Earth Day: "That's All There Is"

EarthPhoto courtesy Flickr Creative Commons.

 

“Our goal is not just an environment of clean air and water and scenic beauty. The objective is an environment of decency, quality, and mutual respect for all other human beings and all other living creatures.” That’s what U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson said when he launched the very first Earth Day back in the spring of 1970. With roughly 20 million Americans taking part in that first Earth Day—from more than 10,000 schools and 1,000 communities across the country, bringing together all walks of life from housewives to farmers to scientists to students—the event was a bigger success than ever anticipated.

I had the honor of meeting and listening to Senator Nelson when he came to talk to The Nature Conservancy in the spring of 2004, just a year before his death. Though older, frailer, and bound to a wheelchair, Senator Nelson had not lost his impact or might. With quiet conviction he told the story of Earth Day, and why indeed it’s critical we continue to gather together on April 22 every year and raise awareness and appreciation for our environment.

After all, as Nelson said in 1995 on the 25th Anniversary of Earth Day, our natural world and our health and wealth are intrinsically tied together: “The wealth of the nation is its air, water, soil, forests, minerals, rivers, lakes, oceans, scenic beauty, wildlife habitats, and biodiversity… that’s all there is. That’s the whole economy. That’s where all the economic activity and jobs come from. These biological systems are the sustaining wealth of the world.”

And so year after year we have had the privilege of carrying on Nelson’s vision, and this year is no exception. From oyster festivals to tree plantings, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation will be taking part in various Earth Day events across the watershed. Here below is a sneak peak of what you can expect. Please come out and join us! 

—Emmy Nicklin

 

CBF Earth Day Events

 

 


Photo of the Week: Privateer's Night Sky

Privateer's night skyPhoto by Teanna Byerts.

I did a guest crew passage on the Pride of Baltimore II, from Baltimore to Chestertown, Maryland, on Halloween weekend. After a day of her cutlass-blade hull slicing through the waves under a vast cloud of sail, with Schooner Virginia appearing occasionally on the dark-blue horizon, Pride dropped anchor off Eastern Neck Island National Wildlife Refuge. I had paddled my kayak there often, but had never seen the island and her surrounding waters under a night sky in late fall.

I set up my Pentax K1000 (good ol' basic film camera with one 50mm lens) on a tripod on deck. Shivering in my parka, I watched the sky, glittering with thousands of stars not seen in more civilized places. The only lights were a few vague ones far away, the distant glow of Baltimore on the far horizon, and soft lights high on the masts, marking Pride, and Virginia at anchor. One meteor arced overhead (I had to capture that on Photoshop later). When I saw the print later, I wondered why the stars made arcs across the photo...I had used exposures of half a minute to two minutes...not long enough to capture the movement of stars across the sky.

Then it occured to me: I had captured the gentle swing of Pride herself at anchor on the Bay's night ripple.

I live in the Bay watershed, in farm country far from open water. I came to her shores late, carried there by my sea kayak, searching for green, open places to paddle. I've paddled her backwaters, and occasionally sailed bigger water on hulls that creak and groan with the waves, with rigging that sings in the wind...and dragged friends, relatives, and kids out on adventures with me. I've considered turning back when a huge cartilininous fin surfaced by my paddle (it turned out to be a cownosed ray). I've explored the fossil-laden cliffs, the big waves offshore. Eaten oysters and crabs and wondered if we can restore the sturgeon.

I can only hope the Bay will be here for the next generation, and the ones after that.

 Teanna Byerts

Ensure that Teanna and future generations have magical "green, open places to paddle" like the Chesapeake. Support the Bay pollution limitsour best hope for a saved Bay. 

 

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 E-Communications Manager, 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. Please also join our Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Flickr group and post your pics to our Facebook page. We look forward to seeing your photos!



Winter on the Islands

FoxLodgeThe Fox Island Lodge on a moonlit night. Photo by Susan McElhinney/National Wildlife Federation.

Winter conjures many images in one’s head: smoke from chimneys, snow-dusted pines, bare branches, and slippery roads. While these visions may accurately represent the mainland’s experience, winter on the islands in the Chesapeake have a slightly different look, especially during a mild winter such as this. Here, your eyes spot the earthy browns and blacks of a marsh that lays dormant, waiting for the spring sun to start its growth again. With an overcast sky, the gun-metal gray waters appear dull. Northwest winds blow out the tide to expose sandy and muddy bottoms where gulls lazily roost, waiting for an opportunity. It is the world in sepia: slow and muted with the feel of an old-faded photograph. 

