ESLC Awarded Preservation Grant for Smokestack Repair at Phillips Packing House

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Eastern Shore Land Conservancy (ESLC) was recently awarded a $25,000 grant by the National Trust for Historic Preservation from The Bartus Trew Providence Preservation Fund. These grant funds will be used to help stabilize and repair the building’s iconic smokestacks.

Cross Street Partners, in partnership with Eastern Shore Land Conservancy (ESLC) will repurpose the 60,000 SF historic Phillips Packing House Building F as The Packing House – an active, mixed-use development designed to support the emerging industries related to the Eastern Shore’s famed farming and fisheries. The Packing House will house a synergistic mix of tech and creative entrepreneurs, food production and food related retail/eateries as well as a 2-story, light-filled open atrium space for continuous public programs and private events.

The Packing House will serve as a connection between the growing downtown revitalization in Cambridge and the well-traveled Route 50—Ocean Gateway to Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia beaches. The commercialization, research, production, and active retail uses will support local employment and inform nutrition and public health programming on the Eastern Shore.

Redeveloping this historically significant building as an entrepreneurial engine for the Cambridge community in a manner that celebrates Cambridge’s unique heritage preserves the legacy of the Phillips Packing Company. It is the last remaining factory from the Phillips Company’s empire of vegetable and food packing businesses, which once employed thousands of people in Cambridge. The company closed in the 1960’s, and the building has been deteriorating for decades.

“Organizations like ESLC help to ensure that communities and towns all across America retain their unique sense of place,” said Stephanie Meeks, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “We are honored to provide a grant to ESLC, which will use the funds to help preserve an important piece of our shared national heritage.”

Grants from the National Trust Preservation Funds have provided over $15 million since 2003. These matching grants are awarded to nonprofit organizations and public agencies across the country to support wide-ranging activities including consultant services for rehabilitating buildings, technical assistance for tourism that promotes historic resources, and the development of materials for education and outreach campaigns.

For more information about The Packing House, please visit www.thepackinghousecambridge.com.

Pickering Creek… the Natural Choice by Tyler Redman

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Ever since I was young, I have loved the outdoors. The animals, plants and overall atmosphere that came with it captivated me. So, when I heard I could help out at Pickering Creek as a Junior Naturalist (JN), I was elated. I had already been going there for school trips, so I was eager to start as a JN in my 7th grade year. The staff at Pickering Creek do a wonderful job of preparing the JNs by offering Citizen Science classes throughout the school year, where we learn all about the environment around Pickering Creek, outdoor safety, and about nature in general. We also go on several field trips to other natural areas like Patapsco State Park, Calvert Cliffs Park and Cunningham Falls State Park. In addition to the field trips, we volunteer at a number of events, including at the public library and at Pickering Creek itself, where we get to teach the community about different animals, such as an assortment of turtles and share information about nature and conservation.

Tyler Redman

One thing I love about Pickering Creek is that there is a heavy focus on helping the environment we live in to thrive. I have participated in bird-banding and Monarch tagging to collect data for research being done on migration patterns. Pickering Creek also encourages JNs to invite their family to help volunteer at events organized by Pickering Creek such as marsh grass planting in Dorchester County.

Pickering Creek has prepared me well to instill my love for the environment in the youth who attend Pickering Creek Eco Camp. It’s thrilling to see the young campers just as excited about nature as I was at their age. Whether through showing them a type of animal or playing a fun game, there is always something to do that teaches them more about the environment. It is fun to see the same campers year after year and to meet new ones because that means they are having fun, want to keep coming back, and are telling others about their experiences. The summer ends on a sad but extremely fun note. Even though we have to wait another year until the next EcoCamp, all of the JNs are invited to one big campout where we share fun stories about the past weeks, develop lasting bonds, and enjoy the great outdoors at Pickering Creek.

