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.


Don't Raise Menhaden Catch Without Eco Safeguards

Atlantic MenhadenPhoto by Jay Fleming/iLCP.

Atlantic menhaden, those small, silvery fish that travel in large schools up and down the Atlantic Coast and Chesapeake Bay, may be swimming into trouble.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) is meeting in Alexandria, Va., tomorrow and is considering raising the harvest quota for menhaden. That would allow even more of these boney little fish to be caught by commercial fishermen, who now remove approximately 80,000 tons of menhaden from Virginia waters each year.

And that has the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, The Pew Charitable Trusts, and thousands of conservationists and recreational anglers worried. Why?

Menhaden are the meat and potatoes of the marine world. As filter feeders of plankton, menhaden are packed with nutritional value and are food for striped bass (rockfish), bluefish, summer flounder, and other fish, marine mammals, osprey, eagles, and sea birds. In fact, menhaden are so critical in the marine food chain that they've been dubbed "the most important fish in the sea."

People love them, too, although not to eat. American Indians once used menhaden as fertilizer for corn. Early Colonial settlers processed them for lamp oil. In the late 19th century, the harvest peaked as menhaden oil replaced whale oil for lighting. But then the menhaden population began to collapse.

In the past century, all but one state gradually banned the large-scale fishing of this important fish; today, only Virginia allows "reduction" (industrial) menhaden fishing, which takes about 80 percent of the catch coast-wide. The oil and fish meal from the catch goes into paints, cosmetics, diet supplements, and animal feeds. The other 20 percent of the annual menhaden harvest is used as bait for blue crabs, lobster, and for recreational fishing. 

Men
Biomass is a measure of weight, in metric tons. Abundance is a measure of quantity, in billions.

Meantime, menhaden numbers have continued to decline. While the latest scientific assessment of the population shows the "biomass" (the total weight of the fish stock) at a reasonable level, it also found that the total number of menhaden remains at historic lows.

Further, the number of young menhaden produced each year in the Chesapeake Bay, a key nursery for Atlantic menhaden, has been poor for the past 20 years. And Chesapeake striped bass, which normally eat lots of young menhaden, are suffering a chronic disease problem that has been linked to poor nutrition.

Concern about the long-term health of the menhaden population prompted the ASMFC, which manages the coast-wide catch, to reduce the commercial harvest by 20 percent in 2013. The move was widely seen as a prudent first step in restoring menhaden numbers to more sustainable levels.

Now just two years later, ASMFC is considering reversing course and increasing catch quotas, at least partially. Proponents argue the latest stock assessment justifies greater menhaden harvests. But as CBF Virginia Senior Scientist Chris Moore points out, the assessment also showed abundance, or total number of fish, remains low.    

"Although CBF is encouraged by the recent stock assessment, the results are actually mixed. While the total biomass is at an acceptable level, the overall menhaden abundance is at levels lower than when the fishery was declared overfished in the 1960s. And numbers of prey fish are what matters to predators like rockfish and ospreys.”

Moore also points out that the recent stock analysis is a "single-species assessment" and does not fully account for menhaden's ecological value as an important forage fish that other marine creatures depend upon for food.

"There is still important work to be done by ASMFC to ensure menhaden can fulfill their critical role in the coastal and Chesapeake Bay food web. CBF strongly recommends that ASMFC take no action to increase harvest quotas until ecological reference points are adopted or other measures taken that ensure menhaden’s ecological role is safeguarded."

CBF is monitoring the ASMFC meeting this week and will report actions taken, so stay tuned.

Chuck Epes, CBF's Assistant Director of Media Relations

Click here to read CBF's letter detailing our concerns to ASMFC.


The Resilient Blue Crab

The following op-ed appeared on Friday in the Washington Post.

Blue crab blog
Photo by Damon Fodge

It's clearly been a poor year for Chesapeake Bay blue crab harvests. Average catches just three years ago were as much as twice as what they are now.

