ShoreRivers Hosts “State of the Rivers” Series Across the Shore

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ShoreRivers is pleased to invite the community to a series of five State of the Rivers presentations during April and May (offered at different locations for the convenience of our public). ShoreRivers will unveil its 2017 Report Cards for the Choptank, Chester, Miles, Wye, and Sassafras Rivers, as well as Eastern Bay, and lead informative discussions about the results. River Report Cards analyze the data from our extensive water quality monitoring during 2017. Admission to each event is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served.

Our Report Cards reflect data collected at hundreds of sites by our scientists, Riverkeepers, and dozens of trained volunteers. The presentations will provide an opportunity for the community to learn about the health, trends, and challenges of our local waterways and how the most recent grades compare to those from previous years.Distinguished keynote speakers will enhance the programs. Our Riverkeepers and staff will also discuss new initiatives being undertaken in 2018, including the new RiverWatch real-time water quality online platform.

STATE OF THE RIVERS SERIES . . .

MILES, WYE AND CHOPTANK RIVERS—Saint Michaels
Keynote Speaker: Senator Chris Van Hollen
April 20, 5:00pm
Sponsored by the Inn at Perry Cabin by Belmond
Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, Small Boat Shed
213 N. Talbot Street

CHOPTANK RIVER—Cambridge
Keynote Speaker: Jay Lazar, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
April 26, 5:30pm
Robbins Heritage Center, 1003 Greenway Drive

CHESTER RIVER—Chestertown
Keynote Speaker: John Seidel, Director of Center for Environment & Society
April 26, 5:15pm
Washington College, Hynson Lounge, 300 Washington Avenue

SASSAFRAS RIVER—Cecilton
Keynote Speaker: Nick DiPasquale, former EPA Director of Chesapeake Bay Program
May 3, 7:00pm
Cecilton Fire Department, 110 E. Main Street

WYE AND CHESTER RIVERS AND EASTERN BAY—Grasonville
Speakers: Miles-Wye Riverkeeper Elle Bassett and Chester Riverkeeper Tim Trumbauer
May 16, 5:30pm
Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center, 600 Discover Lane

For more information, visit shorerivers.org or contact Eleanor Nelson at 443.385.0511 or eleanor@shorerivers.org.

ShoreRivers protects and restores Eastern Shore waterways through science-based advocacy, restoration, and education. We work collaboratively with our community yet maintain an uncompromising and independent voice for clean rivers and the living resources they support.

Bay Ecosystem: A Hunter and Conservationist Who is “Giving Back”

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We are strolling with Jerry Harris on his 230-acre farm, Mallard Haven, when a group of ducks suddenly takes off from their marsh hiding spot. Harris, a committed conservationist and hunter, has created the perfect marshland habitat for migrating waterfowl for just this moment.

“Watching the birds come in, how they treat the marsh, how they fly around it, how they call—that whole symphony is quite intriguing to me,” Harris said. “I never tire of that.”

Harris, now 75, fell in love with waterfowl as a young boy when he started hunting, but has long seen the value of conservation over sport. On his farm, you shoot only what you can eat, and not one more. Those values were instilled in him from his first days hunting with his grandfather, Burr Love, at a family hunting cabin in the San Francisco Bay area.

”The first year when I was 11 or so, they felt I was too young to hunt, and so I got to pick the ducks. The second year, I got to wash the dishes, do the cooking, and pick the ducks, and the third year, I got to finally hunt.”

Over the years, Harris hunted with two other men who influenced his values about hunting and conservation: Louis Rapp, an old-time duck hunter and friend of his great uncle, and Ray Lewis, who taught him about the soil management technique Harris uses on his farm today.

“Over a period of 30 to 40 years, I hunted and gained extensive knowledge from all three of these people,” Harris said. “I was extraordinarily lucky to be able to partner with them over my lifetime.”

Living in New York in the early 1970s, Harris would visit Maryland’s eastern shore to hunt geese, and he recognized the area’s bountiful appeal to waterfowl. And to him. Harris, his wife, Bobbi, and their three retrievers, Maddie, Rusty, and Bo, now spend their winters on their eastern shore farmland before flying west to spend summers in Montana.

Even before he retired, Harris decided to devote much of his time to wetland conservation. He has been a member of Ducks Unlimited ever since he started a new Ducks Unlimited chapter as a student at University of California, Berkeley, and he has reached out to a variety of organizations, including Delta Waterfowl, Waterfowl Chesapeake, Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, and of course, Ducks Unlimited to determine how to best use the funds from the family foundation he and Bobbi set up. Wanting to preserve vital marshlands and “to give back some,” Bobbi and Jerry created a family foundation that dedicates most of its funding to wetland conservation, with a smaller portion going to secondary education.

