The View of an Oyster Sanctuary

The following first appeared in the Chestertown Spy.

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Maryland's oyster sanctuaries are under threat. Photo by Dave Harp.

The fate of Maryland's oyster population is being worked out in a church basement in Annapolis.

That's where the state Oyster Advisory Commission (OAC) meets the second Monday of each month. This is the group appointed by Governor Hogan to review the state's oyster management system, and to recommend changes, if necessary. 

This past Monday night was perhaps the most important OAC meet so far. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) presented a proposal to open up about 970 acres of 'sanctuary' oyster reefs to harvest.

As I have on several occasions, I sat in on the OAC meeting. But it was difficult to sit still.

The makeup of the OAC is controversial, filled mostly with watermen and those who sympathize with their views. The direction the OAC is taking also is controversial. 

The controversy brings out the crowds. The OAC meetings used to take place in a meeting room at the DNR headquarters right next door. So many people began showing up, DNR had to move the meeting to the fellowship hall of the Calvary United Methodist Church on Rowe Blvd. Now even that room is often jammed.

Watermen feel the state has cheated them. Under prior governor Martin O'Malley the state increased the acres of productive oyster reefs set aside as sanctuaries—those areas that can't be harvested. O'Malley himself was guided by scientists' warnings that so few oysters remained in the Chesapeake that the status quo was no longer viable.

With input from everyone involved with oysters, the harvest industry included, O'Malley increased from nine percent to 24 percent the portion of oyster bars protected as sanctuaries. Three-quarters of reefs were to remain open to harvest. He also relaxed decades-old regulations to give watermen more opportunities to farm oysters rather than harvest them in the wild. In Virginia, oyster aquaculture is a booming business, but at the time of O'Malley's new plan it was negligible in Maryland. The idea was to boost watermen's earnings, and simultaneously to take out an insurance plan for the future of oysters in the Bay.

There's no doubt short term watermen took a hit. They had fewer places to harvest, although fortunately for them Mother Nature provided strong oyster reproduction for several years, resulting in strong harvests. 

Scientists and groups such as the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) where I work sympathized with the watermen. But we believed someone had to take the long view before oysters were wiped out completely.

CBF, along with a host of western and Eastern Shore groups such as the Midshore River Conservancy, St. Mary's River Watershed Association, and others, believe the OAC proposal to shrink the sanctuaries is ill-advised. At a minimum, the state must wait till DNR finishes a stock assessment of the oyster population. You wouldn't start spending more money without knowing what's in your bank account. That's exactly what the proposal would do.

It would open up 1,277 acres of sanctuaries for harvest in the following rivers and Bay segments: Upper Chester, Miles, Wye, Upper Choptank, Hooper Strait, Upper Patuxent, and Tangier Sound. It would expand sanctuaries by 300 acres in: Mill Hill/Prospect Bay, Eastern Bay, Lower Choptank, and Nanticoke River. The net result would be 977 fewer acres in sanctuaries, an 11 percent reduction in those sanctuary acres.

It's only 11 percent, you might say. But it's 11 percent of the most productive, healthy sanctuary bars in the Bay. And it is giving away these protected areas before we have any idea the true size of the oyster population. That's not scientific. That's not sound judgment. Harvesting oysters on those 977 previously protected acres could do irreversible damage to the fragile population.

A bill in the Maryland General Assembly, HB 924, would freeze any alterations in the sanctuaries till after the stock assessment. Oyster harvesting is the only major fishery in Maryland that isn't managed with a science-based plan. It pays us to wait till we have the science before we implement a major change such as OAC is considering.

The bill will be heard this Friday, Feb. 24, at 1 p.m. in the House Environment and Transportation Committee. We urge people concerned about the proposal to shrink sanctuaries to make their voice heard.

—Tom Zolper, CBF's Assistant Director of Media Relations

Stand up for oysters now! Ask your legislators to support a new bill that would stop changes to oyster sanctuaries from happening before there is sound science to back them up.


Forest Conservation Law Needs Bolstering

The following first appeared in the Capital Gazette.

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Maryland's forests remain at risk if the Forest Conservation Act is not strengthened. Photo by Tom Zolper/CBF Staff.

Thanks to the controversial Crystal Spring development project, Annapolis residents probably know more than most Marylanders about the state Forest Conservation Act, or FCA. They know that in a battle to save trees, the law can feel about as forceful as a wiffle ball bat.

Enacted in 1991, the law is intended to minimize how much forest a developer cuts down. The Crystal Spring developers proposed to clear about half of the woods on the property on the ironically named Forest Drive. They argued the FCA allows such large clearance.