That is where Angus Phillips ["It's now or never for blue crabs," Sunday Opinion, July 27] and I agree. Where we disagree is what to do about it. Phillips called for a moratorium on crabbing. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) does not. Like many, we believe in managing fisheries through science, not quick-fix schemes. As my eighth-grade history teacher used to say, "Beware of simple answers to complex problems."

While a moratorium may be tempting in its simplicity, the CBF and most scientists believe that limits on the harvesting of female crabs are biologically appropriate for such a resilient species (which is far different from the striped bass, for which the CBF was a moratorium advocate). This approach will also have the added benefit of maintaining jobs and avoiding the economic devastation to communities like Smith and Tangier islands.

Blue crab reproductive success from year to year depends on many factors. Weather is one. Last winter's cold weather killed an estimated 28 percent of the bay's crabs. Pollution also can cause habitat loss. Bay grasses — great places for young crabs to hide from predators — are currently at only 20 percent of historic levels. The bay's dead zones kill the creatures that crabs rely on for food.

We believe that only a comprehensive crab management plan that addresses pollution, habitat and harvest will provide for a long-term sustainable fishery.

While there is plenty of reason for concern, there is also a bright note this crabbing season: Early results from Maryland and Virginia show an encouraging number of young crabs.

Phillips rhetorically asked whether the CBF is aware of the situation. Of course we are. The CBF's scientists have been in communication with the Maryland, Potomac and Virginia regulatory agencies responsible for blue crab management. Our senior fisheries scientist also is a member of the Sustainable Fisheries Goal Implementation Team, which oversees blue crab management baywide.

Phillips said he could not find one word about the issue on our Web site. I invite him to look again. A search of our Web site turned up more than 1,400 mentions of crabs — their importance, value and plight. In May, we published "Blue News," a blog posted soon after the annual crab survey results raised concerns about the population. It can be found at www.cbf.org/bluenews.

Finally, Phillips stated that the CBF was raising money for a new wing at our Annapolis Environmental Center, the world's first LEED platinum building. We are not. He also called it a palace. That is an odd description for a building that dramatically cuts energy and water use, reduces human pollution through zero-discharge composting toilets and is built inside and out with sustainable materials.

—Will Baker, CBF President


Local Governments Set Pollution-Busting Examples

The following originally appeared in Bay Journal News Service yesterday.

Riparian Park plantingA community riparian park planting. Photo by CBF Staff. 

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation's 2012 State of the Bay Report tells us the health of the Chesapeake Bay has improved 14 percent since 2008. But that doesn't tell the whole story.

Throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia, we hear about local governments, businesses, and citizens rolling up their sleeves to reduce pollution from all sectors--agriculture, sewage treatment plants, and urban and suburban runoff. They are working to restore local rivers and streams. That is the goal of the federal/state Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint (formally known as the TMDL and State Watershed Implementation Plans). The Blueprint, if fully implemented with programs in place by 2025, will restore clean water throughout the Chesapeake's 64,000 square mile watershed.

Examples abound.

In south-central Pennsylvania, Warwick Township's citizens—farmers,  school children, businessmen, civic groups, and the township board of supervisors—pitched in to implement a comprehensive watershed management plan for Lititz Run.

Building on stream restoration efforts started in the early 1990s, Girl Scouts turned old barrels into rain barrels, and in turn homeowners used the devices to reduce stormwater flow. Every industrial park in the township modified its stormwater system to reduce runoff. The township preserved 20 farms and 1,318 farm acres from future development using "Transferable Development Rights." Eagle Scouts placed "No Dumping, Drains to the Stream" signs on all the storm drains in the township.

The Result: Lititz Run has been re-designated by the State as a cold-water fishery and now supports a healthy brook trout population.

Just a little south of Lititz, the Lancaster City government is making significant investments in green infrastructure. The green roofs, porous pavers in alleyways, rain barrels, and other innovative technologies put in place there will absorb rainwater instead of allowing it to run off carrying pollution to the Conestoga River. Not only will water quality be improved, but these actions will improve the quality of life for all residents.

In Maryland, Harford, Somerset, and Wicomico counties decided to better manage sprawl to reduce associated water and air pollution and preserve their rural character.