We’re trying to demonstrate how collectively we can all make this a better place and preserve some of the rich heritage the Eastern Shore—Maryland, Delaware, Virginia—has had from a waterfowl standpoint.

All the lessons Harris absorbed from his hunting friends and experiences have turned him into a teacher for new generations of conservation managers. He thinks of Mallard Haven as a demonstration farm to teach others how they can use their properties to attract more waterfowl and how his moist soil management system attracts waterfowl and feeds their nutritional needs.

The farm is a natural maze of dirt paths, cornfields, wetlands, and a long trench that serves as freshwater storage. Depending on the time of year, it might look like another grain farm in the countryside, but when he wants to beckon ducks, Harris and his farm manager, Sam LaCompte, will flood pockets of his farmland, or impoundments as he calls them. At the end of the season slowly draining the water encourages the growth of smart weeds that provide a diverse, appetizing food source to migrating waterfowl.

“We’re trying to demonstrate how collectively we can all make this a better place and preserve some of the rich heritage the Eastern Shore—Maryland, Delaware, Virginia—has had from a waterfowl standpoint,” he said.

Harris is also helping facilitate a course that shows wildlife managers and leaders how hunting can balance with conservation. He was impressed with a course on the West Coast that UC Davis conducted with Ducks Unlimited and a local waterfowl conservation group, so this past winter, Harris and Dr. Chris Williams, wildlife ecology professor at the University of Delaware, developed and ran a similar course for the East Coast on Jerry’s Dorchester farms.

The first class, which included 10 students, recently ended and Harris considers it a success.

“None had experienced waterfowl hunting or shooting and over that three-day period, they went from 0 to 60 miles per hour. We’ve just seen their review of the program, and it was very exciting to read their comments and how it had changed their perception to the role hunting plays in wildlife conservation,” Harris said. “And that’s our goal—to make sure the future managers and leaders understand the role that hunting plays.”

Harris hopes to keep offering the course, serving as long as he can as a mentor to others, much as he was guided throughout his life.

This year, Horn Point Laboratory will honor Jerry Harris with its 2018 Chesapeake Champion award for his vision and leadership in marshland restoration and conservation. “We could not find a more fitting partner in our efforts to ensure our marshlands are preserved for wildlife habitat and coastal sustainability,” said Mike Roman, Director of Horn Point Laboratory. We are delighted to honor our good friend and devoted educator, Jerry Harris.”

The Chesapeake Champion celebration will be held Friday, April 27th, from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Waterfowl Armory, Easton. Tickets are $50, sponsorships are available, and can be purchased online or by contacting Carin Starr at 410-221-8408.

Proceeds from this year’s event will be used to launch a new Marsh Ecology and Restoration Laboratory at Horn Point Laboratory. The new Lab will conduct vital research into the role marshes play in: providing critical habitat for waterfowl, birds, plants and animals; providing green infrastructure to mitigate erosion and flooding; and, filtering pollutants to improve water quality.

Jerry Harris, the Horn Point Laboratory 2018 Chesapeake Champion, talks about running a Dorchester County farm, which, with careful planning and management, turns marshland into a paradise for migrating ducks.

Kristi Moor is the Digital Communications Manager for University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science UMCES.

 

Coastline Management Has Major Impact On Rising Seas – And Tides – In Our Bay

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Global warming and sea-level rise are exacerbating coastal flooding, especially during high tides, but Professor Ming Li of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science says how we decide to protect our coasts against rising seas can make the difference between devastation and resilience.

“People think tides are driven by the moon and it never changes, but we found that when you raise the mean sea level, it’s also going to change the tides,” said Professor Ming Li of UMCES’ Horn Point Laboratory. “Coastline management has huge implications in how the coastal locations react to changes in tides.”

Sea levels that rose a foot or less during the past 100 years could rise by 6 feet or more in this century—2 or 3 feet in the next 30 to 40 years. Long and convoluted coastlines along Chesapeake and Delaware bays present significant challenges for developing effective strategies to mitigate coastal flooding risks.

What you do with coastline management has huge implications in terms of how the tides in Chesapeake Bay respond to sea level rise.

Coastal inundation, or flooding, occurs when sea levels are higher than the normal extent of the tide. Estimates of future flooding events due to sea-level rise have been made by simply adding the expected sea-level rise to present-day tides. However, tides themselves are affected by changes in water depth, so sea-level rise will change the position of high or low tide. Recurrent flooding due to high tides is already a problem for low-lying areas on the Eastern Shore.

“Climate change is real; sea-level rise is happening,” said Li. “We have to understand it and plan for it right now.”