The City of Annapolis is rewriting its own forest conservation ordinance, so it is stronger than the state law.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation feels the state law itself needs to be strengthened. It's time for Anne Arundel County and other jurisdictions across Maryland to realize the law isn't working as intended. Too much forest is coming down and not being replaced. State records show Maryland lost a net 14,480 acres of forest to development projects in the past eight years.

Inspired by Annapolis' effort, CBF is pushing the state legislature to amend the FCA. Just as it was passionate citizens from the Annapolis Neck, Eastport, and other neighborhoods in and outside Annapolis who educated city officials, we now need Marylanders to tell their state delegates and senators they support Senate Bill 365 and House Bill 599.

The legislation, scheduled for a hearing Wednesday before the House Transportation and the Environment Committee (with a rally at Lawyers Mall beforehand), would require developers to replant an acre of forest for each acre they cut down. It also would give local governments flexibility to charge builders higher fees when they claim they can't replant. Currently, those fees are so low in some places that they don't cover the cost of replanting.

The Crystal Spring project got substantial scrutiny in the past few years for proposing to cut down 43 acres of forest. But development projects beyond the city limits in Anne Arundel have received little scrutiny as they cut down forest — 410 acres in fiscal 2016, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

It's difficult to determine the total forest loss to development in Anne Arundel over a longer period. The county did not submit annual reports about its FCA implementation in five of the past eight years. The reports are required by the FCA. Maryland did not enforce the reporting requirement.

But the three reports available show Anne Arundel County allowed builders to clear an average of about 45 percent of all forests on their properties prior to construction, or 682 acres. The county required builders to replant only 61 acres in those years.

Many Anne Arundel developers have paid the fee-in-lieu instead of replanting what they cut. It's unclear how much of those funds the county has used to replant trees that were cleared.

The state legislation, SB 365 and HB 599, offers a better solution: require developers to replant more than they do now and give localities the right to charge higher fees if developers want to avoid replanting. Taken together, these changes will finally reflect the true value of trees to Anne Arundel citizens.

Forests provide enormous health, environmental, and economic benefits to communities. A single acre of forest absorbs six tons of carbon dioxide annually, and produces enough oxygen in a day to support 18 people, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service. A 2015 study by the Low Impact Development Center in Beltsville calculated the forests of Prince George's County provide at least $12 billion in public benefits. Anne Arundel forests likely provide comparable services.

Are we prepared to pay the piper for losing those benefits?

Let forests continue to help us. Support SB 365 and HB 599.

—Erik Fisher, CBF's Maryland Assistant Director

Speak for the trees! Send a message to your legislators today letting them know you want them to support strengthening the Forest Conservation Act.


Conservation Efforts Support Healthier Farms, Cleaner Water

The following first appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

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Before a farm restoration project was completed with cost-share funding. Photo by CBF Staff.

Until last year, cattle would wade into streams and ponds to cool off on David Surratt's farm in the Shenandoah Valley. Unfortunately, this led to a host of problems. Trampled streambanks muddied the waters, while manure would flow downstream to the Shenandoah River. Calves would pick up infections from bacteria in the water, and two cows died after being stuck in the mud.

But all that has changed since Surratt placed three miles of fencing along the streams and ponds on Meadowdale Farm in Fishersville last year, a project supported by Virginia's agricultural cost-share program. Thirsty livestock now drink from several new watering stations across the farm installed as part of the project. The fences keep cattle out of the waterways, so water in the streams is now much cleaner. Importantly for Surratt, all calves were free of infections last year.

"It's really a win-win deal for us as well as the cattle," Surratt said. "Farmers have a responsibility to keep their cattle out of the streams and improve the water quality." State funding was key to making the project a reality. "There is no way I could have done it without the program funds, especially with cattle prices the way they are today," he said.

Addressing pollution from farms is the most cost-effective way to improve the health of local streams and rivers, as well as downstream in the Chesapeake Bay. It is also a key part of Virginia's plan to clean up the region's waterways under a federal-state partnership called the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. The state cost-share program funds a variety of conservation practices that lead to cleaner waterways, from cattle fencing to planting trees along streams to protecting soil with cover crops.

But in order to maintain progress, Virginia's farmers need robust and stable state investment in both the agricultural cost-share program and technical assistance from the local Soil and Water Conservation District staff who help implement these projects. In recent years, funding for the program has seesawed dramatically.