In the small town of Forest Heights, Md., Mayor Jacqueline E. Goodall wants local government to lead by example. Town stormwater drains into Oxon Run, which in turn flows to the polluted Potomac River. So the town recently installed new bio-retention ponds, a cistern, and three 250-gallon rain barrels at the town administration building. Previously, the town had installed a vegetated green roof on the building, as well as solar panels, and energy-efficient interior features. Forest Heights actively sought grants for the latest project, reducing the overall cost 90 percent. Now, the town is encouraging its 2,400 residents to do their part: limit car washing and pesticide spraying, install rain barrels, and take other measures.

And Talbot County, Md., has undertaken an innovative pilot program to use existing farm and street ditches to purify runoff. County-wide, this strategy could save tens of millions of dollars.

In Virginia this year, the Governor and legislature allocated $216 million in new funds for local water improvement efforts, the largest investment in clean water in years. This investment will pay for upgrading wastewater treatment plants, improving stormwater runoff controls, and reducing combined sewer overflows. These actions will help produce healthier streams and rivers across the Commonwealth, stimulate local economies, and help Virginia meet its 2017 Chesapeake Bay cleanup goals.

Falls Church, Va., officials reduced the initial cost estimates for improving stormwater management by 60 percent through the use of "green infrastructure." And in Charlottesville, Va., city officials recognized the damage done by stormwater to the Rivanna River and passed a stormwater fee to aid in restoration.

We hope these actions and the many others like them inspire other local governments, businesses, and individuals to implement the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. It is the right thing to do, and it is the legacy we want to leave for our children and grandchildren.

We're more than halfway to our goal of reducing water pollution. Much work remains, but momentum is building. And each person, business, and locality that takes action increases our ability to finish the job in our lifetime.

—Kim Coble
Vice President, Environmental Protection and Restoration, Chesapeake Bay Foundation


Balancing the Benefits of Menhaden

MenhadenCatch_JohnSurrickIndustrial fishing boats pull up a net chock-full of menhaden. Photo by John Surrick/CBF Staff.

In the 1940s, a company in Reedville, Virginia, that fished Atlantic menhaden for "reduction" (industrial processing) described the little silvery fish as "made for Man to harvest." To them, the supply was inexhaustible, with no other value except crab pot bait. 

Today, that viewpoint seems outrageous, but it dies hard. It has caused big problems for the menhaden, aka "bunker, pogy, or alewife." These herring relatives have ranged along the coast in astronomical numbers for thousands of years. Most of the fish winter and spawn off the Carolina coast.

In late winter, young-of-the-year move into estuaries to feed and grow. One-to-two-year-olds come in the spring. The Chesapeake provides them critical habitat. Older fish migrate further north, so the largest menhaden go to New England (where large Chesapeake rockfish spend the summer).

Why such vast numbers? Simple: menhaden eat low on the food web. They are omnivorous filter feeders, straining whatever water they swim through. Depending on a fish's age, it might catch phytoplankton (tiny algae cells), zooplankton (tiny invertebrate animals), or, especially in estuaries, detritus (semi-decayed plant material). 

The success of this ecological niche lies in tapping these vast food sources and converting them to oily, protein-filled flesh for the next level of the coastal food web. Menhaden feed predators like rockfish, bluefish, and sea trout, plus ospreys, loons, gannets, and marine mammals. Their value to these iconic fish and birds is immense. 

We humans make scant use of menhaden as food; their greatest direct economic values are oil, fish meal, and bait for fin- and shellfish. The oil goes into industrial products, including paints, cosmetics, and Omega-3 diet supplements. The leftover high-protein meal becomes livestock feed and pet food. 

The reduction industry came to the Chesapeake in the 1870s. Skillful captains and crews use purse seines to surround menhaden schools. Small airplanes help find fish. The harvest is highly automated, using twin 32-foot "purse boats" and 175-foot-long "steamers" (mother ships). Reedville is the fishery's hub. The industry supports 250 good-paying jobs.  To learn more, visit the Reedville Fishermen’s Museum.  

