“Most Important Fish in the Bay” Film at Library Oct. 23

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Join the Chesapeake Bay Foundation Monday, October 23, 6 p.m. at the Kent County Public Library (Yellow Building) in downtown Chestertown for an evening of all things menhaden. CBF is screening the short film Menhaden: The Most Important Fish in the Bay, followed by a discussion of the current state of the fishery in the Chesapeake. CBF’s Maryland Senior Scientist Doug Myers will describe the critical role that menhaden play in the Bay’s food web and answer questions from the audience.

Menhaden face potential new threats along the Atlantic coast. Right now, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) is responding by considering revisions to its fishery management plan. One proposed amendment to the plan could help keep more fish in the water by including important guidelines—called “ecological reference points.” These will help fishery managers ensure that enough of these essential fish remain in the water, serving their role as a vital food source for rockfish, osprey, and countless other Bay critters.

Any threat to this critical fish is also a threat to the numerous animals that rely on it. Learn more about the current state of this fishery and what you can do to help on October 23rd. This event is free and open to the public. Contact Hilary Gibson at hgibson@cbf.org or call 410/543-1999 with questions.

If you can’t make the event, you can still make your voice heard. Written comments on ASMFC’s Amendment 3 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Menhaden will be accepted through Tuesday, October 24, 2017. Comments can be sent to comments@asmfc.org (Subject line: Draft Amd. 3). More information on menhaden and what you can do is at cbf.org/menhaden.

 

CFF Preview: Tom Horton and the Rising Sea Levels of Dorchester County

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The Chesapeake Film Festival has gone out of their way this year to emphasize the important theme of conservation, and has consequently assembled a first rate collection of the most current documentaries on climate change, sea level rising, and other global warming issues to screen in the last weekend in October in Talbot County.

Ranging from Leonardo DiCaprio to short films on forestry and the fishing, the festival’s curatorial hand has carefully vetted out the the very best in international filmmaking, but it is suspected that the film that will have the most impact locally is case study of rising sea levels in Dorchester County.

The local dream team of filmmaker Sandy Cannon-Brown, photographer David Harp, and environmental author Tom Horton, who were responsible two years ago for the popular Beautiful Swimmers Revisited, a documentary inspired by William W. Warner’s classic book on of the Chesapeake Bay, have now reunited to tell the sobering tale of the disappearing landscape of Dorchester and the possible for the thirteen other Counties.

The Spy caught up with High Tide in Dorchester writer and narrator Tom Horton a week ago at Bullitt House to talk about the film and its mission to send an important warning to the entire Chesapeake Bay region.

This video is approximately three minutes in length. For more information about the Chesapeake Film Festival please go here

Gilchrest to Speak on Agriculture and Environment

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Join the League of Women Voters of Kent County for an evening with former Congressman Wayne Gilchrest on Tuesday, October 24, at 7 p.m. at The Kitchen at The Imperial, 208 High Street in Chestertown.

Gilchrest’s topic will be “Agriculture and the Environment: Our Legacy.”  As he explains, “Nature’s Artistry forges a legacy of a fecundity of life, from the soil beneath our feet, to the darkest depths of the oceans, to the clouds gleaming in the sunlight of a fleeting dawn.   Every molecule on earth is a part of this tapestry of regeneration.  Where do we fit in?  I will focus on one aspect of the complexity of Nature and human activity: Agriculture and the environment, our legacy.”

After his talk, Gilchrest hopes to engage the audience in an active discussion about the future of agriculture in Kent County.

Diners may come at 5:30 to join Gilchrest informally for a Dutch-treat meal – the restaurant is offering three special menus for the event: prix fixe dinner menu; light fare or appetizer menu; and/or dessert menu. Those not interested in having a meal may join the group at 7 p.m., when Gilchrest will begin speaking.

This meeting, the first in a “Trending Topics” series presented by the League, is open to the public; all are most welcome.  Please make reservations with the League of Women Voters, before October 20, by calling 410-778-0295 or 410-639-2149, or emailing lynn.thirdwish@gmail.com or pegmarkman@gmail.com.