Providing ample and predictable levels of funding helps give farmers greater confidence when they consider adding conservation projects. It also gives local Soil and Water Conservation Districts the infrastructure and resources to put practices on the ground. Consistency ensures the program is carried out as effectively and efficiently as possible.

This month Virginia's legislators are making funding decisions that will decide the future of farm conservation efforts. The Virginia Senate is proposing a total investment of $46 million in agricultural cost-share. While a decrease from last year, that level that would still lead to continued success.

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After a farm restoration project was completed with cost-share funding. Photo by CBF Staff.

A separate proposal being considered would bring together a group of stakeholders to determine how to best ensure consistent and reliable funding for agricultural cost-share. This common-sense next step is sorely needed in the face of significant funding fluctuations.

Without continued state support for agricultural practices, Virginia will not be able to meet goals it has set for reducing pollution to waterways by 2025 under the Clean Water Blueprint. While Surratt's project is already making a difference in local streams, the impact grows as more farms do their part. "This project would really work great if all the farmers pull together on this," Surratt said.

However, though many farmers are eager to participate, they need state support to install these projects. In fact, two years ago so many farmers signed up that Virginia is still working through the backlog. Without funding, these farmers will be left waiting another year to install conservation practices.

It is important that Virginia live up to the commitments made to both healthy waterways and its farmers. But the heart of the matter is the fate of our rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay.

Our waters have been slowly and steadily improving, thanks to a host of efforts. People all across Virginia are starting to benefit.

Good farm practices could lead to native brook trout returning to streams in the Shenandoah Valley. In Richmond, locals and visitors enjoy swimming, fishing, and paddling on the James River since it has become much healthier in recent years. In Hampton Roads, efforts to reduce bacteria levels have allowed for the resurgence of the oyster industry in places like the Lynnhaven River.

But this recovery can easily be reversed. Supporting farm practices that reduce pollution will maintain momentum. Let your legislator know that the decisions being made now will help ensure successful farms and clean water for future generations.

—Rebecca LePrell, CBF's Virginia Executive Director & Kendal Tyree, Virginia Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts Executive Director

Virginian legislators are meeting this week to discuss investing in these critical clean water programs. Take action now to ask them to make the necessary investment in programs that keep the Bay cleanup on target.


Speaking up for Clean Water

Just eleven years after Captain John Smith led the original exploration of the Chesapeake Bay, the Western Hemisphere's oldest legislative body was founded when Virginia's House of Burgesses met in 1619. Much has changed over the subsequent centuries, including the waning health of the Bay and its rivers and streams. The recent 2016 State of the Bay Report reveals the Bay is improving, but much work remains.

Approaching the quadricentennial of House of Burgesses, on February 9 over 50 people descended upon Virginia's Capitol in Richmond to advocate for clean water in Virginia's General Assembly. A crucial week in the legislative session, CBF partnered with the James River Association and Lynnhaven River NOW to bring Virginians from all over the Commonwealth to meet with their Senators and Delegates. They were gracious enough to share with us some thoughts on their experience.

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Brian Vincent Farmville, VA

"I'm a kayaker, I'm a kayak fisherman, I'm a canoeist. … You've got to protect the waterways in order for there to be areas that are worth recreating in."

"I think it's important for us to get out and actively engage in the process. That's what it's about. I'm tired of shying away from it and thinking I'll let other people take care of it."

 

 

 

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Carolyn O'Neal
Ivy, VA

"I grew up on the Chesapeake Bay in Norfolk. Over my lifetime, I'm 60, I've seen the Bay go from not so bad to really bad to better now and so I care a lot about it."

"Today I met my state senator and I spoke with the assistant of our state delegate and I feel so much more empowered. I can just go to their office and talk about it. They are human beings."

 

 

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Claire Neubert Hampton, VA

"We swim in the water, we boat in the water, we enjoy looking at the water, and we get a lot of sustenance from the water."

"This is the first time lobbying, but I always say that my passion puts me in some uncomfortable places."

 

 

 

 

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Liz Worsham Northumberland County

"We are concerned about clean water because we like to swim in our creek, for starters, and kayak, and fish. … It's really important for the businesses in the area and for the watermen."

"This is a great opportunity to have an impact and express my views to my representatives."

 

 

 

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Brad Worsham Northumberland County

"We love to eat crabs and oysters and we enjoy the ducks and the rockfish."

"It's nice to hear that our representatives are welcoming for us to visit them...We're cracking open the shell and perhaps we hope it fosters a more active relationship with our legislators in the future."

