Chesapeake Bay Region Faith Leaders Signed Something Momentous; We Should All Pay Attention

PortIsobelSunset_Port Isobel Island Sunset. Photo by CBF Staff.

Faith leaders have plenty on their radar screens these days: poverty, homelessness, joblessness, to name a few. So when the faith community responds to something, you know it's important because it has moved up through the priorities and floated to the top.

That's what happened this past week . . . and it should cause us all to do a double take.

Notwithstanding attention-getting headlines like urban violence, racial inequities, and economic downturns, more than 100 faith leaders representing tens of thousands of people of faith across the Chesapeake Bay watershed stopped what they were doing and took action. They came together in a unified message about the moral imperative to restore the waters of the Chesapeake.

Their united voice was articulated in a letter addressed to Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, Chair of the Chesapeake Executive Council, which has the reins on the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, the regional plan to restore the Bay and its rivers and streams. The faith leaders challenged the governors of all six watershed states and the D.C. mayor to re-commit to the hard work that lies ahead to meet agreed-upon milestones in the Blueprint. They affirmed the great work that has been accomplished thus far, but recognized that we simply have not done enough to heal our watershed. Speaking with one voice, "If our generation will not accept responsibility for this, who will?"

Bishops, Presbyters, clergy, congregational leaders, and faith-based organizations from Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Unitarian, and Non-Denominational traditions shared a common concern about the Chesapeake Bay watershed. And, why does this matter to them?

The answer is simple. Until we heal the Earth, we cannot heal ourselves. Until we love the Earth, we will not love each other. Until we honor the sacred waters that connect us all to each other, we will continue to disrespect those downstream of us and those who will walk in our footsteps for generations to come. As Wendell Berry eloquently said, "Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you." Loving each other is the fundamental tenet of all faiths. Loving each other by respecting the Earth is the natural extrapolation of this.

We heard this recently in Pope Francis' Encyclical Laudato Si', released in June 2015. "All of us are linked by unseen bonds and together form a kind of universal family, a sublime communion which fills us with a sacred, affectionate and humble respect." (89) He goes on to say: "We are not faced with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the underprivileged, and at the same time protecting nature." (139)

I was so proud of the Chesapeake's faith community this week. They understand the issues, they remain steadfast to their beliefs, and they reminded their elected leaders to be guided by a moral compass during the Chesapeake Executive Council's meeting so that all of creation can thrive in the beauty of the Earth as our Creator intended.

Now, we watch to see, how will our leaders respond? What is on their radar screen?

—Jodi Rose, Executive Director of Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake

 


Time to Walk the Walk on Clean Waters

 

Octavio Abruto_iLCP2
Photo by Octavio Abruto/iLCP. 

At the recent annual meeting of the Chesapeake Bay Program leadership, there was much talk about the importance of restoring local rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay, but a shortage of commitment to specific actions that will get Bay restoration back on track.

And it is clearly off track.

After decades of failed Bay restoration efforts, there is now a Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. The Blueprint includes pollution limits, state-specific plans to achieve those limits with two-year milestones describing the actions each state will take, and the consequences that the Environmental Protection Agency said it would impose if the jurisdictions failed to take the actions they promised.

As part of the Blueprint, the Bay jurisdictions pledged to implement practices by 2017 that will result in a 60 percent reduction in pollution, but at the current pace it is estimated that they will miss that mark on nitrogen pollution by 50 percent. And 80 percent of that shortfall is from Pennsylvania.

That is unacceptable.

Gov. Tom Wolf inherited this problem, but the 2017 deadline will occur on his watch. At the meeting, John Quigley, the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), did acknowledge that the commonwealth needs to "reboot" its restoration efforts, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) believes he intends to do that. But the devil is in the details, and we are calling for Pennsylvania to lay out, in the next 30 days, a meaningful plan and timetable for implementation.

We are pleased that Pennsylvania recognizes that it needs to improve compliance with agricultural laws and regulations as well as modernizing record keeping and data collection. The commonwealth has some of the strongest regulations in the region for agriculture, but recent on-farm inspections by the EPA and DEP found only one in three farms in compliance. With current staffing, it would take DEP more than 150 years to inspect each farm in Pennsylvania's Bay watershed once.

CBF supports the call by Senators Ben Cardin of Maryland and Robert Casey of Pennsylvania for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to increase the technical and financial assistance to help farmers implement conservation practices that will reduce pollution.