As bait, the menhaden's oily flesh exudes a trail to lure crabs and lobsters, as well as rockfish and bluefish. It has been particularly valuable here since the invention of the crab pot in 1928.

The bait fishery is concentrated between North Carolina and Massachusetts. Every watermen's village from Hampton Roads to Rock Hall is dependent on bait--likewise coastal North Carolina, Delaware Bay, New Jersey, and Long Island. With recent cutbacks in the Atlantic herring fishery because of depleted stocks, menhaden are now critical for New England’s lobster fishery. Though more spread out than the reduction fishery, the bait fishery supports more jobs.    

How many menhaden do these human fisheries catch? On recent average, about 200,000 metric tons (that’s 440,925,000 pounds per year). According to peer-reviewed fishery science, however, the current menhaden stock stands at only 8 percent of an un-fished population, the lowest point on record. Are we wise enough to back off before we crash it? 

Consider these alarming statistics:  Historically, menhaden provided 70 percent of an adult rockfish's diet, but that number has fallen to 8 percent. The percentage for Chesapeake ospreys has fallen from 70 percent to 28 percent, causing serious chick mortality. Clearly, a healthy menhaden stock is as vital to the Atlantic ecosystem as to humans. At 8 percent, there aren’t enough to go around. What to do?

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) coordinates and enforces fishery management plans for menhaden from Florida to Maine. It includes three commissioners from each state and one from the Potomac River Fisheries Commission. Last year, ASMFC's commissioners took the unprecedented step of setting an overfishing threshold to allow the population to grow to 15 percent, with a management target of 30 percent. This fall, the commissioners must decide how to reduce the catch without major harm to human fishermen and their communities, to leave enough for rockfish, bluefish, and sea trout, plus ospreys, loons, gannets, and marine mammals. It's a delicate balancing act. Like restoring the Chesapeake, if it were easy, we'd have done it long ago.

ASMFC has held public hearings on the new management plan and is taking written comment through November 16. YOU can play a valuable role by educating yourself and submitting comments. Public input played a key role in setting the threshold and target last year, and it will again. 

We had enough wisdom to pull back on blue crabs five years ago. Today, the population is much healthier. It's time to give menhaden the same respect, for ourselves as well as fish, birds, crabs, and lobsters. Our Bay and Atlantic coast won’t be healthy without them.

—John Page Williams
Senior Naturalist, Chesapeake Bay Foundation

To learn more, read our menhaden blog series.

Please take action TODAY to help restore menhaden and the Chesapeake Bay!

 


Cheapeake Born: The skinny on the Bay's decline? Our unhealthy appetite for fertilizer, fuel

  PC 0594A pond and its wildlife suffocated with algae. Photo by Thomas McDowell.

For insight as to why we’re having trouble restoring Chesapeake Bay, I’m reading “The Evolution of Obesity” by medical researchers Michael L. Power and Jay Schulkin (Johns Hopkins Press, 2009).

It’s an illuminating look at how we got so fat. It’s epidemic—more than a fifth of the world’s population is overweight or obese.

In the United States, obesity-related health problems are soaring. The standard revolving door has gone from six to eight feet, and hauling our ampler butts costs airlines a quarter billion more in fuel than it used to. The proportion of normal weight Americans is at an all-time low.

But what’s a fat book got to do with the state of Chesapeake Bay? Around the world, coastal waters have gotten fat. “Eutrophic,” or overfertilized is the technical term, from the Greek for well-fed. Dead zones like the bay’s occur in more than 40 regions of the world.

It’s intriguing to compare graphs tracking these declines to graphs in Power’s and Schulkin’s book that track the U.S. upsurge in fatness.

Roughly, human obesity and estuarine dead zones both began to proliferate around the 1970s. Mindful that the body is not an estuary, I won’t put too fine a point on this coincidence.

But today’s “obesogenic” environment, as the book calls it, seems to be a useful lens for connecting human ways and the ways of bays.