 

 

 

  —Kenny Fletcher, CBF's Virginia Communications Coordinator

Couldn't make it to lobby day? Not to fear! Virginian legislators are meeting this week to discuss investing in these critical clean water programs. Take action now to ask them to make the necessary investment in programs that keep the Bay cleanup on target.


Five Important Advocacy Actions You Can Do Right Now

KarineAigner_iLCPPhoto by Karine Aigner/iLCP.

The Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint is working. By all metrics, we are seeing progress. Citizens, businesses, and governments are rolling up their sleeves to reduce pollution. And it is working.

The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science's Bay Report card issued last spring, our 2016 State of the Bay report, and the Bay Program's Bay Barometer all document improvements. Bay grasses and crabs are up, and the dead zone is trending smaller. But the recovery is fragile, and many clean water advocates are wondering what they can do to help progress continue.

In these uncertain times, it is more important than ever that citizens let their elected officials know that clean water should be an important priority. That cleaning up local rivers and streams will reduce risks to human health, create jobs, and benefit local economies.

It is very important that our state legislators make the needed investments to reduce pollution. That our governors speak up for the Blueprint. And that our federal representatives ensure EPA's full participation in guiding and implementing the Blueprint.

Help ensure the Bay and its rivers and streams remain a priority. Do these five important things right now to Save the Bay:

  1. Find out who represents you by clicking here

  2. Call your state representatives and urge them to support investments in clean water restoration and saving the Bay.

  3. Call your governor and urge him or her to support investments in clean water restoration and saving the Bay.

  4. Call your federal representatives and urge them to seek federal investments for clean water restoration and saving the Bay.

  5. Contact your friends and neighbors and urge them to do the same.

Bonus Action: One of the most effective ways to influence a politician is a personal visit to their office or a town hall meeting. While that takes time and might be out of your comfort zone, they will take note. And we'd be happy to help you plan a visit to their local office. Just click here and shoot us an e-mail.

Done the right way, citizens can have an impact. Elected officials do listen to their constituents. When contacting your representatives, be sure to explain why clean water is important to you. If they have supported clean water efforts, thank them and ask for their continued support. If they haven't been supporters, encourage them to do so in the future.

In these uncertain times, there is one thing that is certain, you can make a difference. Speak up and save the Bay.

 —Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Right now a critical part of the Chesapeake Bay cleanup is facing a massive budget cut! Stand up now to urge Congress to protect the Bay, rivers, and streams we all love.

 


Clean Water Remains a Priority

The following first appeared in The Virginian-Pilot.

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Polluted runoff cannot be ignored if we are to clean up Virginia's rivers and streams. Photo by Krista Schyler/iLCP.

If you talk to longtime residents of Hampton Roads, you will hear stories about how waterways are starting to show signs that they may be on the mend.

On the Lynnhaven River, a newly burgeoning oyster industry is made possible by the removal of unsafe levels of bacteria that for years led the river to be off-limits to harvest.

The Lafayette River was once a dumping ground for the region's stormwater, but was recently taken off Virginia's list of bacteria-impaired waters.

Out in the Chesapeake Bay, there is a resurgence in underwater grasses and locals report seeing the clearest water in a long time.

Our region is literally defined by water, and we are just beginning to experience how cleaner water improves the economy and quality of life where we swim, fish and live. All of this good news is reflected in the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's State of the Bay report released last month, which gave the Bay the highest marks since the report began in 1998.

But the C- score the Bay received is still nowhere near what it needs to be to support economic growth and additional recreational opportunities.

As The Pilot noted in a recent editorial on the State of the Bay, "any improvement is noteworthy, if only to show how much further we have to go." We definitely have a long way to go.

The advances so far are the result of decades of hard work. In recent years, a state-federal partnership to reduce pollution called the Chesapeake Bay Clean Water Blueprint has led to progress. But the recovery is fragile, and can easily reverse course if we don't keep up momentum.

This month, state legislators are making key funding decisions that will determine whether Virginia stays on track to meet goals for cutting pollution. Now is the time to let legislators know how important it is to fund these critical clean water programs.

Here in Hampton Roads, a lot of work still needs to be done. With so many buildings, streets and parking lots, every rainfall washes a destructive mix of oil, dirt, litter, fertilizers, pet waste and more off hard surfaces and directly into local creeks and rivers.

Cities across Virginia are working to implement projects to control this runoff. Fortunately, a state program called the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund provides matching grants to help localities install stream and wetland restoration projects, permeable pavement, rain gardens, and other pollution-control measures.