Maryland and Virginia are closer to being on track, but an assessment of the critical practices they have committed to implementing in their milestones finds progress short of the mark in those jurisdictions as well.

Virginia missed its target for both nitrogen and phosphorus from urban and suburban runoff. And because of changes in farming production and expected increases in Virginia's poultry industry, the state might have to achieve additional reductions from agriculture.

Because Virginia's plan calls for achieving 79 percent of its pollution reduction from agriculture, we call on the administration of Gov. Terry McAuliffe to ensure farmers across the state fence livestock out of streams and plant trees to create streamside buffers. These and other proven conservation practices not only protect streams and rivers but also boost livestock health and farm bottom lines.

Virginia also must increase funding to help localities reduce polluted runoff from streets, parking lots, lawns and buildings. Urban and suburban runoff is among the few increasing sources of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in Virginia.

With regards to nitrogen pollution, Maryland missed its 2014 milestone from both agriculture and urban/suburban runoff. The job will not get easier, as new information from the USDA agricultural census, population and land-use data put Maryland off track to meet its overall nitrogen goals. As in Virginia, polluted runoff from streets, rooftops and other impervious surfaces remains a pressing issue.

Administrator Gina McCarthy, who was also at that meeting, spoke of EPA's support of the Blueprint, but refused to specify the actions the agency intends to take if the states fail to meet their commitments. If states fail to implement the plans each developed, EPA must impose consequences for failure. If not, we are at risk of yet another failed Bay agreement.

The leaders talked the talk; it is now time for them to walk the walk.

—Kim Coble, CBF Vice President for Environmental Protection & Restoration 

 


Photo of the Week: Morning Mist on Spring Creek Canyon

_MG_2356-2362_stitch_50percent_cropSpring Creek is a tributary of the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, and a first-class trout fishery in Centre County, Pennsylvania. You wouldn't know it from this picture, but below the mist, the terrain drops 400 feet or so to the Spring Creek streambed.

Of course, the health of the Susquehanna River watershed has direct and dramatic impact on the health of the Chesapeake Bay. The Chesapeake Bay has not only tremendous economic importance, but to me, is valued all the more for the nature, outdoor, and wildlife opportunities as an estuary. Even more than that, I value the Chesapeake Bay for the asthetic and spiritual values the landscape offers.

—Hillel Brandes

Ensure that Hillel and future generations continue to enjoy extraordinary places like these along the Chesapeake. Send a message to Bay cleanup leaders, who are meeting this week, urging them to fully commit to the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprintthe federal/state plan to Save the Bay! 

Do you have a favorite summertime 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!


Photo of the Week: After the Storm

AfterTheStorm_RickSchwitzerI took this with my iPhone last week at Lake Ogleton in Bay Ridge, Annapolis

The water pretty much defines my marriage and my family. I did not grow up near the water, but fell in love with it as young adult. My wife grew up on a small lake outside of Chicago, and she strengthened our love for the water and the Bay.

Fifteen years ago, we made the decision to move to the Annapolis area and the Severn River, and it was the best decision we ever made. Our daughter raced in college, and my high school son is constantly out puttering around with his friends on the Severn. We've sailed the Bay for 25 years as a family; we live on the water, and we spend as much time as possible being on or near it. Without it, I'm not sure we could survive.

—Rick Schwitzer

Ensure that Rick, his family, and future generations continue to enjoy extraordinary sights like these along the Chesapeake. Support the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprintthe federal/state plan to Save the Bay! 

Do you have a favorite summertime 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!

 


Photo of the Week: What Gives Life to the Mid-Atlantic

LanceYoungSunsetI took this photo near Still Pond, Maryland, the other evening. For me, the Bay means peaceful moments like this, endless recreational opportunities, and what gives life to the mid-Atlantic region.

—Lance Young

Ensure that Lance and future generations continue to enjoy extraordinary sights like these along the Chesapeake. Support the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprintthe federal/state plan to Save the Bay! 

Do you have a favorite summertime 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!

 


A Huge Job Ahead

Asylum_Township
The Susquehanna River near French Azilum. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

A version of the following originally appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of Save the Bay Magazine. What appears below is a slight update.

Ten thousand years ago, before the last ice age receded, a river, not yet named the Susquehanna, emptied into the ocean 30 to 50 miles to the east of what is now Hampton Roads, Virginia. The continental shelf was all dry land back then.

The ocean levels rose, flooding the coastal low lands until the current coastline was set. The banks of that river also flooded, forming what is now the tidal main stem of the Chesapeake Bay.

