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

The following appeared on field conservationist Bobby Whitescarver's blog. 

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



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: Do you enjoy working with fellow Bay Lovers to help save the Chesapeake? Become a CBF Volunteer to receive notifications about upcoming volunteer opportunities. 


The Bicycle Diaries, Part Two

Jb “Wow, there’s just two of you, doing that whole thing . . . you’re really out there,” said motel keeper Inez after hearing CBFers John Rodenhausen and Beth McGee tell their story as they were checking in after another long day on their bikes. That was day four of the duo’s 1,300-mile circumnavigation of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

And indeed “out there” they were . . . riding through corn fields, biking up Skyline Drive, running into black bears outside of Hancock, New York, hopping on ferries across the James River (and the Bay itself), soaking weary legs in fresh mountain streams, and telling their personal stories, raising awareness and money for cancer, diabetes, and the Chesapeake Bay along the way.

“One thing that we really tried to get across to everybody especially when we were up north in New York and Pennsylvania was that clean water benefits everybody," says Rodenhausen. "It’s not about the Bay when we’re riding through New York…it’s about you guys and your clean water.”  

Algae Sadly, that message didn’t come soon enough in some places. “Toward the end of our trip, we were coming through Laurel, Delaware, crossing Broad Creek—a tributary to the Nanticoke—which feeds into the Bay,” says McGee. “And there was a huge Microcystis, which is a blue-green algae—an algae that’s extremely toxic. If dogs would drink it or people would swim in it and ingest it, it would cause gastrointestinal issues and actually it’s a neurotoxin . . . really bad stuff.” Rodenhausen adds, “the [clean water] issues that we’re talking about now are very pertinent and germane to everyone’s lives and livelihoods.” 

Read "The Bicycle Diaries, Part One," here!

—Emmy Nicklin


To learn how you can fight for clean water click here. To read more of Rodenhausen and McGee’s extraordinary journey, please visit their blog. Check out our Facebook page for more photos of their big welcome home and find out how you can both bike and save the Bay here

Finally, to donate to Rodenhausen and McGee’s causes, please visit the following pages:


Chesapeake News and Dos

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

Photo courtesy John Rodenhausen and Beth McGee/CBF Staff

This week in the Watershed: Bikes, Beaches, Turtles, and Teachers!  

  • Two Chesapeake Bay Foundation employees will finish their three-week circumnavigation of the watershed via bicycle today.
  • Maryland’s cover crop program set a record for the number of acres  enrolled in the state’s upcoming winter cover crop program to hold sediment and nutrients on the field. Gov. Martin O’Malley said this is one of the most cost-effective ways of reducing pollution. (Baltimore Sun – MD)
  • The Baltimore Aquarium released three rescued Kemp’s ridley sea turtles back into the Bay. Kemp’s ridley sea turtles are the most endangered of all sea turtle species. (Baltimore Sun – MD)
  • Pennsylvania is mulling over the idea of allowing drilling under Pa. forest land. The head of Pennsylvania’s Department of Community and Economic Development indicates state government could receive revenues of $60 billion in the next 30 years. (Pittsburg Post-Gazette - PA)
  • Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley will reintroduce his septic tank ban for Maryland’s legislative session, which did not pass this year’s session. (WAMU – Washington, D.C.)
  • It is safe to return to the surf in Norfolk, where two beaches were closed on Tuesday due to elevated bacterial levels in the water. (Virginian-Pilot – VA)
  • Baltimore City teachers were out on a farm in Catonsville with the Chesapeake Classrooms program, learning how to incorporate the environment into their classrooms.  (ABC 2 News – MD)
  • The Washington Post Editorial Board opines about the high value of EPA’s “pollution diet” and reminds all that while the cleanup effort may be costly those costs must be measured against the Bay’s economic importance and even greater costs of continued inaction. (Washington Post – D.C.) 


Upcoming Volunteer Opportunities in the Bay

August 20 

  • Join the Cyclist for the Bay crew in Virginia as they complete a team ride in the area. They will start in Ashland, VA at 7 a.m.!
  • This weekend, volunteer oyster gardeners in Virginia will return their grown oysters and get a new batch of baby oysters (called “spat”) to grow for next year. To learn how to become an oyster gardener in Virginia and help Save the Bay, please visit our website. If you live in Maryland and want to be a gardener, go here

August 22


  • Become a watershed steward! Take part in a program that will teach you how to make a difference in your home and your community. On Monday at 6:30 p.m. in Millersville, MD, there will be informational session about this unique program.
  • Volunteers are needed for oyster shell shaking at CBF's Oyster Restoration Center on Monday and Tuesday of next week. Contact Carmera Thomas for details: 


August 25

  • Volunteers needed to help CBF pick up 1,200 bags of baby "spat" for our oyster gardening program in Cambridge, MD. Interested? Please contact Carmera Thomas for details:

September 17

  • Do you want to speak on behalf of the Bay? Do you enjoy talking to people and sharing your passion for our national treasure? Sign-up to become a CBF Speaker and Fairs and Festivals volunteer. This is a great way to teach the public about why it’s vital to care for the Chesapeake. Please see the event page for more details and to sign up! 