These projects effectively treat polluted runoff by allowing excess water to filter into the earth naturally rather than surge into local creeks and rivers. This has the added benefit of reducing localized flooding, another problem with which all of us in this region are familiar.

The Stormwater Local Assistance Fund is already making a difference in Hampton Roads. So far 12 projects have been funded in Norfolk, with another three in Virginia Beach and three more in Chesapeake. On the Peninsula, another 27 projects have been funded.

But this program is under threat right now. With budgets tightening, funding could very well be eliminated in this General Assembly session unless legislators hear enough support for this program.

Cities in the region don't want to see these grants dry up. In fact, officials from many of the localities in Hampton Roads have written legislators and the governor urging continued support for the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund.

While the Bay and rivers such as the Lafayette, Elizabeth, and the Lynnhaven are getting better, the recovery can easily be reversed unless we keep up the momentum.

All of us who believe we should leave a legacy of cleaner water and more recreational and economic opportunities for future generations can take a small but important step today by contacting elected officials in support of the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund. The fate of our waters is on the line.

—Harry Lester, Chairman, CBF Board of Trustees

Urge your legislators right now to support clean water initiatives, such as the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund, that are integral to a healthy Virginia economy, environment, and way of life!


Top 5 Facebook Posts of 2016

ByNickFornaro2Our favorite "beautiful swimmers" (AKA blue crabs) were quite popular in 2016! Photo by Nick Fornaro.

From shark sightings (yes, really!) to Supreme Court wins to increasing blue crab numbers, 2016 has been quite the year for the Bay and its rivers and streams
. To get an idea of all the stuff—both good and bad—that this year brought, we thought we'd take a look at our Top 5 Facebook posts of 2016. And here they are:

1. Life is sweet! Or so it appears to be in our Smith Island Cake video. Smith Islander and baker extraordinaire Mary Ada Marshall invited us into her kitchen and showed us (and the more than 282,000 other people who watched the video) just how to make the quintessential Chesapeake dessert. This video was our most popular Facebook post of the year, reaching more than 1.3 million people!

 

2. We love our "beautiful swimmers," and apparently so do you! News of the 35 percent increase in the Bay's blue crab population came in at our second most popular Facebook post this year, reaching more than 629,000 people.

 

3. In a huge win for the Bay (and for Facebook, reaching more than 420,000 readers), the Supreme Court decided in February to deny the request of the American Farm Bureau Federation and its allies to take up their case challenging the legality of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. As CBF Vice President for Litigation Jon Mueller said: "For five years we have fought in the courts to defend a commonsense solution to reducing pollution, a solution borne of a cooperative relationship between the states, the federal government, and the citizens of the Bay Region. Today, that fight has ended."

 

4. Giant Blue Crabs?! That's right! In October, we caught and released one of these beauties on the Susquehanna Flats. It got the attention of more than 388,000 blue crab lovers on Facebook.  

 

5. In June, we took a trip beneath the surface of the Severn River where we saw abundant grasses, scampering blue crabs, and thick, healthy oyster reefs — incredible signs of the Bay's recovery! Our River Reborn Video was an instant hit on Facebook, reaching more than 370,000 people and earning more than 213,000 views. I smell an Oscar!  

For those of you who made it all the way through our Top 5 list, congratulations! And make sure to follow us on Facebook (if you aren't already) for the latest and greatest in 2017 . . .

—Emmy Nicklin
CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media

 


This Week in the Watershed: A Threatened Pennsylvania Hallmark

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Brook trout, a hallmark of Pennsylvania waterways and a great indicator of clean water, is threatened by both invasive species and warming waters as the result of climate change. Photo by Neil Ever Osborne/iLCP.

One of my most vivid collegiate memories occurred on the banks of a central Pennsylvania lake. While out in the field for an environmental science class, the Professor pointed out a handful of geese pecking away at underwater grasses and asked the class, "What should we do with these geese?" Upon the reply of several students saying we should protect them, he bellowed out, "WRONG! We should shoot them all!"

Despite the crassness of his response, his point resonates—invasive species can have major consequences on the ecological health of our rivers, streams, and the native species that call them home.

This week, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) released a study revealing that Pennsylvania's native brook trout is threatened by the invasive brown trout. Brook trout are commonly regarded as a "canary in the coal mine" for pollution, as they require cold and clean water for survival. As such, brook trout are particularly susceptible to warming waters as the result of climate change.

The USGS study found that the presence of the invasive brown trout is another significant challenge for the brook trout, as the brown trout has higher tolerance to warmer waters and competes with the brook trout for food sources.