This January I had the lucky opportunity to enter this photograph as myself and a group of men headed out to Fox Island for an extended weekend. Here we found that this seemingly subdued landscape is actually brimming with life and activity. As we arrived at the Fox Island lodge, we immediately noticed all the hard work our Education staff completed this winter. With new docks and newly finished floors, it was apparent that our educators do not just hibernate for the winter. They spend a lot of their time repairing and maintaining these unique facilities so that next year’s field season will be just as successful. After stashing our gear, we donned our waders, walked the shallows, and watched the low sun sink behind clouds in the west.

The next day we woke up early to get to Cedar Island Wildlife Management Area, a public hunting ground just north of Fox Island. As we sat in the tall needle rush, lying quiet while sunlight began filling the sky, we heard a noise that sent adrenaline coursing through our veins. Hundreds and hundreds of wing beats broke dawn’s silence from behind us. We looked in the sky to see huge flights of redhead ducks heading south towards the underwater grass beds to feed. From that point on, the sounds and sights of life surrounded us: tundra swans flocking together, immature bald eagles hunting the marsh, and red foxes darting in and out of cover in search of food. This island was no old photograph, but a vibrant habitat bursting with life in any season. This is why we bring students and teachers here. 

This is why we work so hard to save these places. 

Adam Wickline

Adam Wickline has worked for CBF for 5 years. Three of those years he lived and worked as manager of the Fox Island program.


Chesapeake Born: The Grand Experiment

IMG_0409Photo by Emmy Nicklin/CBF Staff.

I have enjoyed the Chesapeake Bay for more than 60 years and written about it for nearly 40. Early in my reporting career, I realized I was covering more than pollution or the vicissitudes of fish and crabs.

I had a front row seat to a grand experiment. We had taken a world-class ecosystem and screwed it up big time, then begun an unprecedented effort to restore it, even as millions more people moved into the watershed.

For better or for worse, we were going to learn some lessons; important for the whole planet. Could an affluent, technologically sophisticated society forge a healthy and sustainable relationship with the rest of nature?

No one thought it would be easy or quick. Yet few thought we’d get this far with restoration still so far away, with so little certainty of meeting already postponed goals.

Much has gone in the right direction, offsetting somewhat the increased environmental pressures from a watershed-wide population that has doubled since I was a kid.

And looking at what’s worked suggests common threads.

Air pollution, a big source of Bay pollution, has decreased. Sewage treatment technology has improved to remove dramatically more nitrogen and phosphorus from waste.

Striped bass rebounded handsomely from dangerously low levels, and it seems within our grasp to operate blue crab harvests sustainably.

Lessons learned? The federal Clean Air Act has real teeth and good science behind it, and pretty good enforcement by the Environmental Protection Agency across state boundaries. The federal Clean Water Act has enough authority over sewage treatment to prod polluting municipalities, with the water and sewer bills users pay providing reliable funding.

With striped bass, strong federal oversight was critical to a species that mostly spawned in the Chesapeake but was overfished throughout its multistate migratory range.

With bass and blue crabs, funding good science that included excellent long-term monitoring provided politicians with the backing they needed to make controversial decisions to curtail harvests.

So fund the science, collect the data, strengthen regulatory agencies and federal oversight, then set real deadlines with real penalties. Next election, ask your candidates where they stand on those issues.

More regulation isn’t the sole key to Bay progress. Across the watershed, 20 percent of all land has been protected as open space using tools ranging from voluntary easements that give up development rights to outright purchase.

There’s also room for using market forces to protect the environment. Removing subsidies that encourage polluting behavior would work—and save money. Assigning economic value to nature’s services that purify air and water would send the correct (higher) price signals to pavers and deforesters.

When Bay restoration began, we heard a lot about “win-win”—what was good for the Bay would also prove good for the bottom line.

But the pushback from two of the biggest Bay problem areas—agriculture and sprawl development—has blown away such easy assumptions. The development industry and its allies continue to own local decision-making bodies where most land-use decisions are made—and made badly for the public interest.