Ming Li

Ming Li and his team developed a numerical model to investigate the effects of sea-level rise on the tidal range in Chesapeake Bay and Delaware Bay. The study calculated what would happen if seawalls were erected along the coastlines of Chesapeake and Delaware Bays to protect low-lying areas from flooding versus allowing the waters to take over the land. They found that hard shorelines, such as seawalls and levees, significantly exacerbate the height of the high tide, while more natural landscapes, such as marshland, minimized the tide height.

The yard around a home is flooded with standing water.

The researchers found that seawalls actually increased the tidal range, making high tide even higher than it would be without the wall. When vertical walls are added to coastline, the characteristics of tidal wave change due to the larger water depth. Allowing the water to flood existing land dissipated the water into new areas.

“Instead of going upstream, it’s going sideways,” says Li of tides against a natural shoreline. “The tidal wave energy is being dispersed.”

How governments respond to coastline management to defend communities from rising seas will have major implications. Li’s study shows different strategies have different consequences.

“What you do with coastline management has huge implications in terms of how the tides in Chesapeake Bay respond to sea-level rise,” said Li. “Allow them to flood low-lying areas, then the tidal range in the upper reaches of the estuary will decrease about 15%. If you try to build hard shorelines you’re going to amplify by 15%.”

For example, in big cities in the region, when high tide hit during peak sea level, the difference in flood waters between the hard and soft shorelines would be 18% in Baltimore, 11% in Washington, D.C., and 21% in Philadelphia.

“If we have a storm like Isabelle in 2100, when the sea level is higher, and have hard shore everywhere, the surge height will increase 4 feet, in addition to the 3-feet increase in the mean sea level due to sea-level rise” he said. “This is a very significant problem that has practical implications for those lying in low areas. It’s important for local people to pay attention and figure out how can we help each other.”

Amy Pelsinsky is Director of Communications for University Of Maryland Center For Environmental Science in Baltimore

Washington College Students work with Eastern Shore Towns to Identify Energy Savings

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Higher education can have real world greening impacts. Case in point: The Shore Power Project, launched several years ago at Washington College, has helped local governments on Maryland’s Eastern Shore find ways to reduce energy costs while also shrinking their carbon footprint.

For students and staff at the private liberal arts college in Chestertown, the project offered a chance to help Shore communities address climate change by adapting to the shifting energy landscape.

“The energy sector is an important force for change for the future,” explained Mike Hardesty, the associate director for the college’s Center for Environment and Society. “We’ve always wanted to get involved to assist the community to become more energy efficient.”

With funding from the Town Creek Foundation, the project’s student interns and staff pored over power bills and recommended cost-saving alternatives to nine Shore towns, two school districts and one county.

Grant Samms, an environmental sociologist who oversees the student interns’ work, said they contacted local government offices around the Shore to connect with town managers, public works directors or other staffers who dealt with energy. They initially pitched that they could identify opportunities for cost savings by analyzing where the locality’s energy dollars were going. But they also pointed out the environmental benefits, Samms noted, of reducing power consumption and switching to renewable energy.

“There’s a general assumption when it comes to rural communities, [that] they’re conservative and don’t care about climate change,” Samms said. “That may in part be true, but when you have a resource constraint, there’s always interest in saving money.”

The project started out working with Chestertown, home of the small liberal arts school. The municipality had already taken some steps to reduce energy costs, including the bidding out of electric supply contracts for all town meters and the installation of a 3-megawatt solar facility at its wastewater treatment plant.

Town Manager Bill Ingersoll said he’s constantly thinking about how to save money. The Shore Power project’s initial contribution to the town in that regard was more conceptual than detailed practical advice, he said.

“What they do is they may create a climate where you may want to think more about what you’re doing,” Ingersoll said. As a follow-up to the project’s initial study, he has since asked it to examine what the town’s paying for electricity generated by the solar facility, to see if the savings promised by the provider have panned out.

In Easton, the Washington College group assisted the town in going forward with a plan to install new cost-saving LED streetlights.

“What was really helpful was having the Shore Power Project look at this and say, ‘If you did this, this could be your savings,’” said Kelly Simonsen, spokesperson for Easton Utilities. Within three years, with grants from the Maryland Energy Administration to help pay for the replacements, the new lights reduced the town’s electricity consumption by 30 percent, Simonsen said.

That LED streetlight replacement, which is continuing, has contributed to the town’s successful bid to become a Maryland Sustainable Certified community, she said.

“We needed someone to kind of look at our overall energy usage and things we could change and implement, so we could get that credential,” Simonsen explained. “[The certification] puts Easton in a place on the map to show we’re forward thinking and we’re doing things for our community to be more sustainable and (to) consider our environmental impact.”