Brook trout are a hallmark of Pennsylvania's rivers and streams. As a great indicator for healthy water, their dwindling population is telling. In addition to the need for strong fisheries management to address harmful invasive species, we need to fully implement the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. Our children and grandchildren deserve clean water, and the proliferation of the brook trout will indicate we are headed in the right direction.

This Week in the Watershed: Oyster Balance, Eel Abundance, and A Pennsylvania Hallmark

  • Oysters present quite a challenge in striking a balance between the short-term needs of watermen and long-term needs of a sustainable fishery. (WRC—VA)
  • Invasive species combined with the effects of climate change are a brutal combination for Pennsylvania's native brook trout. (USGS Press Release)
  • Local residents in Maryland's Howard County are pushing for financial incentives to push commercial property owners to implement practices to reduce polluted runoff. (Howard County Times—MD)
  • Eels are returning in abundance to the Susquehanna River, leaving environmentalists hopeful other species such as mussels will follow suit. (Bay Journal)
  • Bravo to CBF's Bill Portlock, who received the Garden Club of Virginia's Elizabeth Cabell Dugdale Award for Conservation. Portlock has been with CBF since 1981 as an environmental educator, restoration leader, and accomplished photographer. (Free Lance Star—VA)
  • Amidst debates over oyster harvesting, Maryland is looking at Virginia for lessons learned. (Bay Journal)
  • CBF is working to clean Virginia's Hampton River through planting oysters. (Daily Press—VA)

What's Happening around the Watershed?

November 20

  • Portsmouth, VA: Come on out to a fun-filled, family-friendly annual event that combines educational engagement and ecological stewardship. RIVER-Fest '16 will emphasize practices and activities that will sustain and improve the health of the Elizabeth River. CBF is looking for 6-8 volunteers to assist with a variety of activities. Please contact Tanner Council to register or for more information at tcouncil@cbf.org or 757-622-1964.

December 3

  • Broadway, VA: Come on out and help us plant hundreds of native trees and shrubs on a picturesque farm in the Shenandoah Valley. Volunteers should bring a sun hat, sun screen, and work gloves. Volunteers are also asked to bring a packed lunch. Light refreshments will be provided. This planting event is suitable for children closely supervised by adults. Please RSVP by November 30 to Robert Jennings at 484-888-2966 or RJennings@cbf.org.

December 6

  • Norfolk, VA: Join us for a presentation on what is often called,"the most important fish in the sea"—menhaden. An expert panel will discuss why menhaden matter and the future prospects for the fishery. This event is part of the Blue Planet Forum — a free environmental lecture series with a mission to educate and engage the public on important environmental issues affecting Hampton Roads and the nation. The event is free, but registration is requested — Register here!

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate


Cumberland County Setting the pace for Farm Inspections in Pennsylvania's Rebooted Clean Water Strategy

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Before photo of a heavy use area on a Cumberland County farm. Cumberland County is among 28 conservation districts inspecting farms for the required manure management, and erosion and sediment plans, as prescribed in Pennsylvania’s rebooted strategy to reduce pollution from agriculture. Photo by Mike Lubinsky/Cumberland County Chesapeake Bay Engineer.

Cumberland County is getting positive reaction from farmers, as one of 28 conservation districts conducting farm inspections as prescribed in Pennsylvania's rebooted strategy to reduce pollution from agriculture.

As conservation districts in nine counties opted out of doing farm inspections for fear of straining relations they have with farmers, the process within the Cumberland County Conservation District (CCCD) is going smoothly because of its familiarity with farmers.

"Our two technicians know the county, kinds of crops farmers are growing and the landscape," says CCCD board chairman Wilbur Wolf, Jr. "When they need to talk to farmers about future improvement, they can do it. If somebody from DEP (state Department of Environmental Protection) comes to the farm, they are not as familiar with the county and the resources in order to make an informed decision when it comes to the best practices suited for that farm."

"We're acting as an intermediary to help farmers get into compliance," CCCD manager Carl Goshorn adds. Cumberland is the fastest growing county in the Commonwealth with about 500 farmers and 1,400 different tracts of land.

Roughly 19,000 miles of rivers and streams in Pennsylvania are damaged by pollution and the Commonwealth is significantly behind in meeting its Clean Water Blueprint goals. The Blueprint requires that 60 percent of pollution reduction practices be in place by 2017, and 100 percent in place by 2025. The Commonwealth has acknowledged that it will not meet the 2017 goal.