‘Obesity’s’ authors marshal medical science and evolutionary biology to show how impressively adapted is the human organism to avoid underweight and starvation.

Our bodies can suppress appetite when food is scarce; also become more efficient at maintaining body mass in lean times; and we’re geared big time to glom onto and make the most of “calorie dense” foods full of fat or sugar.

And why not? For all but the last ticks of the evolutionary clock, calories were hard to come by, and calorie burning—physical exertion—was hard to avoid.

Fat was good for other reasons. Human babies are naturally among the fattest of mammalian species, close behind seal pups. The reason appears to be that fat, with 10 times the energy storage of muscle, fuels development of our big brains, themselves about one-third fat.

And fat, up to a point, helps the body fight off pathogens, which became a problem once humans began living in settled communities, close to one another and to animals.

The authors show that we literally like the feel of fat in our mouths. Sugar, too, has always been our friend, so much that a bird in Africa, the honeyguide, has evolved to follow honey-seeking humans to the beeswax it eats.

The bay also evolved elegantly to do more with less. The watershed for thousands of years was thick with forest, bemucked with beaver ponds and other wetlands, resulting in riverflows that were not just clean, but lean in the nutrients that fuel aquatic food webs.

The Chesapeake thrived fabulously on this diet. Its shallowness, its two-layered flows of freshwater riding atop salt, its structures of filtering shellfish and burrowing worms and clams, its vast grass beds that could absorb and rerelease nutrients—all of this and more enabled the bay to retain and recycle, and recycle again whatever food it could get. Think of it like swishing a tasty drink around in your mouth for a long time, extracting all of the goodness.

Both humans and estuaries in recent decades have entered a world that is nutritionally abundant beyond anything they knew. And though well-adapted to cope with less, neither man nor bay ever needed mechanisms to cope with too much—one reason the authors of “Obesity” are skeptical that drug companies will isolate a magic molecule or gene to limit getting fat.

The appetites that have larded today’s humans have sped up the bay’s eutrophication. A diet rich in meat means extensive, intensive, heavily fertilized and fertilizer-leaky agriculture, a major cause of deadzones worldwide.

Even heartier appetites for fossil fuels have fed the bay far too much fertilizing nitrogen via air pollution.

With so much energy available to work for us now, we humans must make an effort to get the exercise that used to automatically burn fat.

While the bay never literally exercised, its wet and forested watershed used to process nutrients far more vigorously, ‘denitrifying’ them back into the atmosphere, or burying them in sediments. Now they just mainline off pavement into the bay.

Nowadays ‘thin’ is in for humans, as ‘green’ is for the environment. Yet the trends still don’t match the images, and may never unless we comprehend where we came from.

—Tom Horton

 

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

 


Why I'm a CBF Volunteer

100_4243Photo courtesy of Zhizhong Yin.

I am an immigrant from China. The American dream and world-class education and research brought me here at the dawn of the new century. I spent most of my time in the U.S. in the greater Baltimore area, starting as a Ph.D student at Johns Hopkins. Before I came, I learned a bit about the city, including its glorious history as the dominant port in the new continent as well as its current problems.

However, that is not what impressed me when I first put my feet on American soil. What really struck me was how blue the sky is and how green the grass is. Later I found out many of my friends from China have the same feeling. Due to neck-breaking development over the last three decades, pollution has become a huge problem in China. Blue sky, clear water, and green grass are no longer the normal. That is actually one of the reasons that propelled me to come to the U.S. I have since then enjoyed the good environment we have here. But I never forget the environmental problems China faces.

To get a Ph.D from Johns Hopkins is never easy. Life as a new immigrant is equally tough, if not tougher, for the first few years. Now that I am kind of settled down, I am starting to think about it again and seeking opportunities on learning about how to tackle the environmental problem. I am grateful that the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) gives me the opportunity. Through my volunteer services with CBF, I learned what kind of actions we can take as an individual and as a community to preserve and protect the precious environment we have.