The college has offered internships to seven students over the project’s five-semester lifespan, according to Hardesty. Three students have stuck with it and done repeat stints. And for at least one, it’s opened up a career path.

Tori Alpaugh said that working on energy usage data for the Shore communities while an undergraduate at Washington College piqued her interest. So, when the New Jersey native graduated in May 2016, she started looking for energy-related jobs.

Her search led to AWS Truepower, a renewable energy services provider based in Albany, NY, where she pitched her Shore Power experience.

“That was the No. 1 thing on my resume,” she said, “and the No. 1 thing we talked about on my interview.” Hired in August, she’s now a project coordinator, working with meteorologists, engineers and GIS specialists on large-scale renewable energy projects.

“I think it’s safe to say it’s the reason I got my job here,” Alpaugh said of the Shore Power project.

The foundation’s funding for the project ended last year; now, the college aims to continue the project as a fee-for-service consulting business. Even though communities are almost certain to realize long-term savings from taking steps to conserve energy and build in climate resiliency, Samms acknowledged that the upfront costs pose a “perennial challenge” for small towns with competing short-term priorities.

“So,” he said, “we are putting forward a hybrid system that is partially underwritten by support from our center and continued support from foundations, as they are realized. This will save towns money and lower the impediment to energy conservation measures.”

The center also wants to address another, non-financial barrier. The recent flurry of solar energy arrays cropping up on farmland across the Shore has generated a backlash in affected communities. Samms said he hopes the project can conduct research and community outreach “to identify ways to truly lower the barriers to this type of development while ensuring it goes forward in a democratized manner.” The center hopes to get foundation support for that effort as well.

“We’ve proven it over and over again that there’s cost savings here,” Hardesty said. “Now that we’ve got a proven model in hand, we’re looking to expand on it.”

by Tim Wheeler

Timothy B. Wheeler is associate editor and senior writer for the Bay Journal. He has more than two decades of experience covering the environment for The Baltimore Sun and other media outlets.

Bills would Update Maryland’s Forest Conservation Law

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Maryland’s forest conservation law has failed to protect some of the state’s best forests, scientists and environmentalists say.

Enacted in 1991, the state’s Forest Conservation Act was intended to protect Maryland’s forested areas from development. The law outlined a formula for builders to follow when clearing land for development.

For each tract of forest cleared, developers of certain parcels were required to mitigate forest lost by replanting trees, or pay a fee-in-lieu.

Under current law, developers in some circumstances can replant at a ratio of one-fourth of an acre planted for every acre cleared.

The new bill would increase the ratio to one-for-one.

It would also clearly define “priority retention areas” — considered to be the state’s best forests — and lay out a framework that determines when state and local authorities can approve the clearing of these forests.

Developers say the bill is too onerous and could jeopardize local planning goals.

Some of the disagreement among developers, the state and environmentalists comes down to how trees are counted.

Developers and the state have cited tree canopy cover as a way to measure the state’s forested lands.

But canopy cover includes all trees — including suburban and streetside plantings — and does not accurately count forests, which environmentalists say offer superior health, economic and ecological benefits.

The current conservation formula worked for areas that originally had little forested land, Elaine Lutz, Maryland staff attorney for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, told Capital News Service. But the same formula has enabled the clearing of some of the state’s most dense and ecologically beneficial forest.

According to the current law, priority forests are “trees, shrubs, and plants located in sensitive areas,” including 100-year flood plains, riparian buffers to streams and coastal bays, steep slopes, critical habitats and contiguous forest “that connects the largest undeveloped or most vegetated tracts of land within and adjacent to the site,” a state analysis shows.

But the language is too ambiguous, Lutz said, and has resulted in the varying interpretations of replanting requirements and, in some cases, failure to protect the best forests.

Maryland has lost over 19,000 acres of forests between fiscal year 2009 and fiscal year 2016, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation told lawmakers in the fall. More than 7,000 acres were cleared in Prince George’s County alone, the report showed.

Disproportionate forest loss in her county prompted Delegate Anne Healey, D-Prince George’s, this year to introduce House bill 766, which modifies the Forest Conservation Act to better define “priority forest” and to increase the replanting requirement. Sen. Ron Young, D-Frederick, introduced an identical bill, Senate bill 610.

The Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs and House Environment and Transportation Committees addressed Young and Healey’s bills last week.

Testimony from proponents — primarily environmentalists — and opponents — land development and real estate industries — dragged on for hours in the hearings, with the sides producing conflicting statistics and accounts of the Forest Conservation Act’s success.