Adam Wickline


DSC_0341-1 Adam is the Community Building Manager of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. He works to inform and engage people across the watershed to take part in Saving the Bay. If you have an upcoming Bay-related restoration event and you need volunteers, please let us know: awickline@cbf.orgDo you enjoy working with fellow Bay Lovers to help save the Chesapeake? Become a CBF Volunteer to receive notifications about upcoming volunteer opportunities.  

Photo of the Week: Smith Island Shanty
Photo by John Werry/

"It's hard to understate what the Bay means to me. Three generations of my family have spent the last 40 years boating, crabbing, fishing, and living in three different counties on the Bay. The Bay's brackish water runs in our blood.

I have been all over the Bay, but Smith Island was one of those places that I always wanted to visit but never had. This photo was taken at sunset in Tylerton, Smith Island, during a weekend photo club visit this past July.

The Smith Island visit capped off a collection of photographs I've been taking on the Bay for the past 11 years that I will be publishing in my book, working title 'Chesapeake Views,' hopefully next year."

—John Werry

Do you have a favorite Bay photo you'd like to submit to our Photo of the Week contest? Join the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Flickr group or post to our Facebook page. We look forward to seeing your pics! 

Ask a Scientist: a Turning Point for Menhaden? Part One

Menhaden photo
Photo courtesy of Bill Goldsborough/CBF Staff

They’ve been called “the most important fish in the sea.” Small, silvery, and packed with nutritional value, menhaden are filter feeders that consume plankton and in turn are food for striped bass and other important fish, as well as marine mammals and sea birds. They are in effect a critical link in the marine food web.  

But in 32 of the past 54 years, menhaden have been overfished, and they are now at their lowest level on record. Most of the harvest today is taken by Omega Protein, Inc.—a corporation based in Houston, Texas, which capitalizes off of menhaden’s nutritional value by running a fish reduction plant out of small-town Reedville, Virginia. Omega Protein’s catch makes up 80 percent of the East Coast catch, resulting in more than 150,000 tons per year of menhaden, which are then cooked, ground up, processed into oil and meal to be used for fish and livestock feed, pet food, paints, cosmetics, and dietary supplements.

“This is enough to make Reedville, Virginia, annually one of the top three ports in the whole country, including Alaska, in terms of tonnage landed,” says Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Fisheries Director Bill Goldsborough. “And most of these ecologically critical fish are removed from Chesapeake Bay waters and the ocean waters just outside the Bay’s mouth.”

But just last week, in an historic first step to protect the ever-diminishing menhaden population, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) voted overwhelmingly to adopt a draft addendum to the Fishery Management Plan, which would allow public comment over the next two months on new reference points for managing the fishery. Specifically, the board is considering a full range of targets for rebuilding the menhaden population, potentially to as much as 40 percent of its former size (it is now at about eight percent).

“This is a landmark thing for menhaden. This is what we’ve been fighting for for years,” Goldsborough says.

It was a long, uphill battle getting to this groundbreaking vote. The current menhaden management plan was adopted in 2001 with high-minded language about rebuilding the menhaden population, but since then the population has only trended downward. Three years ago, the Menhaden Board first passed a motion to develop new targets. Then in May 2010, the board was briefed on a new menhaden stock assessment, which scientifically evaluated the fish’s population and found that, indeed, overfishing occurred in 32 of the last 54 years, presenting an overwhelming pattern of overfishing. Furthermore, the menhaden was at its lowest level on record—only eight percent of its original size! With a panel of independent scientists warning that the population level was too low to be sustainable, setting new reference points that provide better protection for menhaden was recommended. The board responded by voting unanimously at its May 2010 meeting and again at its August 2010 meeting to adopt new reference points, which include targets for the menhaden population level and rate of fishing as well as thresholds for delineating when overfishing was occurring and when the population was overfished. It has taken the process until now, a year later, for proposals for new targets and thresholds to be presented for the board’s consideration.    

Now, after the Menhaden Board voted last week 15 to 1 to 1 in favor of a draft plan addendum with a range of possible targets for the fish’s population level (20 percent, 30 percent, and 40 percent), we have an historic opportunity to rebuild the population of this critical fish. Over the next two months the public will have the chance to let the ASMFC know how it feels about these options and the way forward for menhaden. At its November meeting, the Menhaden Board will adopt the final addendum and begin working on management measures (fishing quotas, size limits, seasons, etc.) needed to achieve the new targets.