Farmers, who contribute the most pollution to the Bay—and the most cost-effective pollution to curtail—enjoy a good-guy image with the voting public. Most really are good guys who have done many good things for the environment, although too often these are not well-targeted at Bay restoration.

To both sprawl and farm runoff we have workable and affordable solutions but not the politics or laws that are up to the task.

More straight talk to the public and farmers is in order. There’s a disconnect between the great deal the science says needs remedying and the “mission accomplished” one often hears from agricultural bureaucracies.

But, in the fourth decade of Bay-saving, we are at least working on almost all of the pieces of the puzzle, from pollution to overfishing to protecting habitat.

The bad news is that governments and environmental groups in the watershed continue treating growth—indefinitely expanding both the human economy and population—as an “uncontrollable” environmental impact, which can only be accommodated, never rethought.

Is the grand experiment then doomed? I’m not wise enough to say.

I have grown wise enough to spend every moment I can outside exploring this still marvelous region from Cooperstown, N.Y., to the Virginia capes. If readers get one thing from these columns, I would hope for this: Get outdoors, explore and learn what it would mean to live sustainably in this place.
 

—Tom Horton

The above "Chesapeake Born" column appears monthly in the Bay Journal News Service. Tom Horton covered the Bay for 33 years for The Sun in Baltimore, and is author of six books about the Chesapeake. Distributed by Bay Journal News Service.





Notes from the Field: From the Chesapeake to the Jordan

IMG_0212
A Roman bridge built over the Jordan River. Photo by Adam Wickline/CBF Staff.

The idea of summer school usually implies a remedial tone: “Johnny, you failed algebra. You’re going to summer school!” However, this July I had the extraordinary opportunity to learn how another region of the world is dealing with complex environmental issues. Through a State Department grant and a Dickinson College/Arava Institute of Environmental Sciences (AIES) partnership, I participated in the Across Borders Summer Fellowship in the Middle East to study trans-boundary resource issues in the region. Along with 16 fellow professionals from all over the United States, I traveled, explored, and discussed the major resource challenges facing Israel, Jordan, Palestine, and Egypt. The fellowship will continue next summer with 17 environmental professionals from the Middle East coming to the Chesapeake Bay region to study our efforts to work together across state lines in reducing pollution running into our waters. 

Not surprisingly, water was the resource that took center stage. Though I could speak for days detailing the myriad of water issues facing the region, there was one problem that intrigued me the most: the degradation of the Jordan River. 

The Jordan River runs north to south from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea and forms a large part of the border between Israel and Jordan. It is both culturally and ecologically important. The site where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist is a key stop for the numerous pilgrims who visit the region each year. The river valley is also an extremely important flyway for birds migrating from Europe to Africa and back to escape winter. Though this river is small in comparison to the rivers we have in the Chesapeake watershed, it provides a large portion of freshwater to both countries. So much so that every cubic meter of water in the river is allocated for human use, whether it be domestic use in the home or use in the numerous agricultural fields on both sides of the river. And there’s the rub. By the time the Jordan River reaches the Dead Sea, it is nothing more than a small trickle comprised mostly of wastewater put back into the river after people have used it.  Sadly, the Jordan is one of the most degraded waterways I have ever encountered and its overuse has impacted the environment and people. Bird populations that once thrived in the Jordan River valley have decreased in the past few decades. Furthermore, we were concerned that people could very possibly be developing a “baptism rash” of some sort while being purified in the not-so-clean Jordan River!

Fortunately, there is work being done to rehabilitate and restore this unique world treasure. An active organization called the Friends of the Earth Middle East (FOEME) has worked tirelessly on both sides of the river to create a plan to allow more water to flow in the river, create proper sewage treatment for wastewater, and connect people to the river to increase awareness. Just like the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Bay-wide pollution diet, FOEME has an actionable plan based in science that can save the Jordan River. Unfortunately, their plan has not been implemented by any of the involved governments. But when I spoke with Gidon Bromberg, the Director of FOEME’s Israeli office, he exuded sincere optimism and confidence that expressed hope for the future of both the river and the region, against all odds. This was certainly an inspiration to take with me back to the Chesapeake, and to discuss with next year’s fellows.

IMG_0184 The not-so-clean water at the Baptism site in the Jordan River. Photo by Adam Wickline/CBF Staff.