Environmentalists argued that too much important forest has been cleared. The ecological and health benefits of mature forests, they said, outweigh additional costs to developers.

Beyond providing critical habitat for many forest-dwelling creatures, “forests are the No. 1 most protective land cover for water quality,” Lutz said.

States surrounding the Chesapeake Bay and federal authorities continue efforts to clean up the nation’s largest estuary, but President Donald Trump’s proposed budget would slash 90 percent of Chesapeake Bay cleanup funding.

One-third of nitrogen pollution in the bay comes from the air, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Forests are efficient air filters that could help reduce air pollutants, Lutz said.

Those representing the development community staunchly opposed the bill, arguing that the Forest Conservation Act is already working and there is no need to change it.

Lori Graf, CEO of the Maryland Building Industry Association, which represents some 100,000 Marylanders, submitted in written testimony that, “Maryland’s forest canopy cover” increased to 51 percent in 2017, citing a Department of Natural Resources report.

The state’s Department of Natural Resources submitted a letter of concern, and Allison Cordell, the department’s legislative director, also told lawmakers this week that Maryland has a “51 percent statewide tree canopy cover,” according to the letter.

But tree cover is not the same as mature forest, environmentalists say. Individual trees, or patches of them, simply cannot replicate the ecological benefits of mature forests.

“I planted thousands of street trees and other communities are doing that, and they create cover, but they don’t do the same thing that forest stands do,” Young said. Trees “do a lot and they’re good, but this is directed at trying to protect forested areas.”

Healey and Young’s bills are “narrowly tailored to address the most critical need of our most pressured forest land,” Healey said. “We’re not against development.”

Developers aren’t convinced, though.

“We’re very concerned that this bill contradicts a generation of land use planning,” said Tom Ballentine, vice president for policy and government affairs for the Maryland chapter of NAIOP — a commercial real estate development association — in his testimony before the Senate committee Feb. 20.

“It makes the existence of priority forest the single most important factor in determining the location and density of future development,” Ballentine added.

The amended Forest Conservation Act would also change the standard by which state and local authorities can approve the clearing of priority forest areas. Existing law “requires ‘sufficient justification’ to remove priority forest areas,” but doesn’t provide detailed guidance and has been varyingly interpreted across jurisdictions, according to Lutz’s written testimony.

Developers said the process for clearing priority forest is already arduous. It’s expensive and time-consuming, they say.

The new restrictions, Ballentine said, will “make it nearly impossible for local governments to approve clearing of priority forest.”

Bill Castelli, who represented Maryland REALTORS at at the Senate committee hearing Feb. 20, said this bill would increase the cost of development, and “the more development cost that occurs when you’re developing property… the more difficult it is for developers to create” affordable housing.

Former International Monetary Fund economist John Wakeman-Linn, a Shady Side, Maryland, resident, testified in favor of the bill at both hearings. He argued that the cost developers accrue for having to mitigate forest clearing pales in comparison to the value of services all Maryland citizens are deprived of when forest is cleared.

“A 2015 study in Prince George’s County found the benefits received from trees there are worth around $13 billion annually, or roughly $80,000 per year per acre of trees,” Wakeman-Linn said in his testimony.

“Compare this to the one-time cost developers would face in adhering to the regulations in this act,” which, based on one developer’s written testimony, Wakeman-Linn estimated to be about $33,000 per acre of trees cleared, he said. “In Prince George’s County, this one-time fee would be less than the benefits (of trees) lost every six months.”

And protecting forests is about more than the health, environmental and economic benefits, Healey said.

“(The forest) is a place to refresh yourself spiritually and mentally from the stresses of city life,” she said. “It makes life more livable.”

By Alex Mann

 

Bay Ecosystem: A Walk In The Woods With A Different Kind Of Forester by Tom Horton

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It was a chill November morning, the rising sun sloshing light on the tree tops. Larry Walton and I were about half a mile into the woods that line the Nanticoke River near Vienna, MD, when he wrapped his arms around a great old Atlantic white cedar.

That tree species once shaded thousands of acres of Delmarva Peninsula swamps with its dense, evergreen canopies, until rampant logging and wetlands destruction made cedars relatively rare. Today, you seldom see specimens like this.

Larry Walton

I was about to kid my friend Larry, a career commercial forester, that he’d become a tree hugger as he approaches retirement at age 65. But he was just measuring the massive, columnar trunk to see how much wood the cedar’s added since he was here some years ago. “(I) used to be able to reach around it; not now,” Larry said.

But I also know he was happy to see that cedar thriving, standing tall, promising to thrill hikers here long after he and I are gone.

With Larry, it’s never been “hug or log” or “for us or against us.” Maybe that’s why his recent farewell party was a unique assemblage of the region’s logging community and a number of environmentalists. Only for Larry, I thought.