—Bill Goldsborough and Emmy Nicklin

View Part Two of this menhaden series here.

More information on the public comment process, including meeting dates and locations will be posted to: Click on "Public Input."

Read the ASMFC "Draft Addendum V to Amendment 1 to the Atlantic Menhaden Fishery Management Plan for Public Comment."

Send your comments to by 5 p.m. on November 2, 2011.


Where the Menhaden Catch Is Coming From

MenhadenMap_en (2)
Though only representing the menhaden catch for the year 2005, this pattern is very typical of the catch year after year, with most of it coming from Chesapeake waters and ocean waters nearby.

Ask a Scientist: Understanding the Bay pollution diet and what it means for the Eastern Shore of Virginia

CBF_Kosek_1 Recently, we’ve had a lot of questions about why the Eastern Shore of Virginia’s required pollution reductions to meet the Bay TMDL or pollution diet are higher than the rest of the state. One individual asks, “What I don't understand is why the Eastern Shore of VA must reduce nitrates by 25 percent, but Virginia Beach by only 4 percent. The DEQ [Virginia Department of Environmental Quality] is placing an extreme burden on our locale by this mandate. Both our Board of Supervisors (Accomack and Northampton) are alarmed indeed.”

Because there have been so many questions surrounding this issue, we asked CBF’s Virginia Senior Scientist Mike Gerel to shed some light on the Bay TMDL or “pollution diet,” and what it means for Virginia:

Virginia made the decision (not the federal government) last November in their Virginia Bay-wide “Phase 1” Bay cleanup plan to assign a higher percentage level of effort to agriculture compared to other pollution sources. Since the majority of the nitrogen pollution load from the Eastern Shore is from agricultural lands (around 70 percent as of 2009), communities like Accomack were assigned more nitrogen pollution reductions compared to communities with fewer agricultural lands.

We believe there are several reasons Virginia chose to require more pollution reductions from agricultural lands in their Phase 1 plan. Mandated upgrades of sewage treatment plants serving urban communities have achieved substantial pollution reductions over the last 25 years (a 42 percent nitrogen cut, compared to a 28 percent cut for agricultural lands). Most large plants will be at or near state-of-the-art by later this year, so further reductions are not readily available with current technology. Next, the McDonnell Administration made it very clear during the Phase 1 plan development that they were going to pursue the most cost-effective solutions. The costs to install conservation practices to cut nitrogen pollution on agricultural lands (up to $100 per pound of nitrogen) are significantly less expensive than pursuing cuts on urban lands ($1,000s per pound of nitrogen). Lastly, as of 2009 across the Virginia Bay watershed, agricultural lands generate a greater percentage of the total nitrogen loading (32 percent) than do urban lands (10 percent), and thus, were assigned a comparatively higher percentage of nitrogen reductions moving forward.

Keep in mind that the percent nitrogen cuts noted in your question that were assigned to Accomack (25 percent cut) and urban communities like Arlington or Virginia Beach (4-5 percent cut) do not include additional nitrogen reductions required of some urban localities with large sewage treatment plants. For example, the Phase 1 plan requires seven large plants operated by the Hampton Roads Sanitation District that serve Virginia Beach and nearby cities—the majority of the remaining large plants that do not deliver state-of-the-art treatment—to complete upgrades by 2023 that will cut nitrogen pollution an additional 6 million pounds .

Virginia is currently working with localities to develop the “Phase 2” cleanup plan that will define local responsibilities under the Bay TMDL. The state has some flexibility in this plan to adjust locality-specific goals provided the overall Bay TMDL goals are met. Locality input on the Phase 2 plan is due to the state by October, with a final plan due for release in March 2012.

There is no question that the Chesapeake Bay system is complex, as are the new cleanup plans designed to restore it after more than 30 years of failure. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) has been actively responding to questions from localities and other local stakeholders who are newly engaged in the details of Bay cleanup planning. To further assist this process, we are working with the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) to develop a series of workshops for Virginia’s Planning District Commissions (PDCs) in August. This will provide an opportunity for PDC and locality staff to voice concerns and seek answers to questions from the DCR staff who will prepare the final Phase 2 plan.

Some have said that pollution from individual communities represent “a drop in the bucket” for the Bay’s sad condition. The problem is there are drops into the Bay’s “bucket” from thousands of sources and communities across its massive 64,000 square-mile watershed that, in total, have led to an unhealthy Bay. The bottom line is that farmers, sewage treatment plant operators, towns and cities, developers, citizens—everyone—throughout the watershed will need to do more to help fully restore our local streams and the Bay. Virginia is working hard to pursue on-the-ground solutions that balance water quality, economic, and community needs across the 15-year implementation period of the new Bay cleanup effort.

