Man-Made Oyster Reef Near Key Bridge is Thriving

Share

A man-made oyster reef finished a year ago next to Fort Carroll in the middle of the Patapsco River is in excellent condition. Recent monitoring results found most of the three million young oysters surviving and growing rapidly. The results are another encouraging milestone in an effort to return oysters to Baltimore waters, and throughout the Chesapeake Bay.

“Oysters are resilient creatures. If we give them the habitat they need they will settle down and form a community, begin filtering our water, and provide a home for other marine life,” said Dr. Allison Colden, Maryland Senior Fisheries Scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF). “Baltimore is demonstrating it can be a flourishing home for underwater life.”

CBF is a member of the Chesapeake Oyster Alliance, a multi-year, collaborative effort to add 10 billion new oysters by 2025 in Virginia and Maryland waters. The Alliance is designed to spark governmental action, public attention, and funding to accelerate ongoing oyster recovery efforts in the Chesapeake Bay.

Photo credit: Michael Eversmier

To that end, the oyster reef was planted last spring next to Fort Carroll, the Civil War fort built on an island near the Key Bridge. Chunks of granite were used as a bed for the reef. Tons of old oyster shell were piled on top of the stone. On each shell was attached an average of 12 juvenile oyster “spat” barely visible to the eye. The spat were set on the oyster shells at CBF’s Oyster Restoration Center in Shady Side, and placed on the reef by the organization’s restoration vessel, the Patricia Campbell.

A year later, about 75 percent of those baby oysters have survived their first winter, and have grown to an average of more than an inch and a half in size, some to nearly three inches. Another encouraging sign, divers found the oysters thriving despite silt in the river. In fact, the reef was filled with large clumps of oysters growing vertically above the silt.

The construction, seeding, and monitoring of the 1.1 acre reef was supported by the Maryland Department of Transportation Port Administration, Maryland Environmental Service, and the Abell Foundation.

Baltimore was once a hub of the commercial oyster industry in Maryland. Oysters also were known to grow in the Patapsco, at least near the mouth. But the oyster population is now a fraction of its historic size, a victim of overfishing, disease, and pollution.

Knowing that history, what divers observed at the Fort Carroll reef and recorded with underwater photography was all the more exciting. Live oysters were feeding and growing. And the reef already was attracting other marine life, such as anemone, barnacles, mussels, mud crabs, and grass shrimp. In all, at least 13 different species were observed living on the new reef. This relative abundance of life demonstrates what scientists have known for years: oysters are a “keystone species” in the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem; their reefs act as primary building blocks of the food chain.

The new reef, a little more than an acre, is near to a companion reef started in 1995. That older reef has been gradually built over the years, with about 150,000 oysters being added each of the past few years through the Great Baltimore Oyster Partnership and the Living Classrooms Foundation. Business representatives, students, and other volunteers grow oysters in cages at various sites around the Inner Harbor, and then deploy the juvenile oysters at the companion reef. The Partnership aims to have at least 5 million oysters added total to both reefs by 2020. CBF and the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore’s Healthy Harbor Initiative are founding members of the group.

WC Environmental Science Students Embark on Collaborative Groundwater Study

Share

Most people think of sea level rise as something visible, but in Rebecca Fox’s field methods in environmental science class at Washington College, students have begun long-term research into an invisible potential effect—saltwater intrusion into agricultural fields on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. And, they’re collaborating with students from the University of Maryland, learning what it’s like to work with fellow researchers who aren’t even in the same county, let alone on the same campus.

Fox, assistant professor of environmental science and studies, came up with the idea with her friend and collaborator Kate Tully, assistant professor of agroecology at UMD’s Department of Plant Science & Landscape Architecture. To jump-start the project, the pair applied for and received funding through MADE CLEAR, which is funded through the National Science Foundation’s Climate Change Education Project.

Fox used her portion ($5,000) to establish a permanent research station on a farm on the lower Chester River, where she and students installed eight groundwater wells equipped with instruments that can gather a variety of data about the groundwater.

“The data loggers collect information every 15 minutes to half an hour, data on groundwater temperature, how high the groundwater is, and the salinity of the groundwater,” Fox says. “We’re hoping we can use this data that will be collected over the next five to ten years to monitor whether saltwater is intruding into the farm fields. The goal is to bring our classes together every fall to the farm to do this research project and to look at the data… And we’ll have this long-term dataset so we can do some analyses, and there’s no reason we can’t use it for research and publish it.”

Ben Nelson ’18, an environmental science major and biology minor, was among the WC students who worked on the project last fall.

“We can look at the data and see what is going on over time, because that’s what is important,” he says. “Looking at things short-term is great, but we have to look at the bigger picture, and this research opportunity allows us to see what’s going to occur over time. We’re going to have to mitigate these issues or adapt to these changes.”