Now that I have returned to Maryland and CBF, I cannot help but constantly compare the struggle of our Bay to the struggle of the Jordan River. Even though things seem bad here, we are still lucky in many ways. For example, the Chesapeake is one of the most studied bodies of water in the world and we have incredible data to show for it. This is a key advantage when you consider the Jordan, whose data are either nonexistent or in disagreement with another nation’s research. In addition, we as watershed citizens have INCREDIBLE access to our streams, rivers, and Chesapeake. We are out there fishing, boating, hunting, and keeping an eye on the health of our water. The Jordan River lies between two countries that were at war as recently as 1973. It is choked off from its people by barbed wire, military borders, and landmines. Until FOEME made concerted efforts to get people to go to the few access points there are on the river, no one really knew the problems at hand or moved to make government protect this natural treasure.   

So, let’s use all these advantages that we have here in the Chesapeake. We have an enforceable plan to reduce pollution (the TMDL, or “pollution diet”). We have the power to contact our elected officials and voice our opinion. And finally—and perhaps most importantly—we have numerous opportunities to truly experience the magic that our Bay and its watershed still hold. And we have a duty to keep an eye out for egregious violations against our waters and to keep them clean.    

—Adam Wickline


Photo of the Week: Formative Flying

FormativeFlying_ByAlex TeitelbaumINCLUDEFLICKRPHOTOSTREAM
Photo by Alex Teitelbaum/http://www.flickr.com/photos/alextbaum


"I took this picture on a May morning this year, off of the promenade in Havre de Grace, Maryland, at the point where the Susquehanna flows into the Chesapeake. Of all the places I photograph, the Chesapeake Bay and it's tributaries are my favorites. I grew up on the southern bay in Hampton,Virginia, and eventually found myself living at the very opposite end of the bay in Havre de Grace, Maryland. In addition to being a photographer of the natural beauty of the Bay, I'm a boat owner and have spent much of my life enjoying what these incredible waters offer in terms of recreation and relaxation. I think what the Foundation is doing is a critical part of preserving this treasure for my children and future generations to come."

—Alex Teitelbaum


Do you have a favorite Bay photo you'd like to submit to our Photo of the Week contest? Join the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Flickr group or post to our Facebook page. We look forward to seeing your pics! 


March 5 - Fight for Clean Water and Clean Energy

Put a big red circle around the date March 5 on your calendar.

04_19_12_prev The Clean Water Network has declared March 5 as National Clean Water Phone Congress Day. The U.S. House of Representatives is poised to act this year on what could be the most important clean water legislation in 35 years: The Clean Water Restoration Act (H.R. 2421).

This bipartisian bill is needed now to ensure that all of the nation's streams, headwater tributaries, wetlands and other waters remain protected from pollution by the federal Clean Water Act. It will reaffirm that the Clean Water Act was intended to protect all of the waters of the United States, from big rivers to small streams, and from the Great Lakes to remote wetlands. 

So limber up those fingers and and call your U.S. Representative between 9am and 6pm EST. Tell him/herto support clean water by getting behind the Clean Water Restoration Act (H.R. 2421). For more information about the bill and how to contact your representative, download this message from CWN.

Rally with O'MallyIf you live near Annapolis, you'll want to limber up those legs and walk or ride to Lawyer's Mall (across from the State House) to Rally with O'Malley for green jobs and a clean energy future. Join Governor O'Mally, the Alliance for Global Warming Solutions, CBF, and others at 10am on March 5 to thank the Gov. for his support of the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2008 and to stand with him in asking the General Assembly to pass this bill!


Global warming: "Strongest evidence yet"

NASA's Earth Observatory Friday issued two press releases revealing new evidence for sea level rise and climate change. On the same day, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) adopted a summary for policymakers entitled "Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis."

Experts say the Chesapeake Bay could rise up to three feet by the end of the century. (Granted, this isn't exactly new news; see the Bay Journal from Dec. 2004.)

What to do?

Last month, Congressman Wayne Gilchrest (MD-1) and Massachusetts Congressman John Olver, co-chairs of the House Climate Change Caucus, reintroduced the Climate Stewardship Act (HR 620). This is the third year Gilchrest and Olver have introduced the bill, which reduces greenhouse gas emissions to 70% below their 1990 levels by 2050.

What do you think its chances are this year?