue to upgrade sewage treatment, and take other steps. But simply turning ditches into filtration systems could be one of the more innovative, and cheaper strategies, he said.

The 150 potential ditch improvement sites have been carefully selected as current "hotspots" of high pollution flow. This means the dirtiest water will be cleaned up first. The Nature Conservancy used topographic imagery technology to map the hotspots. That's smart.

The pilot ditch projects suggest a broader program also would create jobs. Dan Kramer, the owner of Sweet Bay Watershed Conservation, the general contractor on the Swaine pilot project, said six men were working on the job. Think of the job creation if the Council approves over 150 projects. That's also smart.

But the Council's view of the proposed ditch program is uncertain. It likely will decide by April 14 whether to include the program in next year's budget.

We urge the Council to undertake this program. It is relatively cheap compared to other strategies for cleaning our water. It is effective. And it will show Talbot is willing to do its share to reduce pollution.

All counties in Maryland have been asked to contribute to meeting the state's goals under the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. That's the plan to make the Chesapeake once again safe for swimming and fishing, with all strategies in place by 2025. But in some Shore counties like Talbot, efforts have been lagging. The Council's approval of the ditch program could help motivate the entire Eastern Shore to do its share for clean water.

—Alan Girard, CBF's Eastern Shore Director

Are you a resident of Talbot County? Make your voice heard, and tell the Talbot County Council you support this ditch program!


Inside CBF: Clagett Farm Manager Michael Heller

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Pollution from agriculture continues to be the largest source of pollution to the Bay, rivers, and streams we all love. It is also the most cost-effective to clean up, and the sector on which the Chesapeake's states are relying on most to achieve their Clean Water Blueprint-reduction goalsNow more than ever, it is critical to understand how healthy farming practices are intrinsically tied to a healthy Chesapeake Bay and the rivers and streams that feed it. As such we revisit a summer's day last year, when we got to visit with and learn from CBF's Clagett Farm Manager Michael Heller in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. Read on . . .   

It's a particularly steamy early Friday morning on CBF's Clagett Farm. The cows are testy, lined up, and waiting expectantly when Farm Manager Michael Heller and I pull up in his '96 Ford Ranger, windows down, Beethoven's Coriolan Overture on the radio drifting across the fields on warm June air. The minute they see Heller, the cows are especially vocal. The herd of Red Angus and Red Devon are anxious to move on to the next field for grazing, occasionally nudging Heller with their noses as they pass. "Our cows are very gentle," says Heller with pride.

DSC_0045Besides providing affection, the cows do wonders for the soil and as Heller says, "Building soil quality is probably the single most important thing to improving water quality." As soon as Heller started at Clagett in 1982, he was determined to use truly sustainable farming methods to make a healthier, more productive farm starting with the soil. "From day one I have not used pesticides," says Heller. "I didn't want them for my children; I didn't want them for the students coming out here. There were just so many reasons not to use them . . . when that's you're starting point, you have to be ecological in how you do things." So the plant ecology major cultivated fields of orchard grass, timothy, clover, hairy vetch, and other diverse plant species that never have to be tilled, therefore they protect the ground, soak up nutrients, build the soil, and improve water quality.      

"The beauty of working on the farm here is it directly affects water quality and the Bay," says Heller, "but also it allows me and CBF to get a real perspective of what farmers need to be successful. Because we don't want to make farmers unsuccessful; we want to help farmers be successful and protect the Bay."

It was only natural that Heller wound up at Clagett. The Pennsylvania native grew up working on the farm next door, bird watching with his mother, and tending his garden: "My friends used to joke that I was the only high school quarterback with a wildflower garden."

DSC_0013After stints at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, the National Park Service at Cape Hatteras National Seashore, and the University of Maryland, the avid environmentalist got a call from CBF asking him to run its newly acquired Clagett Farm. Here he would not only manage the 285-acre farm but run the education program and write grants. "It was a wonderfully impossible job," says Heller with a glowing enthusiasm, "and here 30 years later, the learning curve keeps going up and up . . . I still feel like I'm just getting started!"

