Photo of the Week: West River Sunset

NancyMikesellThis photo was taken in Shady Side with a view of the sunset on the West River. Living on the West River for more than 25 years I have enjoyed amazing sunsets and beautiful views of the local wildlife. Our community is located on the point of the peninsula where the Chesapeake Bay and the West River meet.

 

The local waters hold much beautyeagles, ospreys (the resident osprey returned this week!), dolphins last summer, and local watermen cruising passed to make their living on the river and Bay. I treasure the Bay and its riversmajestic beauty that I am grateful for every day.

 

—Nancy Mikesell

 

Ensure that Nancy and future generations continue to enjoy extraordinary sights and places like these along the Chesapeake. Support the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint—the plan to Save the Bay and its waters! 

Do you have a favorite Chesapeake photo you'd like to submit to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Photo of the Week contest? Send your digital images to CBF's Director 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!


Leave Chesapeake Bay Oyster Sanctuaries Alone

The following first appeared in the Daily Times.

In the current hostile political climate, we can't seem to agree on any government policy.

But that's exactly what happened in Maryland this past month. A poll found about 90 percent of Maryland voters, across party lines, want the state to protect oyster sanctuaries.

The bipartisan poll was conducted by two polling companies, one Republican, one Democratic.

Oyster-Poll-FB-Link-Post-Art-1"This is about as overwhelming as you can get on any public policy issue," said Lori Weigel, a pollster with the Republican firm, Public Opinion Strategies.

There's just one problem. The future of Maryland oyster sanctuaries is at risk. A proposal presented by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to the Maryland Oyster Advisory Commission (OAC) would open up a net of nearly 1,000 acres of oyster sanctuaries to be harvested.

Maryland established the sanctuaries years ago as an insurance policy for the future of the oyster population in the Chesapeake Bay.

Fifty-one of these areas are scattered throughout the Maryland portion of the Chesapeake Bay. They represent a quarter of all oyster reefs.

In these underwater nurseries oysters can grow large, and reproduce. At least until now.

Opening the sanctuaries for harvest would be a major policy change for Maryland. DNR Secretary Mark Belton emphasized to a legislative committee recently that the proposal is preliminary.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation adamantly opposes any reduction in the oyster sanctuaries. So do 29 other conservation groups that signed a letter in opposition, which was submitted to DNR and the OAC, whose members are appointed by DNR.

The oyster harvest industry favors harvesting in sanctuaries. The number of licensed harvesters has doubled in recent years, and the industry wants more places to work. About three-quarters of the oyster reefs in Maryland already are open to harvest.

Nevertheless, the industry has proposed harvesting once every four years in some nurseries, the idea being that oysters would be allowed to grow in the years in between.

The current oyster population in the Chesapeake is estimated to be less than 1 percent of its historic size. The population has been devastated by overharvesting, water pollution, and disease.

Scientists say the sanctuaries are critical to safeguard against the unthinkable – losing the last remaining oysters in the Chesapeake – and to reverse the fate of the iconic bivalve.

Following those warnings, the state increased the area of sanctuary reefs in 2010 from 9 percent to 24 percent. At the same time, the state loosened regulations on oyster farming to help watermen increase their livelihoods.

The current policy is working.

A DNR report this past July concluded oysters are thriving in many of the sanctuary reefs. And oyster farming has surged, bringing added income to many watermen.
We must leave well enough alone.

Oyster-Poll-FB-Link-Post-Art-2The healthy sanctuary reefs are ecological engines of replenishment. Larvae from oysters on these reefs can float for miles, and then settle on more barren reefs, including those open to harvest.

The oysters on sanctuaries develop resistance to the periodic bouts of disease that flare up when water salinity increases, and spread that resistance to other reefs.

Given time, these reefs will grow vertically by many feet. Oyster reefs around the bay used to be so tall, colonial ships would go aground.

But centuries of harvesting and other assaults have collapsed the reefs into oyster "beds" – structures easily covered up by silt. Leaving sanctuary reefs alone will allow them to rise above this perpetual problem.

Permitting even occasional harvesting in these protected areas destroys the vertical growth, removes the large disease resistant oysters, and kills the nursery function.

Oysters can play a vital role in restoring the bay to health. Undisturbed oyster reefs are habitat for fish and other sea life. They also can filter millions of gallons of water – for no charge.

These structures literally can provide the building blocks of a restored Chesapeake Bay.

Marylanders are saying in no uncertain terms: Protect oyster sanctuaries.

—Alison Prost, CBF Maryland Executive Director

Take action right now to urge Maryland legislators to protect oyster sanctuaries and the value they provide to clean water and countless marine species.


Yard Make-Over at No Cost

The following first appeared in The Talbot Spy.

Belair2
Rain gardens help reduce polluted runoff, a major contributor to poor water quality.

Residents of Cambridge, this spring you can win an unusual prize: a yard make-over at no cost. And in the process you can help clean up the waters around the city, and the Chesapeake Bay. Oh, and everybody gets a free 'rain barrel.'