The League hopes to host a series of these discussion-based evenings at local venues during the early evening hours, so that the public can enjoy the subject at hand in an informal setting. The next Trending Topics evening is planned for February.

Please call 410-639-2149 or 410-778-0295 for more information.

 

 

Chesapeake Bay Foundation Join Other Groups in Suit Against EPA

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The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and six regional and national groups concerned with human health and a clean environment today filed suit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The organizations want federal action to stop 19 out-of-state power plants from harming Marylanders and the Chesapeake Bay.

“Last week the State of Maryland sued the EPA to force the agency to stop air pollution from hurting Marylanders. The lawsuit today supports the state’s decisive step. It also highlights how the same pollutants harming our children are degrading water quality in the Chesapeake Bay, its rivers and streams. Fish are having as much trouble breathing as people because of these 19 power plants,” said Jon Mueller, Vice President of Litigation at CBF.

The 19 plants are in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, West Virginia and Kentucky. All are coal-fired plants. A total of 36 generating units at the plant are targeted by the lawsuit. Their air pollution emissions drift to Maryland and other downwind states. Maryland and other parts of the Chesapeake Bay region are vulnerable to emissions from a vast 570,000 square-mile Chesapeake “airshed” that stretches from North Carolina to Canada and as far west as the Ohio Valley.

One part of the emissions, nitrogen oxides (NOx), often turns to ozone in the hot summer months. Ozone, sometimes called smog, makes it difficult for many people to breathe. On 14 days this past summer ozone levels were so high a Code Orange Air Quality Alert was issued for the Baltimore area, meaning the air was unhealthy for seniors, children and others with sensitivities.

NOx, being a form of nitrogen, also harms the Chesapeake and the streams and rivers that feed it. Excess nitrogen fuels algal blooms that result in underwater dead zones where aquatic life can’t breathe.

EPA promised in the regional Bay clean-up plan called the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint that it would lower the amount of nitrogen emitted into the atmosphere yet is has refused to respond to Maryland’s petition. If it did respond nitrogen levels would come down.

In fact, if the 19 plants used their pollution controls effectively through the summer they would send about 39,000 fewer tons of NOx to Maryland each summer, according to the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE). That reduction would make the air and water significantly healthier in Maryland. Simply turning those technologies on fully, in fact, would bring all of Maryland and the Washington, D.C. area closer to compliance with clean air standards for ozone, according to MDE.
EPA is obligated by law to hold a public hearing and to timely respond to Maryland’s petition. EPA has failed in both respects and has shown no signs of acting. The six environmental and public health groups have no choice but to ask a federal judge to hold EPA accountable.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland. It requests EPA act on this interstate air pollution problem. The “good neighbor” provision of the Clean Air Act requires states to ensure that air pollution generated in their home states not harm downwind states.

Participating in the lawsuit are: CBF (lead counsel), Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund, Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility, Environmental Integrity Project, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, and Adirondack Council.
The State of Maryland filed a similar lawsuit against EPA last week.

Wanted: Landowners on the Upper Shore to Help Reverse Northern Bobwhite Declines by Dan Small

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The Natural Lands Project is looking for landowners interested in setting aside marginal cropland to help declining Northern Bobwhites. Since 2015 we have been working throughout Kent and Queen Anne’s Counties, in addition to these current efforts we would also like to target two areas that currently have small quail populations. These two areas, one each in Kent and Queen Anne’s, have some existing habitat, but we could have a major positive impact on the quail population by installing additional acres of nesting and brood rearing habitat. In Queen Anne’s we are looking to work with landowners along Lands End Road from Southeast Creek south to the Corsica River and in Kent, farms between Betterton and Still Pond (see accompanying maps).

Male Indigo Bunting in a wildflower meadow planted in 2016 by NLP.