After all of the amazing experiences I’ve had at Pickering Creek, I began to wonder, “What could I do to give back to a place that has taught me so much and helped me develop so many life skills?” That is when I decided to do my BSA Eagle Scout Project at Pickering Creek. So, after reaching out to the Pickering Creek staff, I chose to re-route and create new trails. During my time as a JN this July, it was fun to see the campers enjoying the new trails I built and it felt great knowing that I gave something back to Pickering Creek. As well as building trails, I constructed two benches which were placed at ends of trails that overlook the creek. The views from each bench are serene so people will be able to rest and enjoy the beauty of Pickering Creek. I also built a birdhouse that I placed in a tree at the end of the creek overlook. It has the image of a Blue Jay wood burned onto the front of it and is specifically meant to provide a nesting place for Blue Jays or other birds. This bird house is special because “Blue Jay” is my JN nature name that the campers call me.

I know I’ll always love the outdoors, whether it means pursuing a career that relates to the environment and animals, or just exploring and going on outdoor adventures. I am grateful for the opportunities I’ve had in both Boy Scouts and Pickering Creek, which have increased my love and appreciation for nature. I’m excited to continue to make more memories at Pickering Creek. This exceptional place has impacted my life in such a positive and incredible way and I will always remember it.

If it hasn’t already, I hope someday Pickering Creek will impact yours as well.

Tyler Redman is a Junior Naturalist at Pickering Creek Audubon Center. For more information, please go here.

2018 Bay Health Score Drops as Massive Rains Increase Pollution

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The Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s (CBF) biennial State of the Bay report score decreased one point this year to 33, equivalent to a  D+. The drop was largely due to increased pollution and poor water clarity caused by record regional rainfall.

“The good news is that scientists are pointing to evidence of the Bay’s increased resiliency and ability to withstand, and recover from, these severe weather events. And this resiliency is a direct result of the pollution reductions achieved to date. In addition, we did see increases in scores for dissolved oxygen and Bay grasses since 2016, but the recovery is still fragile,” said CBF’s Director of Science and Agricultural Policy Beth McGee.

Established in 1998, CBF’s State of the Bay Report is a comprehensive measure of the Bay’s health. CBF scientists compile and examine the best available data and information for 13 indicators in three categories: pollution, habitat, and fisheries. CBF scientists assign each indicator an index score from 1-100. Taken together, these indicators offer an overall assessment of Bay health.

“This is a challenging time for Bay restoration. Massive environmental rollbacks in clean-water and clean-air regulations proposed by the Trump Administration may make achieving a restored Bay more difficult,” said CBF President William C. Baker.“Another restoration hurdle is the fact that science expects more extreme weather events in the future as the result of climate change.”

Two of the 13 indicators, dissolved oxygen and Bay grasses improved. In the pollution category, toxics were unchanged, while water clarity, and nitrogen and phosphorus pollution were worse. In the habitat category, scores for Bay grasses and resource lands improved, and buffers and wetlands remained the same. In the fisheries category, scores for oysters, crabs, and rockfish remained the same, while the score for shad declined.

This year’s score is still far short of the goal to reach 40 by 2025 and ultimately a 70, which would represent a saved Bay. The unspoiled Bay ecosystem described by Captain John Smith in the 1600s, with its extensive forests and wetlands, clear water, abundant fish and oysters, and lush growths of submerged vegetation serves as the theoretical benchmark and would rate a 100 on CBF’s scale.

The Clean Water Blueprint requires the Bay jurisdictions to decrease pollution to local creeks, rivers, and the Bay. State and local governments have committed to achieve specific, measurable reductions. The states agreed to have the 60 percent of the needed programs and practices in place by 2017, and to complete the job by 2025.

Of the primary Bay states, Virginia and Maryland were close to meeting the 2017 goals but need to accelerate pollution reduction from agriculture and urban/suburban runoff. Pennsylvania continues to be far short of its goals, mostly as a result of falling behind in addressing pollution from agriculture.

“Pennsylvania’s farmers are facing tough economic times and can’t implement the necessary practices on their own. The Commonwealth must join Maryland and Virginia to fund proven clean water initiatives to help farmers,” Baker added. “If the state legislature does not fund efforts to reduce pollution in its next session, EPA must hold Pennsylvania accountable. In addition, we are standing with The Maryland Department of the Environment to require that Exelon mitigates for the downstream water quality damage caused by their operation of the Conowingo Dam, which changes the timing and form of pollution reaching downstream waters. One cost-effective mitigation option is to help reduce the pollution coming down the Susquehanna River before it can ever reach the dam.”