The whole idea is the brainchild of the Cambridge Clean Water Advisory Committee. The group wants to encourage practical, low-cost activities that can improve water quality in the city.

The process is simple. Interested residents must first attend a workshop that's happening at the Dorchester County Public Library in Cambridge, Wednesday, March 22, 5:30-7:00 p.m. You will receive information about what possible changes could be made in your yard that treat polluted runoff.

For instance, "rain gardens" are a type of beautiful garden that also soaks up rain running off your property. This is helpful because this runoff often contains pollution from the air or the landscape. The pollution usually ends up in local creeks. You won't make any commitments at the workshops, just learn about possibilities for a make-over.

If you're still interested, next you will receive a free visit after the workshop from a professional landscaper who will look at your yard, talk with you, and come up with ideas such as rain gardens, native plants, pavement removal, and other possible modifications best suited for your yard.

You'll pay nothing for the make-over if you are selected. Only five properties will be chosen in the first year of the two-year program. In the second year, financial support drops from 100 percent to 90 percent as a way to encourage early participation.

Both homeowners and renters are eligible to enroll. Those of limited means are particularly encouraged to step forward as the project is intended, in part, to respond to needs in under-served communities. A community survey accessible online here will further help reveal how much people know about water quality and ways to improve it. All survey respondents are eligible to enter to win a $40 Jimmie & Sooks Raw Bar and Grill gift card.

Pre-registration is required to attend the workshop on March 22nd. Each workshop participant will receive a free rain barrel and instructions on how to install it. For more information and to register, contact Hilary Gibson at 410-543-1999 or hgibson@cbf.org.

Fertilizers, soil, oil, grease, and other contaminants run off private property when it rains. Until now, cities such as Cambridge have been left with the responsibility to deal with this problem. It's difficult and expensive, especially to manage runoff from private property.

The work in Cambridge seeks to treat runoff before it becomes the city's responsibility. Recognizing the burden of treating runoff once it reaches the city's drainage system, the Cambridge Clean Water Advisory Committee of private and public partners stepped in to try to demonstrate how runoff volumes and contaminants can be reduced before that point. Funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation was awarded to pilot a program that offers homeowners and renters incentives to install native plantings, swales and other practices that naturally filter runoff on private property – minimizing runoff volumes and pollutants for the city to handle later.

—Alan Girard, CBF Director of Maryland Eastern Shore


One-For-One Replanting Bill Will Help Preserve Maryland's Forests

The following first appeared in the Frederick News-Post.

Black-trees
Photo by Justin Black/iLCP

Pit a bulldozer against a tree and the tree rarely wins. But for four years, fiscal 2007 to 2011, Frederick County found a way to stem the loss of forests to new development: insist that an acre be planted for every acre cut down.

It was a sensible move that saved county residents money and protected local rivers and creeks.

Forests are natural sponges. A forest soaks up tens of thousands of gallons of water during a rain storm, and thousands of tons of carbon dioxide from the air.

Without forests, runoff from storms flows into and pollutes local streams. We expect Frederick realized how expensive it is to fix that problem. It made sense not to lose any more forests than necessary.

What if forests were cut down and taxpayers had to pay to plant rain gardens and other devices to soak up the runoff forests used to hold? How much would that cost? A 2015 study by the Low Impact Development Center in Beltsville concluded that Prince George's forest reduces polluted runoff by 4.3 billion gallons a year in the county, a service worth $12.8 billion annually.

Frederick County has more forest than Prince George's. So the benefits could be worth even more.

Frederick County's 2007 action set standards higher than minimal state requirements for how much builders have to replant if they cut down forest on a development site. The state Forest Conservation Act requires builders only to replant one acre for every four cut down. Frederick's ordinance required one acre replanted for one acre cleared.

The results were immediate. While other counties continued to lose forests at alarming rates, Frederick actually planted more acres of forest — 424 acres — than developers cut down from 2008 to 2011.

Save forests. Save money. And protect clean water and air.

Then, suddenly in 2011 the next Board of Commissioners repealed the replanting ordinance. Since that repeal, forest loss in Frederick County has increased, according to annual reports the county submits to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, although other aspects of the county's FCA program have encouraged a relatively high replanting rate.

Now, only neighboring Carroll County has the one-to-one replanting requirement. Not surprisingly, Carroll is the only county where forests are actually increasing, according to the DNR data.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation believes this is unfortunate. Thankfully, legislation in the Maryland General Assembly this session, (Senate Bill 365/House Bill 599), offers a solution. It would strengthen the FCA by requiring one-for-one replanting across the state. The bill effectively mimics what Frederick County successfully did locally in 2007 — before the repeal.

The state legislation also would give counties the option to charge a builder more who wants to clear more forest and not replant. Currently, developers often avoid replanting by paying a small fee that doesn't always cover the cost of replacement.

Frederick County Senator Ron Young is the lead sponsor in the Senate. We urge all Frederick County residents who value trees to support these bills.