He could have cut that big cedar and others like it anytime during the years he managed around 60,000 acres of woodlands and wetlands around the Bay’s tidal rivers for Chesapeake Forest Products, a Virginia-based commercial timber corporation.

The company surely was not shy about clear-cutting or the almost complete leveling of the forests it owned hereabouts. That’s simply the most effective way to harvest the predominantly pine stands that are the mainstay of commercial timbering in this region.

Clear-cuts, to most non-timber people, are visually shocking, ugly. Far less apparent was what Larry and Chesapeake were electing not to cut, which included some beautiful forests and magnificent trees, including woods buffering tidal creeks and rivers like the Nanticoke and Pocomoke.

Where we were hiking could easily have been a giant sand and gravel pit, he said. Instead, it’s a fine tract of pine and hardwood, with patches of forested swamp, sloping down to the Nanticoke. It’s understory of wild rhododendron will bloom gorgeously in May and June. It features a nature trail now, open year-round to the public.

“A mining company approached us about selling this and forests up on the Marshyhope,” he said, referring to a tributary of the Nanticoke, where sturgeon are making a historic comeback. “We just didn’t like that kind of future for the land.”

Back in the early 1990s, stung by environmental criticism of his company, Larry and one of his woodland managers, the late Tom Tyler, began opening up to environmentalists, taking us through their operations. It gave us a lot to think about, and it began to build trust. More than anyone I knew on the logging side of things, Larry understood us greenies and respected where we were coming from, even if it wasn’t his view.

“A lighter shade of green,” is how he describes himself. Even as a New Jersey kid growing up in the shadow of New York and Newark, he loved wandering the phragmites-lined local brook, which wound through landfills and developments on its way to the Passaic River. Summers with family in the Maine woods probably steered him to Clemson University’s forestry school, he said.

Around 2000, as his timbering career flourished, something happened that would delight environmentalists but threaten to end life as Larry knew it. In a massive land deal, assembled in secrecy until it was done, all of the forests he managed for Chesapeake Forest Products were sold out from under him, to be added to Maryland’s public timberlands as the Chesapeake Forest.

“I was about as welcome as a pig at a Bar Mitzvah,” recalled Neil Sampson, a nationally known conservationist and forestry consultant who came to the Eastern Shore to handle the transition with Larry and his staff.

The giant Chesapeake acquisition, which added 58,000 acres, or 1 percent of the state’s area, to public lands, was intended by state officials to set the standard for sustainable, verifiable, long-term forest management.

Larry and his crew “made it happen,” Sampson said. Eventually he and Larry would form a new company, Vision Forestry, and take over management of the whole forest for several years.

Today, 17 years later, “it is a heck of a lot better forest . . . huge improvements,” Sampson said.
Larry plans to soon head back to the Clemson, SC, area for retirement. “[There are] opportunities in disagreement,” he said during our walk. “But it seems like it’s getting harder to disagree respectfully anymore.”

Years ago, Larry gave me a bumper sticker. “Trees Are the Answer,” it said. I told him I was always leery of simplistic solutions. But you know what? He was right.

Bottom line, there is no other land use better for the Chesapeake Bay and its flora and fauna. The worst clear-cut, if left to regrow, is still better for air and water quality than farming or suburban development, and it leaves your options open for an older, more diverse forest next time.

Tom Horton has written about Chesapeake Bay for more than 40 years, including eight books. He lives in Salisbury, MD, where he is also a professor of Environmental Studies at Salisbury University. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the Bay Journal.

Bay Ecosystem:Tangier Island Recovers from Icy Grip

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As temperatures on the Chesapeake Bay dropped as low as 9 degrees early this month, a barricade of ice up to 10 inches thick formed around Tangier Island, preventing boats from bringing groceries, medicine and other supplies to the 722 residents on that speck of Virginia off the Eastern Shore.

Fortunately, a variety of agencies came to the rescue — the U.S. Coast Guard out of Maryland, the Virginia National Guard and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources organized emergency ice-breaking operations to free Tangier Island.

Nearly two weeks after the snowstorm, regular activity on the waters around Tangier resumed Wednesday, and the mail delivery ferry went out to Tangier’s residents for the first time Thursday morning.

“We’re happy to help with what is really life-saving work,” said Gregg Bortz, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Tangier is located in the Chesapeake Bay and consists of three villages — Ewell, Tylerton and Rhodes Point. The island depends on boats for mail and shipments, and single-digit temperatures and thick ice made that impossible.

Tangier Island falls within the Coast Guard’s 5th District, which includes Maryland and Virginia.