We encourage you to contact your local officials and urge them to move forward on the steps necessary to ensure the cleanup effort delivers the healthy streams, productive shellfish waters, open beaches, clean water sources, and the restored Bay that is so important to Virginia communities, especially those on the Eastern Shore.

Thank you again for your interest in this important issue.

—Mike Gerel, Virginia Senior Scientist, Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Science or Politics?

Despite all of the scientific evidence that non-native oysters may cause more harm to our Chesapeake Bay oyster population, the Virginia Senate is proposing a resolution to support the Asian oyster introduction.

Should decisions like this be driven by science or politics?

Those who agree that non-native oysters should not be introduced to the Chesapeake Bay include

  • U.S. Department of the Interior,
  • National Oceanographic and Atmosheric Administration (NOAA),
  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA),
  • Chesapeake Bay Program Science and Technology Advisory Committee,
  • Chesapeake Bay Program Citizen's Advisory Committee,
  • Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, 
  • Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission, and the
  • Virginia Institute of Marince Science.

    Supporters of the proposal want to introduce sterile Asian oysters into the Bay to build up the oyster fishery. Although the Asian oyster grows quickly and resists diseases affecting the Chesapeake oyster, the science highlights considerable uncertainty on its success. Instead, cultivation of native oysters on sanctuary reefs and in commercial aquaculture operations should be supported. CBF Senior Scientist Bill Goldsborough has said that “the scientific community is generally positive about the prospects for native oyster restoration,” citing numerous successful projects Virginia and Maryland. (see links below)

    What else does the science say? It confirms that the Asian oyster

    • is more vulnerable to predators than the Chesapeake oyster,
    • has a greater sensitivity to the Bay’s low dissolved oxygen levels, and
    • poses a risk of local extinction for Chesapeake species oysters by disrupting its reproduction, competing for space, and serving as a host for disease (yes, the local oysters are susceptible to new diseases introduced by the non-native oyster).

    In addition, it is likely that introduction of sterile oysters will inevitably result in a reproductive population, and that they will spread beyond the boarders of the Chesapeake Bay to disrupt other oyster fisheries.

    If you live in Virginia and want to stop the introduction of the Asian oyster, you can help by sending your senator an e-mail urging him or her to vote "NO" when Senate Joint Resolution 411 comes up for a vote.

    Successful native oyster aquaculture projects include:

  •  a partnership of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) and Bevans Oyster Company in Virginia's Yeocomico River;
  • oyster reefs in the Eastern Bay of Maryland, near Kent Island and;
  • oyster restoration efforts in Virginia's Piankatank River and Lynnhaven River (the last is a pdf);

Dealing With Disaster

It's been quite a week for the Chesapeake Bay.

First, on Monday, Bay state and Washington, D.C. representatives and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency tentatively agreed to recommend pushing back the current 2010 deadline, set in 2000, for cleaning up the Bay another ten years. CBF issued a statement congratulating governments for what they have achieved in recent years but expressing frustration that the deadline for true restoration has been pushed back on leaders who have not yet come to office or position.

On Tuesday, U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez issued a federal disaster declaration for the Bay's blue crab fishery. Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski asked for the declaration back in May. Funding is still pending but Sen. Mikulski is optimistic it will come through quickly.

As an editorial in the Free Lance-Star stated, both serve as reminders that, even in this see-sawing economy, "cleaning up the bay needs to remain a top priority--one that will pay future economic dividends in jobs, recreational pursuits, and the bay's delicious bounty."

An editorial in today's Daily Press about the crab crisis notes, "Real improvement in the outlook for crabs or any bay residents depends on fixing the underlying conditions that threaten them." That echoes arguments made back in April that while we need a quick fix for the sake of our watermen's economy, what we really need is long-term committment. Not rhetoric, real committment.

Yesterday, in a move that holds the federal government accountable for its responsibilities to the Clean Water Act and to the American public, CBF issued a federal blueprint for environmental action by the next Administration. Titled "Restoring Clean Water and the Chesapeake Bay: A Plan for America's Next President," it outlines 16 specific actions that the next president and Congress need to take if we are to be successful in reducing pollution, meeting the requirements of the Clean Water Act, and improving local economies.

What are your thoughts on the week's news?

Open Competition for Chesapeake Clean-Up Funds

One of the biggest questions surrounding Maryland's new 2010 Trust Fund, created this year to help restore the health of the Chesapeake Bay, is how the $25 million allotment will be distributed. Yesterday, Gov. O'Malley announced a new competitive process that lets local governments, community groups, non-profit organizations, academic institutions, and private enterprises to apply for grants from the fund.

What do you think? Is the new process an improvement over business-as-usual?