We might argue otherwise considering Heller's substantial contributions to the farming and environmental communities thus far. He was instrumental in starting both Future Harvest, a regional sustainable agriculture organization, and Maryland Grazer's Network, a mentorship program where farmers learn from other farmers about successful and sustainable farming practices. In his downtime, Heller co-authored a cookbook about grass-fed beef, started Clagett's CSA (in which 40 percent of each year's harvest is donated to the Capital Area Food Bank), became a Johns Hopkins visiting scholar, raised three bright children, and spent as much time as possible either on a tractor or in a canoe. "I love to hang out in a canoe. I'm never happier than when I'm in a canoe, in a marsh, listening to marsh wrens and bitterns and rails calling." 

When asked why it's so important for future generations to come out and get a taste of Clagett Farm, Heller doesn't take long to answer: "I just know that my kids are different for having grown up on a farm. I wish every kid could grow up on a farm. When students come out here, they always work a little bit . . . I think they see that there's a tangible result to work. And they get a real sense of a connection between the land and what's happening in the water."

—Photos and Text by Emmy Nicklin
CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media

Learn more about how farmers across the watershed are working to improve both water quality and efficiency on their farms in our Farmers' Success Stories series. 


Oyster Migration: Fact or Fiction?


ShellyOyster Shelly is on the move! After vacationing in the Caribbean Sea for the winter, she, along with the osprey, have come back home to the Chesapeake. We've been tracking Oysters Shelly, Rocky, and Pearl throughout their migration. Check it out . . .

APRIL FOOLS!!! While we know our favorite Chesapeake critters don't go far, there is actually a period of about three weeks when oyster larvae can indeed move around. As Dr. Elizabeth North, Associate Professor at the Horn Point Laboratory of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science says: 

"Although adult oysters remain fixed in one location, their eggs and larvae spend ~3 weeks as free-swimming plankton in the water column. During this planktonic stage, the young oysters pass through different stages of development, growing from fertilized eggs, to trocophores, to veligers, and finally to pediveligers. The pediveliger stage is the stage at which larvae search for suitable substrate to which they cement themselves, leaving the water column and becoming fixed on the bottom. This "settlement" of the larvae signals the end of the larval dispersal stage and the beginning of the juvenile stage. A suite of physical and biological factors influence larval dispersal and subsequent oyster larvae settlement. Circulation patterns are controlled by tides as well as freshwater flow and wind which can change between years, months, weeks and even days. These patterns, and differences in larval behavior, influence the direction and distance that larvae could be transported and the location where they ultimately settle.

"To predict oyster larval dispersal, we used two numerical models (i.e., computer simulations): a particle-tracking model and a three-dimensional hydrodynamic model of Chesapeake Bay. The coupled bio-physical modeling system has the ability to move particles due to currents velocities and turbulent mixing, and includes algorithms that give the particles "oyster larvae-like" behaviors. We use circulation predictions from five years in order to capture a range of physical conditions that likely influence larval dispersal. In addition, we used the best estimate of suitable present-day oyster habitat (oyster bars) and information from laboratory studies on larval behavior."

Visit Dr. North’s website to see her model of oyster larvae distribution in wet, average, and dry years. Note that she developed these animations seven years ago, when Maryland and Virginia were wrestling with the question of whether to introduce a non-native Asian oyster to the Chesapeake. Dr. North's research played a valuable role in the decision to concentrate restoration efforts on our native Eastern oyster, Crassostrea virginica. Thus the Eastern Oyster Animations are the only ones that apply to our Bay today. Remember that female oysters spawn huge numbers of eggs, and that larger oysters, clumped together, send out exponentially larger numbers. Mortality is high, but the more we concentrate their numbers, the faster the stocks increase.

The good news in these simulations is that they give us a flavor of how resilient our oyster can be if we understand its behavior and habitat needs as a species. With intelligent restoration efforts, we can once again rely on its reefs for natural water filtration, rich fish/crab habitat, and succulent seafood. 

John Page Williams, CBF’s Senior Naturalist

Wanna see some real migration? Check out our osprey tracking project! Now those birds travel far—some from as far away as South America!