As part of the Keystone State's strategy to get back on track, the DEP asked conservation districts to inspect ten percent of farms annually for the required manure management, and erosion and sediment plans. There are 33,600 farms in Pennsylvania's portion of the Chesapeake Bay watershed and DEP inspected less than two percent of them in 2014.

Conservation districts conducting inspections receive funding from DEP to support Bay technician staff and will inspect a minimum of 50 farms annually, per full-time person. DEP will inspect farms in counties where conservation districts declined to do it.

With one Bay technician, Brady Seeley, and conservation technician Jared McIntire, Cumberland County has a five-year schedule for inspections and thinks it will conduct more than the 50 required annually.

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After photo showing a heavy use area on a Cumberland County farm after a concrete manure storage pit was installed for liquid dairy manure. Photo by Mike Lubinsky/Cumberland County Chesapeake Bay Engineer.

One landowner with multiple, separate parcels of land could count as multiple inspections, as each agricultural operation is inspected separately.

Eight of first nine inspections in Cumberland County lacked manure management plans and three didn't have erosion and sediment plans. Goshorn said manure management plans have already been written for two of those farms.

In addition to checking that the farms have the required plans, inspectors may observe water quality issues. They may ask permission to walk around a property, but landowners are under no obligation to grant permission.

Cumberland County was one of four counties that helped shape the inspection process by participating in the pilot program. CCCD and DEP staff visited two farms in the county. "We wanted to see how it works," Goshorn says. "We figured it would be a better way of getting in touch with the farmers and maybe getting more practices involved if we were actually doing the inspections."

"We thought, if we aren't part of the process we can't have an impact down the road," board chairman Wolf adds. "As part of the pilot we made it better for other counties going out to do inspections because we have two people who have agriculture backgrounds (Seeley and McIntire) who could go out and relate, get a sense of how to make this work, and then go back to DEP and say, 'tweak it this way and everybody else will be better off'."

Seeley grew up on a small dairy farm in northern Pennsylvania, has a bachelor's degree in environmental resource management, and has been with CCCD for over two years. McIntire majored at Penn State University in agri-business management, manages a commercial turkey operation, and has been with CCCD for almost three years.

"We have a better rapport at the county level with our farming community than DEP does," says county commissioner Jim Hertzler, who also sits on the CCCD board. "In order for it to work and encourage a cooperative effort with respect to compliance, we prefer to work with our farmers as opposed to telling them 'you are going to jail' or 'we're going to give you a big fine if you don't do something.' To actually get these practices implemented is what the goal should be as opposed to handing out penalties or punishment."

Goshorn says conservation districts that passed on doing inspections, "Don't want to wear the black hat and be the bad guys. They said they were formed to provide technical assistance to the farming community. We feel things have changed over the years."

Seeley says the CCCD can do both. "You can go out and tell the farmer he is in violation and then it's not hard in the next sentence to tell the farmer 'let us help you get those plans.' There really is no excuse to not be regulating and technical. You are already there having the conversation."

The district is able to offer some financial help. "The board has set aside money for developing these plans," chairman Wolf adds. "It's unique for a conservation district to do that." Cost share on erosion and sediment plans splits the cost with a cap of $1,000 per farmer, and $30,000 is available overall.

McIntire-Seeley
Jared McIntire and Brady Seeley. Photos courtesy Cumberland County Conservation District.

"The reason we want to try to get ahead is hopefully we will have farmers coming to us volunteering to do these inspections," Seeley says. The CCCD got a dozen calls from its letter introducing the program. Farmers can schedule an appointment to have their plans reviewed.

One Amish farmer called to say he didn't have either plan. "That's really nice," McIntire says. "We get these guys not afraid to call us and say 'I don't have the plan' and then we can start the conversation with them to get the ball rolling. 'Do you need us to come out there?' 'Can you come to one of our workshops?' 'Do we need to turn it over to the private sector because time is tight with you'?" 

The Cumberland County Conservation District believes it can maintain its working relationships with farmers, by having familiar faces like Seeley and McIntire work through the inspection process with them, while advancing Pennsylvania's clean water efforts in challenging times.

"This is happening at a time in this county when ag prices are low, milk prices are low," board chairman Wilbur Wolf says. "We had the drought. Corn prices and yields are down. We're going out and talking to these farmers in a serious financial situation and we're getting positive responses."