“The Coast Guard has a history of providing assistance to Tangier,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Ronald Hodges. “The organizations that responded to Tangier Island were based on the availability of assets with ice-breaking capabilities.”

Then the Virginia National Guard flew in from Richmond, making two trips to deliver additional food.

Island officials sought assistance from the Coast Guard, which sent the cutter Chock on Jan. 3. The ship conducted ice breaking and supply delivery until Jan. 5, Hodges said.

“The Chock had to be redirected to break ice in another area, and second request was submitted to the Coast Guard by Tangier for assistance,” Hodges said. “The Coast Guard was unable to facilitate the request, and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management took over relief duties.”

According to Bortz, a 100-foot Maryland icebreaker, the J. Millard-Tawes, was brought in from Crisfield, Maryland, 13 1/2 miles from Tangier.

Clearing a path, he said, was “the primary goal.”

The Maryland DNR was called to the island last in 2015. Bortz said the U.S. Coast Guard primarily responds to Tangier while Maryland DNR focuses on helping nearby Smith Island, Maryland.

Capt. Eddie Somers of the J. Millard-Tawes was part of the rescue team that met trucks of supplies at the city docks in Crisfield and took the two-hour journey to Tangier.

Besides the Tawes, the Maryland DNR has three ice-breaking vessels — the John C. Widener in Annapolis, A.V. Sandusky in Kent Narrows and Big Lou on the Choptank River.

Tangier Mayor James Eskridge said the island hasn’t experienced ice like this in many years. The community, he added, always pulls together.

“Some 40 years ago, folks would have bonfires and go ice skating,” he said. “This was the closest to an ice storm we’ve had since then.”

By Sophia Belletti and Katie Bashista.

Photos from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources 

Bay Ecosystem: Ocean Deoxygenation Changes Pose Real Threat to Marine Ecosystems by Amy Pelsinsky

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An international team of scientists warns that the ocean may run out of breath unless action is taken to rein in climate change and nutrient pollution. In the first sweeping look at the causes, consequences and solutions to low oxygen worldwide, published in Science, researchers reveal that the amount of oxygen in the world’s oceans and coastal waters is steadily decreasing.

The oxygen content of the open ocean and coastal waters has been declining for at least the past half century as a result of human activities that have increased global temperatures and nutrients discharged to coastal waters.

“Oxygen is fundamental to life in the oceans,” said Denise Breitburg, lead author and marine ecologist with the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center. “The decline in ocean oxygen ranks among the most serious effects of human activities on the Earth’s environment.”

In the past 50 years, the amount of water in the open ocean with zero oxygen has gone up more than fourfold. In coastal water bodies, including estuaries and seas, low-oxygen sites have increased more than 10-fold since 1950. For the upper ocean, oxygen and heat content are highly correlated for the period of 1958-2015 with sharp increases in both deoxygenation and ocean heat content beginning in the mid 1980s.

Many areas around the globe are looking at how we used sound science to make wise environmental management decisions to improve the water quality of Chesapeake Bay.

The study came from a team of scientists from GO2NE (Global Ocean Oxygen Network), a new working group created in 2016 by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission that includes Mike Roman and Kenny Rose from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s Horn Point Laboratory.

The review paper is the first to take such a sweeping look at the causes, consequences and solutions to low oxygen worldwide, in both the open ocean and coastal waters. The article highlights the biggest dangers to the ocean and society, and what it will take to keep Earth’s waters healthy and productive.

The Stakes

In areas traditionally called “dead zones,” like those in Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, oxygen plummets to levels so low many animals suffocate and die. As fish avoid these zones, their habitats shrink and they become more vulnerable to predators or fishing. But the problem goes far beyond “dead zones,” the authors point out.

Even smaller oxygen declines can stunt growth in animals, hinder reproduction and lead to disease or even death. It also can trigger the release of dangerous chemicals such as nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas up to 300 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, and toxic hydrogen sulfide. While some animals can thrive in dead zones, overall biodiversity falls.

The ongoing recovery of Chesapeake Bay, where nitrogen pollution has dropped 24 percent since its peak thanks to better sewage treatment, better farming practices and successful laws like the Clean Air Act, is an example of what’s possible to reverse this trend. While some low-oxygen zones persist, the area of the Chesapeake with zero oxygen has almost disappeared.

“Many areas around the globe are looking at how we used sound science to make wise environmental management decisions to improve the water quality of Chesapeake Bay,” said Roman, co-author of the report and director of the UMCES’ Horn Point Laboratory in Cambridge, Maryland.