I also learned that in the 1960s and 1970s, many areas in the U.S. faced similar environmental problems as China is facing today. Thanks to organizations like CBF and government agencies, we can enjoy a much better environment comparing with 40 or 50 years ago. It gives me hope. On the other hand, there is still a lot to do to make the environment better and closer to its undisturbed condition, or even simply prevent it from skipping back to worse conditions. As an immigrant settled down in the Chesapeake Bay area, it gives me another reason to get involved with CBF.

—Zhizhong Yin


Chesapeake Born: Saving the Planet on the Cheap

IMG_7024Photo by Emmy Nicklin/CBF Staff.

What if you had to save the Chesapeake Bay, and you had no money?

It's a fitting question in the depths of the Great Recession, as deficit hawk shrills throughout the land and governments across the watershed wonder how to afford the next round of Bay cleanup requirements.

Personally, I've been investing cheaply in a host of advanced green technologies: a clothesline in the backyard ($3) and a rainy day drying rack ($20) in the cellar; organic cooling systems, AKA trees, to shade the south and western sides of my house ($500); busting up half my driveway with a pickaxe ($27) to absorb stormwater runoff, planting it with more organic cooling systems.

I bought a small house near work and stores, saving energy, allowing bicycle to replace car most days. A smaller fridge is next as I now shop almost daily. I installed a super-quiet whole house fan ($900) for all the cooling I need most days; and heavily insulated the attic and crawl spaces ($800).

Had I sprung big bucks for Energy Star appliances, solar panels, geothermal heat pumps and an electric car, I'd have received tens of thousands in government subsidies. And in the end I wouldn't have been greener.

So I think it’s time we took a serious look at cheaper ways of getting to a better planet, of saving taxpayer dollars as we restore our environment.

Broadly, that would mean cutting government subsidies to polluting activities; and letting polluting activities reflect their full price.

If I’d bought a big house in a rural subdivision, for example, I’d have been awarded a bigger mortgage deduction, even as I drove more, used more open space, required more roads and polluted more on my septic tank than on a city treatment plant.

We give some $1 trillion annually in federal tax breaks to homeowners, a presidential fiscal reform commission reports. At state and local levels, taxpayers pay thousands a year for every home in a sprawl development to ease the real cost of roads, water and air pollution and the cost of services such as fire, police and utilities.

The extra gasoline such residents burn would cost maybe eight bucks a gallon if we removed government subsidies to oil companies—more than 12 bucks a gallon if, as some suggest, we include part of the defense budget for protecting foreign oil sources.

If gasoline fetched its true market price, there’d be far less need to subsidize electric cars—or mass transit, or bigger roads. No need either, to subsidize solar and wind energy as much if all our traditional energy sources operated without subsidies (like the taxpayer guarantees for part of the accident insurance on nuclear power plants).

Power companies could be rewarded for saving energy, not pushing more of it. At a hearing on a new, $1.4 billion power line I asked what if that money went instead for conservation, could we avoid the need for the line?

Their shareholders wouldn’t like that, a company spokesman said, as they make money based on how much energy they transmit.

Agriculture, the Bay’s biggest source of pollution, is underpinned by federal crop subsidies; at the very least, we’d save big time on cleanup costs if these were morphed into payments for reducing runoff.

Water quality would also benefit if poultry manure were made the responsibility of the big chicken producers nationwide—now it is "owned" by individual growers.

Popular but expensive open space protection programs are in part a price we pay for bad government land-use policies. A proposal by Maryland’s Governor O’Malley to cut state subsidies for schools, roads, and wastewater where counties allow sprawl development could save billions.

Other environmentally beneficial savings worth scrutinizing range from low-cost commuter tolls (a subsidy to sprawl), to flood insurance and beach replacement (subsidies to development, often in some of our most sensitive natural areas).

From the other side of the equation, government accounting for economic progress needs to start valuing the nature we lose as well as the development that replaces it. Current indicators like GDP (gross domestic product), add the value of a parking lot but don’t subtract the value of the forest it felled.

Some might see in the above a danger of slowing growth; but if something can’t pay its way financially, and further creates pollution that costs to clean up, why on earth would we want more of it?