People growing up on the Eastern Shore in the 60’s and ‘70s remember well the loud expressive whistle ‘BOB-white’ emanating from around the farm in late spring and lasting throughout the hot summer months. In the cooler months, bird dogs searched for the scent of nearby quail coveys through wooded edges, scrubby briar tangles, hedgerows and bean fields across property boundaries followed closely by their owners. This characteristic bird, the Northern Bobwhite, of Maryland’s agricultural landscape has disappeared from all but a few isolated areas throughout the Shore. Along with the decline in quail populations, we hear fewer grassland birds and see fewer pollinating insects and wildflowers.

There are myriad theories for the drastic decline in grassland biodiversity in such a short period of time and most, if not all, have a grain of truth to them. However, without a doubt the single largest driver of bobwhite decline on the Eastern Shore is habitat loss. Several factors have contributed to habitat loss; there are simply more people living on the shore and as a result we have more developed areas. Additionally, our farms have changed. The acceleration of farming technologies after World War II brought with it larger equipment and increased use of herbicides and pesticides, tools that allowed farmers to till more ground more of the time. This, in turn, led to larger and larger farms and fewer and fewer small fields. Suddenly the ‘back forty’ that was periodically fallow and permanently surrounded by a hedgerow was no longer. Today much of landscape on the Shore is defined by crops, forests, waterways and buffers of exotic cool season grasses—similar to lawns—with little in between.

Map showing target area in Queen Anne’s County, an area where additional habitat would substantially help Northern Bobwhite populations.

But all is not lost. In 2015 Washington College’s Center for Environment & Society (CES) partnered with the Chester River Association (CRA) and Tall Timber Research Station, the nation’s leader in bobwhite research and management of fire-dependent ecosystems, to launch the Natural Lands Project (NLP) with a $700,000 award from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Using the remarkable habitat restoration success at CES’s research station on Chino Farms in Queen Anne’s County and CRA’s success at promoting best management practices on local area farms, NLP set out with the goal of creating a balance between cropland and wildlife habitat to improve water quality. NLP promotes and installs native warm season grasses as best management practices that will help reverse bobwhite population declines and reduce excess sedimentation and nutrient runoff in our waterways.

Map showing target area in Kent County, an area of small farms and hedgerows – the addition of nesting habitat would help Northern Bobwhites.

In addition to buffers and fields for bobwhite NLP also installs wetlands in poorly drained areas of marginal farm fields. Wetlands are phenomenal at reducing nutrients and preventing sediment from entering the Bay’s tributaries, with the added benefit of proving critical habitat for over-wintering waterfowl. Following up on the successful launch of NLP in 2015, CES was just recently awarded another round of funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to continue adding habitat for grassland biodiversity and to help improve the Bay’ water quality – see http://chestertownspy.org/2017/09/24/500k-grant-to-center-for-environment-and-society/

It is important to note that productive farming, vibrant wildlife, and healthy water are not mutually exclusive. By taking marginal cropland out of production and planting a mix of native warm season grasses and wildflowers we are creating areas for bobwhite, other grassland birds, and pollinators to find much needed food, shelter, and breeding sites.

Male Northern Bobwhite on Chino Farms.

On Chino Farms there is a thriving native bobwhite population, in fact, now the largest in Maryland. This is a result of well-managed grasslands and early successional habitat that weave throughout a for-profit conventional agricultural operation. Since 1999 when marginal areas of row crops were converted to native habitat, these grasslands have reduced an estimated 80 lbs phosphorus, 1200 lbs nitrogen and 40,500 lbs of sediment from entering our local waterways annually. Our experience and results on Chino make us confident that habitat is the key missing ingredient for quail to once again to thrive on the Shore. As an Eastern Shore community we now need to work on landscape-level change, installing and managing grasslands and wetlands alongside of our farming priorities.

If you would like to find out more about the project, arrange a farm visit or see/hear quail on Chino Farms contact Dan Small, dsmall2@washcoll.edu or 410-708-4479 or visit www.washcoll.edu/nlp. We are looking forward to working with many more of the Eastern Shore’s best land stewards as NLP grows.

 

Adkins Arboretum Hosts Jill Jonnes for Urban Trees Talk Oct 5 at Academy Art Museum

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Jill Jonnes, author and historian

Nature’s largest and longest-lived creations, trees play an extraordinary role in our landscapes. They are living landmarks that define space, cool the air, soothe our psyches and connect us to nature and our past. Learn about the fascinating natural history of the tree in American cities when Adkins Arboretum hosts author and historian Jill Jonnes speaks about Urban Forests on Thurs., Oct. 5 at the Academy Art Museum in Easton. The talk begins at 4 p.m. and will be followed by a book signing.  The academy Art Museum is located at 106 South Street, Easton, MD, 21601.  Call the museum during business hours at 410-822-2787.

Jonnes’s latest book, Urban Forests: A Natural History of Trees and People in the American Cityscape, celebrates urban trees and the Americans—presidents, plant explorers, visionaries, citizen activists, scientists, nurserymen and tree nerds—whose arboreal passions have shaped and ornamented the nation’s cities. Ranging from Thomas Jefferson’s day, to the postwar devastation of magnificent American elm canopies by Dutch elm disease, to the present, Jonnes lauds the nation’s arboreal advocates, from the founders of Arbor Day, arboretums and tree surgery to the current generation of scientists who engage technology to illuminate the value of trees as green infrastructure and their importance to public health.

Urban Forests: A Natural History of Trees and People in the American Cityscape by Jill Jonnes

Jonnes holds a Ph.D. in American history from Johns Hopkins University. She is the author of numerous books, including Eiffel’s TowerConquering Gotham and Empires of Light. Founder of the nonprofit Baltimore Tree Trust, she is leading the Baltimore City Forestry Board’s new initiative, Baltimore’s Flowering Tree Trails. As a staff member of the 2010 Presidential National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, she wrote the first chapter of the report Deep Water: The Gulf Oil Disaster and the Future of Offshore Drilling. Jonnes also has been named a National Endowment for the Humanities scholar and has received several grants from the Ford Foundation.

The talk is $15 for Arboretum members and $20 for non-members. Advance registration is requested at adkinsarboretum.org or by calling 410-634-2847, ext. 0.

Adkins Arboretum is a 400-acre native garden and preserve at the headwaters of the Tuckahoe Creek in Caroline County. Open year round, the Arboretum offers educational programs for all ages about nature, conservation and gardening. For more information, visit adkinsarboretum.org or call 410-634-2847, ext. 0.

Adkins Arboretum    12610 Eveland Road     Ridgely, MD 21620     adkinsarboretum.org     info@adkinsarboretum.org

PA legislator’s bill to privatize cleanup gets mixed review

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A Pennsylvania lawmaker wants Keystone state municipalities struggling with Chesapeake Bay mandates to let private industry take care of it. He says for-profit companies can get the job done better and more cheaply than government can. Others, though, are not so sure.

State Sen. Richard Alloway II, a member of Pennsylvania’s delegation to the Chesapeake Bay Commission, introduced the Clean Water Procurement Program bill in June. It would require 850 municipalities under orders to reduce their stormwater pollution to pay $500 million over 10 years into a state-managed fund.
That fund would be used to pay private entities for making nutrient reductions to bring Pennsylvania into compliance with the federal “pollution diet” for the estuary.

“I have a fundamental feeling that government shouldn’t be shelling out money or doing the work,” said Alloway, a Republican who represents several south-central counties. “Government has been doing that for years, and we’re still behind. The private sector is going to provide the solution with technology.”

Alloway’s bill is one of several introduced in Harrisburg this legislative session that seek new strategies for financing water-quality improvements in cash-strapped Pennsylvania, which has cut environmental programs even as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency repeatedly warned the state that it was missing pollution reduction milestones.

Bills similar to Alloway’s have been introduced without success at least three times since 2013, all at the behest of Bion Environmental Technologies. It’s one of two companies that have built state-financed pilot projects in Pennsylvania intended to reduce farm runoff. Alloway acknowledged that the bill he introduced this year was drafted by Bion, though he bridled at critics’ suggestions that it’s a bailout for the company.

Bion and another company, EnergyWorks, underwritten in part by state loans, installed systems on two large farms a decade ago to demonstrate technologies that can convert nutrients in animal manure into marketable byproducts. The projects were touted at the time as a way to keep animal waste from fouling streams and the Bay, while also generating economic benefit. And the nutrient reductions themselves were to be salable to others required to reduce their pollution.

At the time, Pennsylvania was also developing its first nutrient trading program, initially intended to help municipalities save money on costly upgrades to wastewater treatment plants by paying farmers to curb their runoff. Advocates of the projects said the state loans they got would be repaid with income from nutrient “credit” sales.

Equipment in the floor of Kreider Farms’ dairy barn collects manure. Unable to generate sufficient revenue, the project to convert cattle waste into energy and other byproducts has shut down. (Bion Environmental Technologies)

Bion, though, is in default on the $7.8 million state loan it received to build a manure treatment system on Kreider Farms, a large dairy operation in Lancaster County. The facility has been shuttered for three years, a move Bion CEO Dominic Bassani said was needed to stop losing $25,000 a month in operating costs.

EnergyWorks also fell behind on repaying at least $11 million in state financing to build its $40 million system at an egg-laying facility near Gettysburg. EnergyWorks has renegotiated the terms of its loan and continues to make partial payments.

The two large pilot projects were betting on selling nutrient credits for $8 to $10 per pound to pay back their state-funded loans — but nutrient credits have traded at a fraction of that for the last seven years. Wastewater treatment plants were expected to buy most of the credits, but many chose to upgrade their plants instead.

“Our facility was created as a nutrient credit generator; it was not an afterthought or part of the process,” said Patrick Thompson, president and chief executive officer of EnergyWorks Group, who supports Alloway’s bill. “This is an implicit public-private partnership. We went into this [believing] that we would create a public good. And it was up to the state to create a market for this public good.”

Bion CEO Bassani said he doesn’t see Alloway’s bill as a municipality-funded bailout. Rather, he said it gives cities and towns an affordable alternative to costly projects aimed at reducing stormwater pollution. “We’re offering nutrient reductions for less,” he said. “You’re reducing such a small amount and spending a fortune. Until you can figure out how you’re going to solve this problem, stop the spending. This is taxpayer money.”

As written, Senate Bill 799 would tweak the Pennsylvania nutrient trading program with an influx of new buying power — $50 million a year — garnered from communities required to reduce polluted runoff from their streets and parking lots. Stormwater pollution is the only source of the Bay’s nutrient problems that continues to grow.

Alloway and Bassani argue that instead of investing in costly infrastructure projects, municipalities can meet their nutrient-reduction obligation by paying to have farms deal with their animal manure. By “buying” nutrient credits for practices on farms, the municipalities would be absolved. Companies like Bion and EnergyWorks would bid to get 10-year nutrient-removal contracts.

The Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors opposes the bill, accoreding Elam M. Herr, the group’s assistant executive director. “As written, there are too many unknowns,” Herr said. Many municipalities have invested heavily in meeting their state and federally imposed stormwater control requirements. They’re also mandated to reduce sediment as well as nutrients, he said, which is not a pollutant currently covered by the state’s trading system.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation blasted a similar bill two years ago, saying it “threatens to derail current clean water restoration efforts and divert critical funding from proven science-based practices, while favoring proprietary, corporate-backed and costly manure technologies.” But B. J. Small, spokesman for the foundation’s Pennsylvania office, declined to comment on the current bill.

PennAg Industries Association, an agricultural trade group, recently wrote a letter to Alloway supporting the bill — but with a long list of questions and clarifications needed for full support. “PennAg supports the use of technologies as one of the approaches for the Commonwealth to utilize. However, there is not one standalone solution which will generate all the necessary results for Pennsylvania to meet the Bay obligations,” wrote Christian R. Herr, the group’s executive vice president.

One of the bill’s most vocal critics is David Hess, former Department of Environmental Protection secretary, who now represents the Pennsylvania Environmental Council. He contends that Alloway’s bill is too narrowly drafted, and that it would funnel more taxpayer money into specific high-tech agricultural projects. He said that he, and his clients, have problems with that.

“We need to work with Senator Alloway and others to bring more private capital to family farms to make up for the deficit in state funding,” he said, “ “but instead of bringing in a system that would benefit one technology and one solution, we encouraged him to look at these other alternatives instead of high-cost high technology.”

Alloway’s bill, which has just four co-sponsors, is pending in the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, where it’s expected to get a hearing in the next few months.

He said the bill is just a starting point, and he has invited environmentalists, farm interests and municipalities to help revise it. But he insists that private enterprise be involved, and that it have a dependable source of revenue.

“You’re never going to meet your goals by appealing to businesses to do things for the good of the environment,” he said. “When businesses do something, they do it for the good of the bottom line.”

By Donna Morelli, Bay Journal News Service

Sky-Watch October 2017 – Planets and Meteoroids

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Orionid Meteor Shower

I hope all sky-watchers have great eclipse viewing stories to tell, and memories of it that still fill you with awe.  For me, seeing my first total solar eclipse was everything I had thought and hoped it would be.  My wife and I saw it from Spring City, Tennessee, on a perfectly clear day.  We marveled at the crescent-shaped sun images cast onto the ground as the eclipsing Sun shone through leaves before totality.  We were struck by the odd darkening all around as full totality approached, that was so different than the darkening that happens as the sun sets.  And the moment when totality began truly brought tears to my eyes.  The word “awesome” gets thrown around a lot these days in everyday speech —– often for things not really that awesome.  But I can tell you; total solar eclipses are totally awesome!!

I am now eager for the next eclipse that will happen over America in just 7 years (2024).  This one’s totality time will be nearly twice as long as this year’s eclipse, and the path of totality will pass through states from Texas to Ohio and into Canada.  I plan to be in Ohio for this one.  Early October gives us a brief last chance to see Jupiter for awhile, but very low in the southwest sky a half hour after sunset.  By the 15th of October, it will be behind the sun, not to re-emerge until November before dawn in the eastern sky.  Saturn is just 20 degrees above the southwest horizon as full darkness falls, remaining conspicuous there at magnitude +0.5 all month.  Those with telescopes can get a very good of Saturn’s rings now because the rings are tilted 27 degrees to our line of sight.

Mars

Early morning views into the eastern sky before dawn will give us good views of Mars and Venus all month.  In fact, the two planets have a very close conjunction in the first five days of October and then have several conjunctions with stars during the rest of the month.  On October 1st, the two planets will appear just 2.5 degrees apart against the background stars of Leo.  Venus at magnitude –3.9 is brilliant white, while Mars at +1.8 is a dull red.  The gap between Mars and Venus closes until on the morning of October 5th they will be only 0.2 degrees apart!  This is just half the full moon’s apparent diameter.  As both planets move eastward across the sky in their respective orbits they will move into Virgo; Venus on October 9th, and Saturn on October 12th.  As they do they will appear to pass various background stars and form conjunctions with them as they do.

But the most spectacular conjunction will happen on October 17th, when the 5% lit waning crescent moon passes the two planets.  On the 17th the moon will be seen 2 degrees to the left of Mars and 6 degrees above Venus!

 

Halley’s Comet last appeared in our skies more than 30 years ago, but it still makes its presence known.  Every October Earth plows into debris left behind by Halley, and this dusty, chunky debris burns up in our air, causing flashes of light we call shooting stars, or meteors.  These appear to come from the constellation Orion the hunter, giving these meteors the name, the Orionid Meteor Shower.  It should be a good year for the Orionids, because there will be no moon in the sky when the shower peaks before dawn on October 21st.  Ideal time to look is from 2 to 5 am; direction is southeast; and a maximum of up to 20 meteors an hour is likely.

Moon Phases:  Full on the 5th; Last Quarter on the 12th; New Moon on the 19th; and 1st Quarter on the 27th.

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$500K Grant to Center for Environment and Society

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A male bobwhite quail at the Natural Lands Project

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation has awarded Washington College’s Center for Environment & Society (CES) $500,000 to expand its innovative Natural Lands Project into the mid-shore. The foundation grant meets $801,000 in matching funding from CES and its partners, Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited, and Pickering Creek Audubon Center, for a total of $1.3 million for the project.

The Natural Lands Project (NLP), piloted at the college’s Chester River Field Research Station at Chino Farms, enlists the support of local landowners to restore grassland habitat for bobwhite quail and other species while also creating buffers that help filter runoff into the Chesapeake Bay’s tributaries.

“The Natural Lands Project encompasses the best of what we do and teach—it restores habitat, cleans the Bay, and perhaps most important, it provides an example to our students of how the cultural links between environment and society can be used in restoration,” said John Seidel, director of the CES. “That social and community element in restoration is critical to the future of the Chesapeake, as well as to watersheds around the world.”

The grant, announced Sept. 19, was among 44 projects awarded through the Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund, a partnership between the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) and the Environmental Protection Agency’s Nutrient and Sediment Reduction Grants and Small Watershed Grants programs, as well as other partners. Washington College is the only institution of higher education among the recipients.

“Through the Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and our partners, especially the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, continue to invest in locally led efforts to protect and restore the more than 100,000 miles of local rivers and streams that feed the Bay,” said Jeff Trandahl, executive director and CEO, NFWF. “These investments demonstrate that the actions necessary to restore local rivers and streams go hand in hand with opportunities to enhance local communities.”

One of the biggest issues for the Bay on the Eastern Shore is agricultural runoff. Collaterally, as more acreage is put into agriculture, grassland and upland habitats are vanishing, and with them, iconic species like the bobwhite quail. Using the restored grasslands at the college’s Chester River Field Research Station, Dan Small, a field ecologist with CES and now coordinator of the NLP, has been conducting surveys to document the quail population in the restored grasslands and around the farm. By last year, Small and Washington College student researchers documented an average of 25 calling males and an estimated 29 coveys—the highest concentration of the species in the state of Maryland since its precipitous decline began decades ago.

As a game bird, the bobwhite historically is on a cultural par with the Canada goose on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Its loss was keenly felt among hunters, sportsmen, and farmers. In an effort to motivate landowners to create more habitat for the quail—and, by extension, create buffers that would help reduce agricultural runoff into the Bay’s tributaries—the CES worked with the Chester River Association in 2015 to spin the quail restoration into the Natural Lands Project with a $700,000 award from the Department of Natural Resources.

“The concept was simple,” said Mike Hardesty, associate director of programs and staff at CES. “Transform less-than-productive agricultural land into natural habitat for iconic species. Give landowners a cultural reason—even more compelling than a financial one—to set aside some of their land for habitat management, which in turn would benefit local water quality and Bay restoration efforts.” The NLP also restores wetlands in order to achieve similar water quality and wildlife benefits.

In the first two years, the NLP created 274 acres of native upland grasses and wildflowers in marginal cropland on 11 participating farms. Ten wetlands projects—25 acres of wetlands in fields with unproductive soils poorly suited for growing crops—were also completed. College students and CES researchers began what will be a continuing survey of bird populations to monitor abundance and diversity at each site.

The new funding will be used to expand the project to into the middle and upper Eastern Shore to 285 more acres of buffers and 16 more acres of wetlands. Before receiving the award, five landowners signed on for an additional 115 acres. CES expects this project and its focus to grow and the model to be used in watersheds across the country.

Watch a video about the Natural Lands Project.