Last fall, the two groups of students met once at the site, where they spoke with the landowner about changes he has seen already, and examined how the groundwater wells work. Though looking at the same data, the classes are approaching the research from slightly different perspectives. The UMD agroecology students are focused on agriculture and food production, but also on soil health and the entire agricultural system, while the WC students, with their focus in environmental science, are thinking more broadly and about other aspects than just traditional agriculture.

“The intention is to get the students together, get them to talk, get them to look at this data, and then at the end of the class we have them come up with a plan to produce collaborative podcasts,” Fox says. “Half the podcast team was at College Park, half the team was here, and they had to figure out how to put a podcast together from different locations. So much science is collaborative, and you aren’t always in the same location as the people you’re working with. The hope was that the students would get this experience of remote collaboration and see how different it is when you have to cooperate remotely, and how clearly you have to communicate.”

Nelson says this real-world collaboration was one of the trickiest but most valuable parts of the project.

“These are people who are over an hour away, and this is when we rely on technology to communicate. And that was good practice,” he says. “It really made you plan and consider others… In the beginning when we first started communications with them we were a little bit hesitant on both ends…. But as we progressed through the project I think we realized the only way we were going to get this done is to learn and adapt.

“We could interact with people of different backgrounds and further expand our collaborative skills,” he says. “This will definitely be helpful in the workplace, because you don’t just work with the same five people every day.”

In the upcoming year, the WC students will also have the opportunity to travel to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, where Tully’s side of the research is examining how different cover crops can sequester carbon dioxide.

“For that lab, instead of coming here and looking at saltwater intrusion, we’re going to look at the ability of cover crops to mitigate climate change,” Fox says. “They have all of these long- term experimental plots where they’re trying different types of cover crops, and so it’s very much more an agricultural perspective, but it’s looking at how we can diversify our crops to maybe make a difference in terms of how much carbon dioxide we’re putting into the atmosphere.”

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 35 states and a dozen 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.

You can Own the Chesapeake without Property by Tom Horton

Share

I grew up middle class but land rich: roaming hundreds of acres of woods and marsh, hunting properties owned by my dad’s poultry company and his best friend. And I always dreamed that someday I’d be wealthy enough to afford my own wonderful, big chunk of Chesapeake, a dream that receded after I chose newspapering over chicken moguldom.

But there are a lot of ways to “own” land, as it has turned out — and many ways to become “rich.”

The most obvious way is to know and support the lands you, as a citizen, already own — your nearby national treasures, which for me include Assateague National Seashore and the Chincoteague and Blackwater national wildlife refuges.

Despite the millions who visit its beaches, Assateague’s remote, hike-in or paddle-in campsites are underused, partly because so many people focus only on summertime visits, when the sites are deadly buggy. Cool and cold weather adventuring is a taste easily acquired and opens up all sorts of territory.

I’m as road-averse as any greenie, but the need to access lands for logging and fire control means our region’s forestlands are full of roadways. Most are off limits to cars, but accessible for walkers, horseback riders and bicyclists (if the latter are willing to ditch those skinny racing tires). With Google Earth and similar mapping apps, and some ground-truthing to determine which of the mapped woodland roads are really there — or, conversely, are there but don’t show on the apps — I’ve been able to “acquire” thousands of acres of land around the Delmarva Peninsula where I live.

Farther afield, there’s massive back country access in Pennsylvania’s state forests — Michaux in southcentral Pennsylvania is one beloved by off-road bikers. Its 85,000 acres sprawl through several counties and are convenient to central Marylanders.

Many off-the-beaten paths also traverse private lands, or lands owned by private nonprofits like The Nature Conservancy. I find most aren’t often used by their owners, with the major exception of firearms deer season, which in most places occupies only a few weeks per year. Similarly, those who paddle marshways may want to know when it is duck season.

As a Salisbury University professor who runs a lot of field trips, I’ve several times driven up to a private landowner’s place and asked permission to explore or camp. Many have been quite cooperative. I now have “anytime access” to a wonderful patch of riverine forest where you can see what Eastern Shore woods might have been like hundreds of years ago.

Last year, I decided to explore the Chesapeake shoreline of Virginia’s rural Accomack County, simply turning onto every little road that ran west toward the Bay. There are a lot of those, and to my surprise I found more public access to little beaches, scenic views and launch spots for paddlecraft than most any other tidewater county I know of in Maryland or Virginia.

As my ecological comprehension of the region has grown, I’ve come to “own” the landscape wherever I travel. Riding through farmland, I notice the deep drainage ditching that makes agriculture possible. I know also that here, pre-drainage, a great cedar-cypress swamp once covered 60,000 acres, and beyond that I know the underlying wetland soils would immediately revert to swampiness if we could plug those ditches.

And while I favor swamps, I can appreciate where a green gloss on winter cornfields means the farmer is using cover crops to stop nitrogen fertilizer from running into the Bay. I also notice where farmers are plowing on the contour, installing grass swales and natural buffers to keep soil and nutrients out of the water.