So think of it this way: The Chesapeake is no more than the tidal section of the Susquehanna River. The connections between the upstream, free-flowing portion of the Susquehanna and the tidal section down river (the Bay) are inseparable.

The free-flowing part of the Susquehanna supplies a full 50 percent of all the fresh water entering the tidal Chesapeake—the equivalent of all the other rivers combined.

From its beginnings in Cooperstown, New York, the river runs 444 miles until it crosses the fall line and becomes tidal at Havre de Grace, Maryland. All totaled, there are 36,000 miles of streams and creeks in the Susquehanna network. As Susan Stranahan wrote in her epic Susquehanna: River of Dreams, "No other eastern U.S. river delivers more water to the Atlantic Ocean than the Susquehanna. On an average day, that amounts to 25 billion gallons, enough water to supply the needs of every household in the United States, with a billion gallons left over."

The Susquehanna's fresh water is critical to the health and function of the estuary. In fact, the very definition of an estuary is routed in the collision of fresh and salt water. That collision can create a unique and rich ecosystem. From CBF's Bay "textbook," Turning the Tide, an estuary is, "capable of sustaining more life, more productivity for its size than virtually any other place on Earth."

Essential fresh water, yes, but the mighty Susquehanna delivers something else to the Bay—lots of pollution. On an annual basis, some 117 million pounds of nitrogen, 4.4 million pounds of phosphorus, and a whopping 2.4 billion pounds of sediment. Every year.

Pennsylvania itself designates 20 percent of the roughly 86,000 miles of its streams in the Commonwealth as "impaired." Forty percent of the impaired rivers and streams that serve as a source for drinking water are impaired because of agricultural runoff. Although this water is treated, cleaner water at the source would be easier and less costly to treat. In addition, up to 60 percent of the wells in the lower Susquehanna watershed have nitrate levels above human health standards. 

Watershed wide, agriculture is the leading source of pollution.

Governor Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania has inherited a regulatory program that is not enforcing current laws. Only five inspectors are employed to review the practices of over 45,000 farms. At the current rate of five inspectors, it would take about 170 years to inspect all of Pennsylvania's farms just once.

Something has to change.

There is a huge job ahead for Pennsylvania. In order to comply with its Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint commitments and Clean Water Act mandates, the Commonwealth has declared that it must reduce more than 70 percent its nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollution by the end of 2017. This will be a huge challenge. It is also one that will pay equally enormous environmental and economic benefits for Pennsylvanians as well as for Maryland and Virginia residents downstream. 

According to CBF's economic report, fully implementing the Blueprint will deliver an annual increase of more than $6.2 billion in ecosystem services to Pennsylvania and, region wide, over $22 billion annually.

Throughout the Bay's six-state, 64,000-square-mile watershed, there are significant challenges ahead. But just as Pennsylvania proudly owns the vast majority of the free-flowing Susquehanna, so too is it responsible for the largest share of pollution reduction required to save the Bay. We are heartened by the Wolf Administration's commitment to address these challenges, a commitment that we will not only encourage, but monitor.

—Will Baker, CBF President

Learn more about EPA's latest assessment of Pennsylvania's pollution-reduction efforts, and how it is dangerously behind on its commitments. Then stand up for clean water across Pennsylvania and beyond by taking action here!

 


Photo of the Week: Clean the Bay Day Is Almost Here!

253266_10150996484505943_1945850502_nBoy Scout Council Pack 414 from Williamsburg and Farm Fresh team coordinator Thomas Mott unearth a giant fishnet on Clean the Bay Day a few years ago. Photo by Andrea Moran.

Every June, roughly 6,000 dedicated volunteers from across Virginia join us in removing more than 135,000 pounds of trash from 500 miles of our rivers, streams, and Bay. Clean the Bay Day, a Virginia tradition 27 years in the making, is one of the largest volunteer clean-up efforts in Virginia. 

And just like the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint—the science-based federal/state plan to Save the Bayit represents a coming together of municipalities, businesses, and individuals who care about the health of our waters, our economy, our way of life. It's inspiring to see so many committed to the clean water cause across the Commonwealth.  

So why don't you join us this year and be a part of this extraordinary day.

—Emmy Nicklin
CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media


The Return of the #BaySelfie

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Today is Memorial Day—the unofficial start of summer! And what better way to celebrate than by sharing your #BaySelfie with us. Last summer, more than 150 people shared their love of the Bay and its rivers and streams through these "selfies." And we couldn't get enough of 'em! 