I think the possibilities of saving the Bay cheaper are large, and the politics for doing it are right. The Bay watershed has two Congressmen on the 12 member "Supercommittee" charged with coming up with deficit reductions.

Who wants to convene a conference to see what we can do?

 —Tom Horton

The above appeared in the Bay Journal News Service (http://www.bayjournalnewsservice.com/). Tom Horton covered the Bay for 33 years for The Sun in Baltimore, and is author of six books about the Chesapeake. Distributed by Bay Journal News Service.

 


Notes from the Field: October is National Kill Tall Fescue Month

The following appeared on field conservationist Bobby Whitescarver's blog, blog.gettingmoreontheground.com. For more information, please visit his website

Progression of fescue to native prairieThe 12-month progression from invasive Tall Fescue to native prairie (starting from top left and moving clockwise). Photos by Bobby Whitescarver.

October is a good time to kill Tall Fescue. I like killing Tall Fescue because it is perhaps the most invasive non-native plant in North America. In my opinion it is more invasive than Purple loosestrife and Phragmites, yet why don’t we hear more about it? Not only is Tall Fescue invasive, but it is also toxic! 

We used a glyphosate product last week to start killing a pasture that is predominately Tall Fescue. We are doing this in preparation to replace the Tall Fescue with native warm season grasses next spring. When the new grasses get established, we will use them for pasture during the hot summer months of July and August when the rest of our cool season grass pastures on the farm usually go dormant. 

Research shows that killing Fescue in the fall results in only 20 percent of it coming back; whereas if you kill it in the spring, 60 percent of it will come back. We plan to spray again next spring just prior to planting the native grasses.

I also spray around the trees we planted several years ago because the Fescue is allelopathic to newly planted trees. That means the Fescue gives off a toxin that inhibits the growth of new seedlings. If you want to plant trees into a Fescue sod, you should kill the Fescue first.

Because of Fescue’s growth habit, it harbors mice and voles. Mice and voles eat tree seedlings. Mice and voles also attract hawks. Hawks kill quail. Introducing Fescue into our natural system here didn't work out very well.

—Bobby Whitescarver  

Whitescarver is a recently retired USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) conservationist who spent more than 30 years working with farmers on conservation practices. He now has his own private consulting business where he helps landowners create an overall vision and plan for their land. He also works with CBF to help famers install more Best Managment Practices (BMPs) in the Shenandoah Valley. He is the recipient of a CBF Conservationist of the Year award. For more information, visit his website

 

FinalProductThe resulting native prairie. Photo by Bobby Whitescarver.

Chesapeake News and Dos

Filling you in on the top stories of the week and letting you know how to make a difference!

IMG_2591 Photo by Emmy Nicklin/CBF Staff.

This week in the Watershed:  Hypoxia returns, some much-needed funds, and good crab news 

 

Upcoming Volunteer Opportunities for the Bay

October 8

  • Help clean up the Anacostia, our nation’s “forgotten river!” Join the United by Blue crew to help rehabilitate this Potomac tributary. 

October 9

October 11

  • Voice your opinion on the future of menhaden, “the most important fish in the sea,” in Annapolis, Maryland. This meeting of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is open to public comment so please attend. We need your help to let these officials know just how important this fish is to the Bay!
  • Join CBF and REI for a viewing of “Gasland” in Richmond, Virginia. Clips from this documentary about hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” will be shown followed by a conversation about possible fracking in George Washington National Forest.  

October 12

  • Help fortify stream buffers in Lancaster, Pennsylvania along Witmer Run by planting trees with CBF. Help stop sediment and nutrients before they get to our waterways.

October 15

Ongoing

 

Adam Wickline

 

If you have an upcoming Bay-related restoration event and you need volunteers, please let us know by contacting CBF’s Community Building Manager, Adam Wickline: awickline@cbf.org. Do you enjoy working with fellow Bay Lovers to help save the Chesapeake? Become a CBF Volunteer to receive notifications about upcoming volunteer opportunities.