Climate change is the key culprit in the open ocean. Warming surface waters make it harder for oxygen to reach the ocean interior. Furthermore, as the ocean as a whole gets warmer, it holds less oxygen. In coastal waters, excess nutrient pollution from land creates algal blooms, which drain oxygen as they die and decompose. In an unfortunate twist, animals also need more oxygen in warmer waters, even as it is disappearing.

People’s livelihoods are also on the line, the scientists reported, especially in developing nations. Smaller, artisanal fisheries may be unable to relocate when low oxygen destroys their harvests or forces fish to move elsewhere. In the Philippines, fish kills in a single town’s aquaculture pens cost more than $10 million. Coral reefs, a key tourism attraction in many countries, also can waste away without enough oxygen.

Some popular fisheries could benefit, at least in the short term. Nutrient pollution can stimulate production of food for fish. In addition, when fish are forced to crowd to escape low oxygen, they can become easier to catch. But in the long run, this could result in overfishing and damage to the economy.

“Getting the effects of low oxygen on fish populations and supporting food webs correct, especially as it worsens, will enable more effective analyses and decisions on how to sustainably manage many fisheries, from artisanal that support local communities to large-scale industrial fisheries,” said Rose, a co-author of the report and a professor at Horn Point Laboratory.

Winning the War: A Three-Pronged Approach

To keep low oxygen in check, the scientists said the world needs to take on the issue from three angles:

Address the causes: nutrient pollution and climate change. While neither issue is simple or easy, the steps needed to win can benefit people as well as the environment. Better septic systems and sanitation can protect human health and keep pollution out of the water. Cutting fossil fuel emissions not only cuts greenhouse gases and fights climate change, but also slashes dangerous air pollutants like mercury.

Protect vulnerable marine life. With some low oxygen unavoidable, it is crucial to protect at-risk fisheries from further stress. According to the GO2NE team, this could mean creating marine protected areas or no-catch zones in areas animals use to escape low oxygen, or switching to fish that are not as threatened by falling oxygen levels.

Improve low-oxygen tracking worldwide. Scientists have a decent grasp of how much oxygen the ocean could lose in the future, but they do not know exactly where those low-oxygen zones will be. Enhanced monitoring, especially in developing countries, and numerical models will help pinpoint which places are most at risk and determine the most effective solutions.

The Global Ocean Oxygen Network (GO2NE) is a scientific working group organized by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, part of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Established in 2016, its scientists from around the world are committed to providing a global and multidisciplinary view of deoxygenation, advising policymakers on countering low oxygen and preserving marine resources.

Amy Pelsinsky is Director of Communications at  the University Of Maryland’s Center For Environmental Science. For more information please go here

 

Need a New Year’s Resolution? Sign Up for Lifelong Learning at Washington College

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Make a New Year’s resolution to rediscover the joy of learning with Washington College Academy of Lifelong Learning’s exciting Spring Semester course line-up! There will be no quizzes, papers, or final exams – just learning for the joy of it. Plan to attend Spring Showcase on Thursday, January 11 at 4:00 pm in Hotchkiss Recital Hall on the Washington College Campus to meet teachers, enjoy refreshments and conversation, and learn about the 22 afternoon classes being offered between January 28 and April 27, 2018.

There are classes for every interest and passion.  Highlights of Session 1 (January 28-March 9) include “Sunday at the Movies: A Foreign Touch” with Nancy Hartman, featuring movies from 6 different countries. “From Fake News to Facebook” by Patrick McNabb will explore the new science of media psychology and offer ways to keep up with the breakneck changes in modern mass media and discern fact from fiction. “Technology in Kent County” with Dick Swanson will host a representative from a different local company each week to talk about their business and how technology is used as a key component in bringing their products to market. Health and wellness, astronomy, history, philosophy, and current topics in literature round out the offerings for the first session.

Session 2 (March 18-April 27) has more for literature lovers with “American Immigrant Literature” by Jean Austin and a reading of John Barth’s Eastern Shore historical satire, The Sot-Weed Factor with Jim Block. Cinema offerings will continue with “Latin American Film” by George Shivers, “Silent Cinema: An Introduction” by John Wieczoreck, and another round of “Sunday at the Movies” featuring Asian films. Nautical enthusiasts will enjoy “They Call It a Ditch” about the history and commerce of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway by Jack Shaum and the “History of Yacht Design” by Hanson Robbins. Great Decisions, 21st century international art, how to write an op-ed piece for publication, and many more courses on topics of high interest will also be offered.

Ready to learn? WC-ALL is the place for you! You can check out the full course catalog at http://www.washcoll.edu/offices/wc-all/what-were-studying.php/. Sign up for classes at Showcase, on-line, or by mail by Tuesday, January 16. For more information call the WC-ALL office at 410-778-7221.