—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.


Photo of the Week: The River Enriched Us

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This photo was taken at Church Point in St. Mary's City, Maryland. St. Mary's City was the fourth permanent English colony in America and the first capital of Maryland settled in 1634.

What the Bay means to me: I was reared here on Horseshoe Bay with my siblings. We lived next to, on, and in the St. Mary's River. The river enriched us in many ways, but most especially we learned the interconnection of all things. Living here raised our spiritual awareness and the realization that the most powerful thing in the universe is Love.

—Wick Jackson

Ensure that Wick and future generations continue to enjoy extraordinary sights and places like these along the Chesapeake. Support the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint—the plan to Save the Bay and its waters! 

Do you have a favorite Chesapeake photo you'd like to submit to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Photo of the Week contest? Send your digital images to CBF's Director 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!


Marylanders Agree: Hands off Our Oyster Sanctuaries

With more than six million residents, Maryland is a melting pot of diverse citizens, with different political leanings, religious beliefs, and racial backgrounds. Differences aside, all Marylanders are affected by the health of the state's rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay.

Integral to the health of the Bay is the mighty oyster. A keystone species of the Bay, a single adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day. In addition to their filtering prowess, oysters settle on one another and grow, forming reefs that provide shelter for other critters.

Despite their hallmark status in the Bay's ecosystem, the native oyster population is just a fraction of what it once was as a result of disease, pollution, and overharvesting. In 2010, Maryland and other Bay states joined together to increase the native oyster population, establishing sanctuary reefs to allow oysters to proliferate unencumbered by harvesting. These reefs grew and expanded, with the estimated number of oysters in the Bay more than doubling between 2010 and 2014.

A recent poll conducted by a bipartisan research team found Marylanders understand and appreciate this success, with overwhelming support to maintain existing Chesapeake Bay oyster sanctuaries.

The numbers speak for themselves:Oyster Poll Results Graphic-1200

This strong support exists across party lines, as approximately 91 percent of registered Democrats, 89 percent of Independents, and 82 percent of Republicans support sanctuaries. Moreover, public support for the sanctuaries actually increased after the survey summarized the oyster industry's reasons for wanting to expand harvesting, rising from 88 percent to 91 percent.

This consensus is quite a contrast to the recently submitted proposal by the Maryland Oyster Advisory Commission to let the oyster industry harvest nearly 1,000 acres of oyster reefs which currently are off-limits to harvesting.

Currently, the Maryland General Assembly is considering a bill (HB 924) which would require the state to hold off on any alterations of the oyster sanctuaries until a scientific assessment of the oyster stock is completed in 2018.

The success of Maryland and the Bay, North America's largest estuary and a true national treasure, are mutually interdependent. Shaping more than just the state's coastline, Maryland's economy, culture, and history are covered with the Bay's fingerprints. No critter is more important to this success than the oyster. And while the recent State of the Bay report finds the health of the Bay is rebounding, it remains a system dangerously out of balance.

Those who call the Old Line State home might have their differences, but Marylanders across the board agree on this: Our oyster sanctuaries are worth protecting.

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate

Take action right now to urge Maryland legislators to protect oyster sanctuaries and the value they provide to clean water and countless marine species.


The View of an Oyster Sanctuary

The following first appeared in the Chestertown Spy.

Oyster reef-1200
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.

Clearcutting-1200
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.


Photo of the Week: Late January Snow Along the Bay

Snowy Tree 2017
[Taken just after late January's snowfall in Huntingtown, Maryland.]

Almost every day I walk down to the beach and take pictures of the amazing sunrise. On this day the snowfall was so beautiful and had stuck to everything . . . which made this weeping willow even more beautiful.

I simply LOVE living on the Bay and sharing the beauty with everyone.

—Eve Shoemaker

Ensure that Eve and future generations continue to enjoy extraordinary sights and places like these along the Chesapeake. Support the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint—the plan to Save the Bay and its waters! 

Do you have a favorite Chesapeake photo you'd like to submit to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Photo of the Week contest? Send your digital images to CBF's Director 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: The Supermoon and the Mighty Potomac

DSC_2767CBF The Supermoon of November 13 2016
"The moon does not fight. It attacks no one. It does not worry. It does not try to crush others. It keeps to its course; but by its very nature, it gently influences. What other body could pull an entire ocean from shore to shore? The moon is faithful to its nature and its power is never diminished." —Ming-Dao Deng

 

As the supermoon (AKA the beaver moon) rises over ridgelines of Blockhouse Point Conservation Park and Sharpshin Island under fall skies, the mighty Potomac becomes vividly reflective of its serene beauty and deeply solemn among paddlers who enjoy this magical and wondrous waterway through all the seasons.

—Dom J. (DJ) Manalo

Ensure that DJ and future generations continue to enjoy extraordinary sights and places like these along the Chesapeake. Support the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint—the plan to Save the Bay and its waters! 

Do you have a favorite Chesapeake 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!