A happy dog and his owner swimming the mouth of Dividing Creek. Friends camping at Janes Island State Park. A father-daughter duo fishing for white perch on an unusually cool Saturday morning in July. These were just a few of the pics that your fellow water lovers shared with us last summer. 

Now it's your turn! Click here to submit your own #BaySelfie.

These photos of the extraordinary people and places along the waters we all love remind us why we do the work that we do. Our memories of these moments—and those to come—are worth fighting for. And with your help, that's what CBF is doing every day. 

Now get out there and enjoy it . . . 

—Emmy Nicklin
CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media


New Challenges AND New Optimism for the Fuel of the Food Web

OspreyWithMenhaden2Osprey like this one above heavily rely on nutrient-rich menhaden, often called "the most important fish in the sea." Photo by iStock.

Once more those small, silvery, nutrient-rich fish called menhaden have taken center stage in fisheries management and Chesapeake conservation. On May 5, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), which manages the coast-wide catch of menhaden and 23 other migratory fish species, met in Alexandria, Va., to revisit the way menhaden are managed. Specifically they met to discuss raising the harvest quota for menhaden after a recent stock assessment found an increase in biomass (the total weight of the population), but a decrease in abundance (the actual number of fish).

Often dubbed "the most important fish in the sea," menhaden are a fundamental link in the Bay's food web, serving as valuable sustenance for striped bass and many other fish, marine mammal, and seabird species. Their health directly affects the health of the entire ecosystem. 

We sat down with Bill Goldsborough, CBF's Fisheries Director, to get a better understanding of what happened at the meeting, and what it means for the fate of this critical fish.

  1. What happened at the meeting earlier this month?
    The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission voted to increase the current cap on menhaden harvest by 10 percent for both 2015 and 2016. It was a good management decision, because stakeholders on both sides seemed to be satisfied, but it was not a great conservation decision. CBF had urged ASMFC not to increase harvest quotas until measures were taken to ensure menhaden's ecological role in the Bay and beyond was protected.

    That said, a really good thing for menhaden conservation came out of this meeting. ASMFC initiated the process to amend the management plan for menhaden. With the amended plan, they are once and for all committing to developing ecological reference points (guidelines for optimal population levels and allowable fishing rates). The reference points we have right now are based on single-species management, designed to only account for the health and survival of menhaden alone, not the ecosystem as a whole. They do not fully account for menhaden's ecological value as an important forage fish that other marine creatures depend upon for food. Ecological reference points will effectively be more conservative guidelines for the fishery that will leave more menhaden in the water for the striped bass, osprey, and all the rest of the species in the ecosystem that depend on menhaden. This is huge . . . we've never had this level of commitment to develop and adopt ecological reference points. 

  2. How did ASMFC come to this decision?
    Graph
    The most recent menhaden stock assessment found an increase in biomass (the total weight of the menhaden population), but a decrease in abundance (the actual number of fish).

    Five years ago, a menhaden stock assessment found that we had a depleted stock of menhaden, and there had been a history of overfishing. This spurred ASMFC to establish a catch quota (the first time ever in the history of menhaden management) and to set it at a level 20 percent below recent harvests, beginning in 2013.

    Now we have a new assessment that's just come out. It's good science and much more comprehensive, but it includes some different assumptions. One in particular assumes there is a mass of larger, older menhaden in northern waters off the coast of New England that are outside the range of the fishery (large menhaden that are not often caught in the fishery but that have been seen in surveys done by northern states). The menhaden fishery is concentrated in the mid-Atlantic, especially in and around Chesapeake Bay. The net effect of these large, old menhaden is to increase the biomass estimate over what we thought from the last assessment. 

  3. So menhaden that reside outside the area where people actually fish are boosting the biomass number?
    Exactly. To me, the most insidious thing that I don't think we're paying enough attention to is that as a result of this finding of increased biomass, the fishing industry is saying that we can catch more fish, but a lot of the fish are outside the area where fishing occurs. We're increasing the catch in the area where we don't have that higher biomass. And, according to this latest assessment, in an area where there is actually a lower abundance of menhaden—fewer numbers of fish in the population. In fact, it's the lowest abundance in the 60-year history of assessing the menhaden population, according to this new model. So the assessment does show higher biomass, but it also shows low abundance. The way to think of it is there are relatively more big, old fish, but not a lot of fish total. And numbers of prey are what's important to predators like striped bass. So this is a dynamic that we have to come to grips with.