CBF’s Virginia Executive Director Rebecca Tomazin said:

“The State of the Bay report comes as Virginia’s legislators are preparing to make decisions in the General Assembly that will determine the health of our rivers and the Bay for years to come.

“Governor Northam has proposed a historic investment in farm conservation practices and reducing polluted runoff from Virginia’s cities and suburbs. The General Assembly has long recognized the importance of restoring the Bay, and their continued support is vital to ensuring the Bay’s recovery doesn’t backslide. Legislation is also needed to increase the ability of local governments to use trees to improve water quality in local streams and the Chesapeake Bay.

“The outcome of this General Assembly session is vital to the future of the Bay. By working together, we can restore our waters and improve the economy and protect the quality of life here in the Commonwealth.”

CBF’s Maryland Executive Director Alison Prost said:

“Cleaning up the Bay is long-term and difficult.  Setbacks happen. In Maryland, we’re grappling with heavy rains this year that caused extended high flows in the Susquehanna River, which flushed debris, sediment, and other pollutants into the Bay. We’re also beginning to understand the implications of the state’s new oyster stock assessment that showed the oyster population in Maryland’s portion of the Bay has fallen by half since 1999.

“Yet despite these setbacks, the ecosystem is showing resilience to this year’s environmental stressors due to increasing growth of underwater vegetation and robust investments in land preservation.  While we can celebrate these successes, we must also focus on making policy changes to ensure the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint can handle the realities of changing weather patterns that challenge the Bay’s long-term health. Expanding Maryland’s protections for oysters and forests are changes leaders should pursue to make the Bay more resilient.”

CBF’s Pennsylvania Executive Director Harry Campbell said:

“There’s a lot of work left to be done in Pennsylvania.  And the unprecedented rains of last year, which threaten to become the new normal, left farmers and families without their crops, their homes, or in some cases, even their lives.

“But there is a growing energy and enthusiasm that the Commonwealth can meet the challenge.  More farm conservation practices have been found than were known, communities are banding together to address stormwater issues, and long-term river studies are showing improving trends.  Poised to capitalize on this momentum, the Commonwealth has led a collaborative, stakeholder-based effort to create the third iteration of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.

“Now is the time for Pennsylvania’s elected leaders to accelerate this momentum by investing in the priority practices, places, and partnerships that will bring the plan into reality. 

“Investing in nature-based efforts, like strategically placed trees alongside streams and streets, rotational grazing, and farm field cover crops will result in more productive farms, vibrant communities, healthy streams, and a saved Bay.”

In summary, Baker added, “The Blueprint is a road map to a restored Bay. If the states and EPA do their part, we can succeed in achieving the greatest environmental success the world has ever seen.”

Second Annual Oysters and Wine on the Eastern Shore Jan. 27

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Maryland-farmed oysters, wine, champagne, and beer—what more do you need to satisfy the soul on a late January afternoon?

You can have them all and Smith Island cake too at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s second annual Oysters and Wine on the Eastern Shore. The event takes place from 2 to 5 p.m. on Sunday, January 27 at the Eastern Shore Conservation Center in Easton. Tickets are $35 and advance registration is required because the event is expected to sell out.

This year’s event will feature oysters from three Maryland oyster farms—Chestertown’s Orchard Point Oyster Company, Tilghman’s Fisherman’s Daughter Oysters, and Toddville’s Honga Oyster Company.

All three businesses are part of the state’s burgeoning oyster farming industry. The industry grew from a nascent start in Maryland less than a decade ago when upstart operations produced about 4,000 bushels of farmed oysters in 2012. That number has since ballooned to more than 64,000 bushels from oyster farms in 2016, according to the latest annual harvest data released by the state’s Department of Natural Resources.

Oyster farming presents an alternative model to Maryland’s long tradition of watermen scouring for wild oysters from the Chesapeake Bay’s public bottom. Watermen with farming businesses lease acres of the Bay bottom from the state to plant and grow their oysters. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation believes expanding the model can reduce harvest pressure on the state’s dwindling native oyster population and help it recover.

Since 1999, the oyster population in Maryland’s portion of the Bay has declined from about 600 million oysters to the current population of 300 million, according to the state’s new oyster stock assessment released in November. Wild oyster harvests continue to significantly outpace harvests from aquaculture operations—for example, about 224,000 bushels were harvested from public bottom in 2016, nearly four times the amount from oyster farms.

The January 27 event will celebrate locally farmed oysters by pairing them with a variety of wines, champagne, and local craft beer. There will also be hors d’oeuvres and live music. Oyster farmers and scientists will be on hand to answer attendees’ questions. The Eastern Shore Conservation Center is at 114 South Washington St. in Easton.

If you have any questions about the event, please contact Hilary Gibson at hgibson@cbf.org. Additional information about Oysters and Wine on the Shore can be found at the event’s website.

Boy Scout Takes on Oyster Restoration for Cleaner Choptank River

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Boy Scout Josh Newmier with Dr. Tony Calabro

ShoreRivers is pleased to announce another successful community outreach partnership. ShoreRivers teamed up with Josh Newmier, a high school student and member of Boy Scout Troop 190, to recruit oyster gardeners on the Choptank River and encourage more restaurants to recycle oyster shells. In the fall, Newmier approached ShoreRivers about an Eagle Scout project that would be meaningful and improve our local environment. After discussing the important role that oysters play by filtering water in rivers, and learning about the major challenges that the current oyster population faces, Josh decided to be a part of restoring the Choptank’s oyster population.

“Growing up on the Eastern Shore and hearing about the abundance of oysters 50 to 100 years ago as compared to now, motivated me to choose a project related to oyster restoration,” Newmier recounts.

Wasting no time, he began identifying and educating property owners and boat slip renters about the benefits of oyster gardening. As a result, 23 new oyster gardeners, including the J.M. Clayton Company, joined the Marylanders Grow Oysters (MGO) program. These new growers are currently growing over 12,000 baby oysters (spat) that will be transplanted to sanctuaries in spring 2019.

But the Boy Scout didn’t stop there! Knowing how important oyster shells are to restoration, while so many of them are discarded, Newmier recruited local restaurants to recycle their oyster shells. Every week, Newmier and his fellow scouts collect residual shells from participating restaurants—including Talbot Country Club, Snappers, Portside, Canvasback, and Jimmy & Sooks—and take them to shell recycling stations at Easton Point and Horn Point in Cambridge. From there, the shells go to the hatchery where they become substrate for spat used by the next season’s oyster gardeners. In a win-win scenario, Newmier has received a State of Maryland DNR Shell Recycling Collector certificate, which allows him to submit reports that qualify businesses to claim tax credits for recycling oyster shell.

“I think the first step in the oyster restoration process is awareness,” Newmier says. “Hopefully by engaging the community, we will help advance the process to recovery.”

Choptank Riverkeeper Matt Pluta oversaw the project. “It’s great to see young people taking initiative like this. According to a recently released oyster stock assessment, there has been a 50% reduction in the Chesapeake oyster population since 1999. If we’re serious about cleaning up the Choptank, it’s going to take concerted efforts from every level.”

For more information about ShoreRivers’ Marylander’s Grow Oysters program, contact Rebecca Murphy at rmurphy@shorerivers.org or 443.385.0511.

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.

shorerivers.org

Washington College Names Jeff Horstman To Board

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Jeff Horstman, Executive Director of ShoreRivers and a lifelong advocate for environmental conservation and sustainability on the Eastern Shore and Chesapeake Bay, will join Washington College’s Board of Visitors and Governors.

Horstman, who studied political science at WC, is married to Beth Church Horstman ’80, a former member of the President’s Leadership Council. Their daughter Nielly is a 2010 graduate of the College.

“Washington College has done so much for me, our family, and the region, and I am excited and proud to be selected to the Board of Visitors and Governors,” Horstman says. “I want to bring any talent or service that I can to help the College continue producing the next generation of environmental leaders.”

The former Executive Director of the Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy and the Miles-Wye River Riverkeeper, Horstman oversaw the merging of the Sassafras and Chester river associations and MidshoreRiverkeeper Conservancy into ShoreRivers, a regional environmental group dedicated to protecting and restoring the rivers of the Eastern Shore. At ShoreRivers he directs the advocacy, education, agricultural, restoration, and Riverkeeper programs that promote a vision of clean waterways across Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

Before devoting his career to environmental protection and restoration, Horstman had more than 30 years in the financial services industry. He and his wife built a pension management company, which he sold to Susquehanna Bank, staying on in the role of COO of Retirement Plan Services. Previously, he was President of Pension Benefits, Inc. & Abacus Advisors.

Horstman grew up in Queenstown, and while at Washington College worked for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources helping integrate Wye Island into a state holding. While a student, he helped cut and clear the many trails and paths that people now enjoy at Wye Island Natural Resources Management Area, where he still regularly walks and bikes.

His deep connections to the Wye River go back to his family, which donated major tracts of land along the river that became the Aspen and Wye Institutes, the University of Maryland Agricultural Research Center, and the Wye Research and Education Center.

Horstman is a former board member of the Chesapeake Bay Trust and the Harry Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology at Wye Institute. He currently serves on the boards of Waterkeepers Chesapeake and the Delmarva Land and Litter Challenge, and is a member of the Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition. Horstman also serves on the advisory board of the Aspen Wye Fellows and the Chesapeake Bay Conservation Corps.

About Washington College

Founded in 1782, Washington College is the tenth oldest college in the nation and the first chartered under the new Republic. It enrolls approximately 1,450 undergraduates from more than 39 states and territories and 25 nations.With an emphasis on hands-on, experiential learning in the arts and sciences, and more than 40 multidisciplinary areas of study, the College is home to nationally recognized academic centers in the environment, history, and writing. Learn more at washcoll.edu.

Maryland General Assembly Recognizes 2018 as Year of the Bird

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The Maryland General Assembly has presented Audubon with an official citation recognizing 2018 as the Year of the Bird in Maryland. The declaration celebrates native and migratory birds making their way through Maryland annually and the state’s many creeks, rivers, ponds, woods, meadows and wetlands that support them.  The citation was delivered by Delegate Johnny Mautz on December 3rd with the Center’s full staff and board of trustees in attendance. “As 2018 draws to a close the General Assembly’s citation reminds us again how integral birds are in Maryland’s landscape.  We are honored to have the Maryland General Assembly and Delegate Mautz recognize the importance of birds in our local landscape and recognizes 2018 as the Year of the Bird”, said Mark Scallion, Director of Pickering Creek Audubon Center.  “We are also proud of Pickering Creek Audubon Center’s role as an anchor of bird habitat in Talbot County and an important place for people, especially school aged students, to learn about birds, habitat and the Chesapeake Bay.”

Audubon works with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and Maryland State Department of Education on Governor Hogan’s Project Green Classrooms as well as with a host of local, state and federal agencies on important bird area protection, environmental literacy and sea level rise adaptation.

Delegate Johnny Mautz, Pickering Creek Board President Cheryl Tritt, President Elect Dirck Bartlett and Director Mark Scallion with the Year of the Bird Citation.

Home to 42 Important Bird Areas and more than 400 observed species, the citation recognizes that Maryland and the Eastern Shore’s natural resources provide important habitat for birds. Within Maryland, the Chesapeake Bay watershed serves as an important breeding and stopover area for millions of migratory birds each year.

People around the world are celebrating 2018 as Year of the Bird. This year marks the centennial of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, one of the oldest wildlife protection laws in the United States. In honor of this milestone, National Geographic, Audubon, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, BirdLife International, and dozens of other partners around the world joined forces to celebrate 2018 as the Year of the Bird.

“Year of the Bird is an easy way people can take small everyday actions to help birds along their journeys,” said David Yarnold, president and CEO for National Audubon Society. “Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay provides wintering grounds for approximately one-third of the Atlantic coast’s migratory population including iconic waterfowl species like the Tundra Swan, Canada Goose, Northern Pintail and Green-winged Teal for centuries.”

Many conservation organizations, agencies, businesses and academics have been instrumental in protecting birds and the places they need in Maryland. In celebrating 2018 as the Year of the Bird, there is great appreciation for the efforts of many organizations, including local Audubon chapters and centers, the Maryland Ornithological Society, the Department of Natural Resources, waterfowl associations and duck clubs, and many others. For more about Year of the Bird visit www.birdyourworld.org.