Conservation districts participating in the farm inspection program are in Adams, Bedford, Berks, Blair, Cambria, Centre, Chester, Clearfield, Clinton, Columbia, Cumberland, Fulton, Huntingdon, Indiana (covered in agreement with Cambria), Juniata, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lycoming, Mifflin, Montour, Potter, Schuylkill, Snyder, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Union, and Wyoming counties.

The nine counties that declined to participate are Bradford, Cameron, Dauphin, Franklin, Luzerne, Northumberland, Perry, Tioga, and York counties. 

Cameron, Somerset, and Wayne counties have a small portion of the Chesapeake Bay watershed and will be inspected by DEP personnel.

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


This Week in the Watershed: All Hands on Deck

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A group helps haul aboard a trawl net as part of a survey of life in the James River. CBF is engaging diverse audiences to join us in the fight to save the Bay. Photo by Kenny Fletcher/CBF Staff..

As mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the Chesapeake Bay watershed is home to 17 million people. While the Bay and its rivers and streams face many threats from agricultural pollution to polluted runoff, perhaps the greatest challenge is engaging such a diverse, expansive group of people to rally around clean water efforts.

To borrow a sailing term, we need all hands on deck. While many groups can go overlooked, engaging people from all backgrounds is paramount. No single group or individual can save the Bay alone. But rather than a challenge, this is an exciting opportunity.

Now more than ever, CBF is focusing on engaging diverse audiences, including recently embarking on a field trip with members of Central Virginia's Hispanic community. Building connections like these empower different groups to not only appreciate the value of clean water but fight for it in their communities. These are the types of partnerships that are key building blocks to a saved Bay.

At the end of the day, everyone benefits from clean water. From improved public health to thriving economies, to extensive recreational opportunities, we all can get behind the mission to save the Bay. With the full implementation of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint and continued outreach to all groups and audiences in the watershed, these benefits are within reach.

This Week in the Watershed: Diversifying, Gardening Oysters, and Learning Outside

  • Often overlooked by environmental groups, CBF is engaging the Hispanic community, most recently in Richmond. (Progress Index—VA)
  • After CBF gathered data throughout Maryland this summer on bacteria in local waterways, we were disappointed to learn the source testing for this bacteria yielded a majority of "unidentified" sources. (Frederick News Post—MD)
  • Two thumbs up to Pennsylvania high school student and President of CBF's Pennsylvania Student Leadership Council Anna Pauletta, who finished first in the nation at the 89th national Future Farmer of America's convention. (The Sentinel—PA) Bonus: CBF Statement
  • Residents and environmentalists are fighting against an expansive chicken house operation that was recently approved by Wicomico County on Maryland's Eastern Shore. (Daily Times—MD)
  • Taking students to learn outside is having a positive impact in the classroom. (Suffolk News Herald—VA)
  • Bravo to the dedicated volunteers who are working to clean Baltimore's Inner Harbor through oyster gardening. (Baltimore Sun—MD)

What's Happening around the Watershed?

November 5

  • Smithsburg, MD: Join CBF at this recently completed stream restoration project on Little Antietam Creek and help us with the final stages of restoring the stream banks and floodplain. Volunteers will install live stakes consisting of willow cuttings as well as native trees and shrubs.  Learn about stream restoration techniques used throughout the region by touring this recently completed project and lend your hand for the final touches. Click here to register!
  • Baltimore, MD: Waterfront Partnership and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation are teaming up again to host The Great Baltimore Oyster Festival! Enjoy live music by the High & Wides and Tongue in Cheek, oysters, other seafood options, alcohol, food trucks, family-friendly activities, and interactive Chesapeake Bay themed displays! Click here for more information!

November 6

  • Annapolis, MD: Join approximately 25,000 runners and walkers crossing the 4.35-mile Chesapeake Bay Bridge as part of the third annual Across the Bay 10k. The dual-span bridge doesn’t allow pedestrian traffic at any other time of the year, so this is a unique opportunity—and the view is amazing! CBF is an official charity partner of the Across the Bay 10K, and we are excited to offer Charity Bibs as part of that partnership. It's a win-win...you get a guaranteed entry into the race and help save the Bay with a donation to CBF! Get your charity bib now! Bibs have sold out!

November 12

  • Virginia Beach, VA: Volunteer with CBF at Calypso Bar & Grill! We will be celebrating our favorite bivalve, the oyster, with an oyster roast. Volunteers are needed to help recycle the oyster shells, pour beverages, and take tickets. A portion of the proceeds will help CBF in its work to save the Bay! To volunteer, please email or call Tanner Council at tcouncil@cbf.org or 757-622-1964.

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate