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November 2013

October 2013

Remembering a Girl Who Died in a Vanishing Land

Graveyard on Holland IslandOn a tiny, remote island in the southern Chesapeake Bay, gravestones rise beneath a gnarled hackberry tree. 

That’s all there is left to Holland Island, really.  A patch of spartina grass.  Wooden beams poking up from the waves just off shore, where the last house stood.

And about a dozen gravestones beside a pile of bricks.  Above the small island rises this enormous, twisted tree -– its branches filled with dozens of cormorant nests.  From the trunk of this tree, at an angle, juts a bone-white slab of stone that is being absorbed by the tree roots.

The headstone is now part of the tree. Next to it is a stone that reads:  “In Memory of Effie L. Wilson, daughter of John W. and Anne E. Wilson.  Born Jan 16, 1880. Died Oct. 12, 1893. Aged 13 years, eight months, 27 days.” And then an inscription: “Forget me not, tis all I could ask for.”

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Poll Shows Residents Oppose Waterfront Development

Four seasonsA new poll shows that a majority of voters in Kent Island and Queen Anne's County are opposed to the 1079-unit Four Seasons development project proposed for Kent Island.

On the island, opponents outnumber supporters by more than 2-1, with 61 percent opposing the project and 26 percent supporting it, according to a public opinion poll by Public Opinion Strategies commissioned by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Queen Anne's Conservation Association. In Queen Anne's County, 52 percent oppose the project, and 34 percent support it.

"There can be no doubt now how the public feels about this massive project. It is one of the largest development projects ever proposed in Maryland within an ecologically sensitive waterfront area. Will someone listen to the will of the people? The state Board of Public Works must deny the project's pending wetlands permit, and county commissioners must take Four Seasons back to the drawing board," said Alison Prost, Maryland Director of CBF.

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Southern Maryland County Considers Opening 150,000 Acres to Development

DevelopmentCHESAPEAKEBAYPROGRAMA major decision is at hand: whether to pave or protect large parts of southern Maryland’s farmlands and forests.

At 7 p.m. tonight (Oct. 29), the Charles County government is holding a public hearing at the county government building, at 200 Baltimore Street in La Plata. The topic of discussion will be a revision to the county’s long-term land-use plan proposed by developers and their allies that would strip protections from 150,000 acres of forests and farms and open the land to development.

UPDATE ON Nov. 1:  "Opponents of Charles County’s draft comprehensive plan update outnumbered supporters 3-to-1 Tuesday evening during a marathon, five-hour public hearing that left at least one county commissioner open to compromise," the Maryland Independent newspaper reported. 

Commissioner Ken Robinsin told the newspaper: "I was incredibly impressed by the turnout and by how particularly articulate and organized the opposition to the comp plan was... I honestly cannot predict what my colleagues will do. I hope they realize since they have slept on it since Tuesday that the citizens are overwhelmingly opposed to this plan."

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Faith Can Move Mountains; Can It Save the Bay?

For many, the stewardship of natural resources is more than an issue of environmental or economic policy. It’s a matter of personal faith. It’s an ethical and moral imperative.

Bringing such personal values into discussions, especially when advocating for public policies, can sometimes seem awkward or uncomfortable. After all, this nation rightly guards the “wall” separating matters of church and state.

But surely there is room in the public forum to connect environmental conservation to the deeply held earth stewardship values of many faiths, perhaps of all faiths. Such is the intent of “Living Waters: An Interfaith Summit” to be held next month in Richmond, Va.

Sponsored by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in partnership with the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, Virginia Conservation Network, Caretakers of God’s Creation, Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake, the Office of Justice + Peace, and Virginia Interfaith Power & Light, the summit will investigate where faith and conservation intersect.

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Federal Flood Insurance Program Swamped by Climate Change

FloodNOAAMany waterfront developments across the country would never have been built without the implicit backing of U.S. taxpayers.

The National Flood Insurance Program, created by Congress in 1968, provides insurance to more than 5 million property owners in flood-prone areas across the country.  Many could not have obtained mortgages to build or buy their properties without the government program.

But with climate change driving up sea levels, some argue the government should stop subsidizing waterfront construction in the Chesapeake Bay region and elsewhere that is inevitably going to be flooded out by a combination of rising storm surges and (in some areas) slowly sinking land. Critics also contend flood insurance can encourage building in wetlands and on top of environmentally critical areas.

“If I was king of the waterfront, I would abolish flood insurance immediately, ”  said Orrin Pilkey, Professor Emeritus at Duke University who studies waterfront construction.   “I think anything that would discourage intensification of development at the waterfront will be a good thing for long term future of the country.”

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Could the Bay Win an Oscar?

Keith__JPChesapeake Bay lovers are in for a cinematic treat in another year or two.

In the works is a new movie called Chesapeake, a film about a reclusive Bay waterman and his relationship with a young boy he rescues from drowning.

To begin shooting next year in Virginia and around the Bay region, the movie will be “a moving tale of loss and redemption [that] centers around the region’s time-honored watermen culture as it faces threats from the modern world,” says a press release issued this week by producers Erica Arvold (Arvold Productions) and Sara Elizabeth Timmins (Life Out Loud Films).

Chesapeake will feature Academy-Award winning actor Keith Carradine (above, courtesy of Arvold Productions), but perhaps the biggest stars will be the Chesapeake Bay and its culture.

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Virginia Considers Resuming Dredging for Female Crabs

BluecrabCHESAPEAKEBAYPROGRAMAs my colleague Chuck Epes wrote earlier this week, the Chesapeake Bay’s blue crabs are once again in troubled waters. The catch was poor this summer. And the number of juvenile crabs estimated this past winter was 80 percent lower than the winter before.  The number of spawning-age females was up, but still at levels far below what managers consider ideal.

Despite the unstable situation with the Bay’s iconic species, Virginia is considering re-opening its waters to dredging for crabs in the winter, which the commonwealth has banned since 2008. The ban was instituted as part of a joint effort with Maryland to boost crab reproduction by help the survival of female crabs carrying fertilized eggs. Dredges are rake-like devices with nets that are dragged along the bottom to scoop up crabs (often females, in the southern Bay during the winter) while they hibernate.

A vote by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) on a possible re-opening of the winter dredge season is scheduled for Tuesday. 

John Bull, a spokesman for the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, said that Virginia law requires VMRC to reconsider and reapprove the ban every year. “There has been a vocal number of commercial crabbers who have been adamant that we reopen this winter dredge fishery,” Bull said.  “It’s an old fishery –- it’s been around for 100 years.  We only closed it annually since 2008.  And these dredgers have been pushing us for a number of years here to reopen it. They feel like they were unfairly singled out.”

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The Oyster Returns to Baltimore

Rodenhausen with oysterA native son came home to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor today. Television crews jostled for pictures.

The oyster is back.

And we’re not talking oysters on the half shell (probably imported from the Gulf of Mexico) served chilled with horseradish in nearby restaurants. We’re talking live oysters, working oysters, spitting oysters, the kind that can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day.  

Oyster map.jpgThe first of about 40,000 baby oysters were lowered in cages into the dark waters next to the National Aquarium, thanks to a partnership between the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore, and area students. Five “oyster gardens” around the Inner Harbor will nurture the fledgling bivalves over the next 10 months. Then they will then be placed on a reef near the Key Bridge. If the project is successful, the operation will be repeated in future years.

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Trouble Brewing for Blue Crabs

Perhaps the most iconic critter associated with the Chesapeake Bay is the blue crab. Despite the Bay’s ongoing pollution and other problems, crabs remain among the largest and most profitable fisheries in the Bay.

And why not? Who doesn’t like feasting on a delicious crab cake dinner, a creamy bowl of she-crab soup, or a pot of freshly steamed hard crabs, then washing it down with a frosty beverage?

But here’s the rub: the Bay’s crab population is at worrisome low levels. In fact, it has been a terrible crabbing year, and many people are concerned.

TotaljuvenileThe troubling situation actually was anticipated by watermen who reported very low catches last year, and by scientists who conduct an annual survey to assess the Bay’s crab population and set science-based harvest limits. The most recent survey found that the number of baby crabs had dropped by about 80% from the year before.

Interestingly, the survey also found the number of adult female crabs had increased about 50% from the previous year, although still at levels far below what managers consider ideal.

According to Bay scientists, recent low crab numbers are most likely due to low numbers of adult females, unfavorable weather, and predation.

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