Contact: Mark Scallion, National Audubon Society, mscallion@audubon.org, 410-822-4903

Maryland Taking Steps Aimed at Addressing Climate Change

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While the Trump administration’s report last month detailing the effects of rising global temperatures said Maryland had begun feeling the consequences of climate change, lawmakers and state agencies already are taking steps aimed at combating it.

From 1901 to 2016, the global average temperature has increased by about 1.8 degrees, according to the report, and “without significant reductions” in emissions of greenhouse gases, the annual average global temperatures could increase by 9 degrees by the end of this century.

Those 1.8 degrees have resulted in documented issues in Maryland, including, but not limited to, warmer weather, rising sea levels and poorer air quality.

“There are several findings that raise concern,” Ed McDonough, spokesman for the Maryland Emergency Management Agency (MEMA), told Capital News Service in an interview. “One is the potential effects on our seafood and agriculture industries. Another is increased flood potential around much of the state and also the loss of coastal lands in some areas around the Chesapeake Bay. Finally, there is the potential for increased health-related issues.”

President Donald Trump dismissed the report’s dire warnings.

“I’ve seen it, I’ve read some of it, and it’s fine,” he told reporters. As for the severe economic impacts of climate change, he said, “I don’t believe it.”

All evidence, the 1,600-page report states, points directly to human activities as the cause of climate change. Without drastic action, meteorological conditions and noticeable impacts will continue to worsen, the report warns.

“In Maryland, we are facing climate change effects that place our ecosystems and our economy at risk and threaten to transform the coastlines many of our citizens call home,” Maryland Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles said in a statement.

“The continued protection and restoration of the Chesapeake Bay also relies on a healthy climate,” he said. “It is crucial that we continue to work to address climate change through collaboration between our fellow states and the international community.”

Maryland lawmakers and agencies appear to be focusing on mitigating the looming threats that citizens could face.

Both Republican and Democratic legislators in the Maryland General Assembly plan to propose the Maryland Clean Energy Jobs Act next session. If passed, the act would set a new statewide standard committing Maryland to using 50 percent renewable energy by 2030. Currently, the standard is set to 25 percent by 2022, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration.

In addition to moving away from fossil fuels, the bill also envisions economic benefits for Maryland, according to Sen. Brian Feldman, D-Montgomery, one of the measure’s lead sponsors.

By the end of 2030, Feldman said, the state would gain 20,000 additional solar jobs and $400 million in direct economic benefits every year going forward, beginning in 2030.

“To have 13 federal agencies, all with a consistent message, which is ‘if we do nothing and stand pat, we’ve got huge, huge problems down the road, both economically, as well as with the climate and the implications of that,’ it is a call to arms,” Feldman said.

“So, there is renewed interest in bringing in legislation in Annapolis and I don’t think we are going to be the only state,” the lawmaker said. “I think we are going to have action all over the United States on this subject.”

To help “coordinate mitigation, response and recovery activities” in Maryland, MEMA held a retreat last month that included nearly every state agency, according to McDonough, as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Governors Association and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s Executive Council.

“We will continue our efforts to mitigate the effects of these changes,” McDonough said. “Agencies involved with natural resources, the environment, land use, insurance regulation, public health, and disaster response and recovery all play a role in making Maryland more resilient.”

MEMA also started the “Know Your Zone” campaign this year in areas of Maryland subject to tidal flooding or storm surge, working to simplify the evacuation process in case of flooding.

According to the federal report, flooding events are expected to become more frequent as a result of climate change.

“The danger is imminent if we don’t do anything,” Feldman said. “We need to take action right now in 2019; we can’t wait until 2020, 2022, etc.”

“The report that the federal government outlined includes things that we hadn’t even thought about, like (more) insects and (less) agriculture – all the negative implications of just standing pat,” he said. “I’m most concerned if we as a state do nothing.”

By Samantha Rosen

Mid-Shore Teachers Complete Environmental Literacy Training with Pickering Creek

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For nine weeks, a cohort of mid-shore teachers gathered with staff of Pickering Creek Audubon Center on Wednesday evenings and two Saturdays to immerse themselves in Maryland’s Environmental Literacy (E-Lit) Standards. Established in 2011, Maryland’s Environmental Literacy Standards require all students to participate in multi-disciplinary environmental programs to build students’ understanding of the inextricable links between humans and the natural world. Hailing from Talbot, Kent and Wicomico counties, the eight teachers had experience in a range of grade levels and content disciplines.