  4. What's next for menhaden?
    We have to stay on top of the process that will play out through 2016. The amended management plan won't take effect until the 2017 fishing season. This is going to be a long, methodical process. We want to get it right this time. 

  5. Why are menhaden so important?
    Menhaden are the fuel of the food web, and we control the flow. Too low and we have problems with striped bass nutrition, diseases, mortality, and so forth. For a predator like striped bass that depends a lot on menhaden, if they're not a lot of menhaden available, they will shift to something else that's probably not as nutritious. They might shift to blue crabs—is that better for the bigger picture? So it's a tradeoff between management objectives. You have to think in an ecosystem-sense rather than a single-species context for ecologically important fish like menhaden. One industry representative calling for a catch increase at a recent ASMFC meeting said, "Don't leave these fish in the water to die!" That short-sighted statement ignores the fact that leaving menhaden in the water to be eaten satisfies an important management objective to keep the ecosystem healthyYou get incredible value from leaving these fish in the water.

For the sake of the striped bass and the osprey, the bluefish and the bald eagle that rely on these small, but all-important fish, we are pleased that ASMFC will be taking the long view and considering the health of the broader ecosystem when amending the menhaden management plan. After all, a healthy menhaden population means a healthier Chesapeake Bay. 

—Emmy Nicklin
CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media

Stay tuned for updates on this important fish and all the other Chesapeake species it supports by signing up for our e-newsletter.


Middle School Mural Combines Art and Science to Study the Bay

SSSAS Bay Mural 2Photos by Susan Hamon.

As you enter the science wing at St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes (SSSAS) Middle School in Alexandria, Va., put on your waders, because you're about to take a tour of the Chesapeake Bay. The walls surrounding the classrooms are enveloped by a hand-painted mural of the Bay that also serves as a teaching tool. Water, animals, marsh, birds, and many other inhabitants are seen swimming and soaring in the place they call home. But this mural isn't just a painting. It's an interactive, 3D display where students add their own work, inspired by both art and science.

The mural was created in the summer of 2014 as a collaboration between Science Teacher Robert Davis and Visual Arts Teachers Jean Lynch and Joey Wade. First, Mr. Davis took Ms. Lynch on a tour of the Bay to provide the scientific background. "I came back loaded with sketches, photos, examples of shells, feathers, plant material, sand, etc.," said Ms. Lynch. She then created a scale model, studies, and elevations, which Mr. Wade, a professional scenic designer and artist, used to paint the design on the walls with help from Science Teacher Alexandra Chabolla.

SSSAS Bay Mural 4The mural shows different habitats in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, such as marshes, pine forests, grass beds, open waters, and mud flats. In science class, students learn about these habitats and create artistic models of the land animals, birds, and aquatic animals that live there, to attach to the mural. By incorporating student work, the mural becomes a "living project," growing and changing during the year.

Students learn about the unique features of the Bay and how all elements work together to create this important part of our region. The mural landscape includes inlets, water features, islands, and specific trees and grasses. "The colors are very specific to the Bay area, as it is a freshwater-meeting-seawater environment," said Ms. Lynch. The horizon of the mural matches up with the surface of several aquariums that are are visible from the hallway, creating an underwater perspective.

The mural is used to enhance Middle School science lessons that focus on Chesapeake Bay ecosystems. Additionally, SSSAS Middle School students have the opportunity to visit the bay during a three-day mini-course each spring, and all eighth grade students go on a day-long field trip to the bay to conduct water-quality monitoring and wildlife counts.

For schools that would like to do a similar project, Mr. Davis said, "Think big. Visit the Bay and take lots of pictures and make sketches. Incorporate the natural features of the building so that they mimic the habitats of the Bay. For example, our skylights are like aviaries for birds such as eagles, ospreys, and pelicans flying above the Bay." The project was inspired by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's surroundings. "On the islands there is no clear line between inside and outside, and all of the CBF buildings are like museums," Mr. Davis said. "They all have beautiful art on all their walls. We wanted to do something similar."

The project received great support from Charlotte Riggs, Middle School director and Visual Arts Department chair, and from the SSSAS buildings and grounds department. Next, the school hopes to extend the mural—down the hall and down the stairs—to include a crab shanty and "treasure chest" for the lost-and-found.

—Linda Stratton
St. Stephen's & St. Agnes School

Learn more about our CBF outdoor, educational experiences to get your students learning outside!

SSSAS Bay Mural 3