Lynn Alemon, a 4th grade teacher at Easton Elementary School releases a newly banded thrush.

Focusing on one standard each week, the teachers were invited to explore environmental concepts by investigating Pickering Creek’s forest, meadow and wetland habitats, modeling activities, and engaging in discussions. These programs were led by Pickering Creek’s knowledgeable staff, which works with Eastern Shore school systems to help them meet Maryland’s Environmental Literacy Standards.  One Wednesday evening, teachers immersed themselves in a restored freshwater wetland by pulling on chest waders and seining in the waters before considering how human activities influence the availability of habitats. Another week teachers canoed on Pickering Creek, taking water quality samples while discussing the influence of the environment on human health. Before colder days set in, the group spent an evening sweeping butterfly nets through the meadows and looking for monarch butterflies and other insects while considering limiting factors on populations, communities and ecosystems.

“This reminds us that we need to be outside, and to be mindful of that with our students,” remarked Charlotte Compton, a first grade teacher at Easton Elementary School. “They need it too.”

Supported through a Chesapeake Bay Trust mini-grant, teachers had an opportunity to earn up to two continuing education credits if they attended both the nine weekday evening sessions as well as two Saturday field trips. On a Saturday in late September, the teachers traveled to Washington College’s Chester River Field Research Station, where they shadowed field ecologist, Maren Gimple, and learned about banding of migratory birds. Teachers watched as Gimple deftly removed Common Yellowthroats, Ovenbirds and other migratory birds from the station’s mist nets, took measurements of each bird, and attached a small metal bracelet to each bird’s leg. The teachers learned how data collected at the station in Chestertown is used to enhance our understanding of spring and fall seasonal bird migration along the Atlantic Flyway.

Pictured L-R (Top row): Lynn Alemon (Easton Elementary), Hayley Hartman (Pickering Creek), Danielle Devonport (Pickering Creek), Devin Herlihy (Pickering Creek), Donna Simmons (Kent School), Katelin Cep (Chapel District Elementary), Kathy Kelly (Chapel District Elementary), Jaime Bunting (Pickering Creek); (Bottom row) Jaime Eakin (Wicomico Middle), Charlotte Compton (Easton Elementary), Jeff Eutsler (White Marsh Elementary). Not pictured: Julia Berg (Bennet Middle).

In October, teachers spent a Saturday at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge where they heard from Refuge Wildlife Biologist Matt Whitbeck and Director of Science at the Nature Conservancy MD-DC, Dr. Arian Sutton-Grier, to learn about climate change, sea level rise, and the importance of protecting salt marsh habitats for wildlife and preserving the habitat’s ability to absorb and store carbon from the atmosphere. Julia Berg, a Social Studies teacher from James Bennett Middle School in Salisbury reflected, “I was fascinated to learn about blue carbon and the importance of wetlands in mitigating the effects of climate change. The E-Lit Camp has been really eye-opening and is giving me lots of ideas for working with the science teachers in my school.”

In November it was time for the teachers to synthesize what they had learned and develop activities and lessons that incorporate Environmental Literacy Standards. Jeff Eustler, a Physical Education teacher at White Marsh Elementary shared his idea of creating a fast-moving “Environmental Helpers” game during gym class that can emphasize the influence of individual and group actions on the environment. Lynn Aleman, a 4th grade Language Arts teacher at Easton Elementary School thought about how to enhance a current shark-focused reading project to include her students researching cultural and economic influences on the sharks’ populations and habitat. “I am excited to share these lessons and what I have learned with my students, in an effort to better engage them in science content during my reading block,” remarked Aleman.

Environmental literacy in the real world does not exist exclusively in the sciences; rather, it is woven throughout the many content disciplines taught in school and in all areas of our lives. But beyond the academics, the experiential aspect was what stuck for teachers. Jamie Eakin, a 6th grade science teacher from Wicomico Middle School summed it up: “E-Lit Camp is like teaching therapy for me. I get to be a student and feel the joy of learning again.”

Contact: Mary Helen Gillen, National Audubon Society, mgillen@audubon.org, 410-822-4903