Beware though: A keen appreciation for the land also risks heartbreak whenever you see the pipes and survey markers that mean field and forest will soon be stripped and paved for development.

Lately, I’ve been looking at the big power lines and gas pipeline right-of-ways that arrow across the landscape and wondering why we can’t make these do double duty as hiking-biking corridors.

The possibilities came home to me after some happy weeks roaming the Netherlands with lifelong Dutch friends. While that people-dense nation hasn’t 1 percent of the untrammeled landscapes of the United States, it is so interlaced with trails that there is scarcely a single citizen who cannot quickly hop onto a trail network that connects them to everywhere in the country.

Even where access is restricted, there are ways to push the edge. A friend of mine, who loves fishing and progging the remote seaside edges of Virginia’s Eastern Shore, has outfitted his skiff with a foldout platform so he can pitch a tent on the bow while anchored alongside barrier islands that are off limits to overnight stays. Last year, he took a whole high school class along for a week with tents lashed to a barge.

I suppose if I’d gotten rich, I’d own more land than the tenth of an acre behind my home. But think how much time acquiring that wealth might have taken away from a lifetime spent roaming the Chesapeake.

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

C+ Grade for the Chester River

Share

The Chester Packet Boat gliding smoothly along on the Chester River. Photo by Tyler Campbell

The Chester River earned a grade of C+ for 2017, according to ShoreRivers, the Riverkeeper organization for the mid-Shore area.

That was the key announcement at the annual State of the Chester meeting Thursday, April 26 at Washington College’s Hynson Lounge. The standing-room-only meeting was cosponsored by the college’s Center for the Environment and Society.

Isabel Hardesty, Regional Director for the Chester and Sassafras Rivers, acted as MC for the evening, which began with light hors d’ouvres featuring Orchard Point oysters from the Chester River and an open bar.

She began by introducing various ShoreRivers staff members, followed by Michael Hardesty, program administrator for the Chesapeake Bay Semester of the Center for Environment and Society – and also, as it happens, Isabel’s husband. Michael Hardesty gave a summary of the CES’s environmental programs, with a focus on the “pressing environmental issues and opportunities” currently facing the two organizations.

Isabel Hardesty, ShoreRivers regional director for the Chester and Sassafras Rivers

He noted the many organizations monitoring the health of the rivers and the surrounding environment, including the Sultana Education Foundation, Echo Hill Outdoor School, Sassafras Environmental Education Center, Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, Ducks Unlimited, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Nature Conservancy, and many others. “We reinforce each other in very powerful ways,” he said.

Washington College is committed to teaching the liberal arts and sciences with the goal of preparing its graduates to become “citizen leaders.” During the CES’s comparatively brief existence – it was founded in 1990 – it has become a national leader in undergraduate study of the environment, he said. It now has 26 full-time staff members and an endowment of some $10 million. And its students receive “real-world experience” aboard its research vessels and other facilities.

The college’s new environmental center, to be built on its riverside property beginning this fall, will make available an array of laboratories and classrooms to enhance the students’ learning experience. The building itself will be designed to “Living Building” standards, with solar panels and geothermal wells that produce 105 percent of the energy needed to operate the building. Any extra energy generated will be sold back to the grid, thus lowering the center’s costs and providing energy for other members of the community.

Another important ingredient of the CES’s mission is Chino Farms, where the college has operated several field stations for a number of years. Recently the farm’s owner, Dr. Harry Sears, decided he wanted “to see the students on the land for the next 100 years,” and gave the land outright to the college for its environmental programs. Among the environmental programs on the farm are a bird observation station that bands and records hundreds of birds annually, and the restored prairie that has become home to the highest concentration of the bob-white quail in Maryland. In addition, the prairie contributes to the quality of water entering the river by filtering rainwater runoff and serves as a reservoir of indigenous plant and animal species.

Hardesty concluded by recognizing the Chester Testers, who sample the water of the river and its tributaries, many of whom are alumni of the college. They “understand what it means to be a citizen in harmony with a place. George Washington would approve,” he concluded.

Chester River Riverkeeper Tim Trumbauer

Chester Riverkeeper Tim Trumbauer then delivered the annual report on the state of the river. He began with a slide show – “The Good, the Bad, the ?,” alternating photos of positive aspects of the river, negative impacts including algae blooms, stormwater runoff, and unhealthy development, and photos of ShoreRivers volunteer Tom Pearson – with the audience urged to cheer the good, boo the bad, and shout “Ahoy, Tom!” They responded enthusiastically!

Trumbauer said the heart of the program is the water quality monitoring, which measures several variables including temperature, acidity, clarity, and the presence of nutrients, sediment and algae. There are more than 60 Chester Testers, sampling water at sites around Kent and Queen Anne’s counties using equipment supplied by the Lamotte Company and testing facilities at Washington College. Volunteers come from Heron Point, Kent School, Gunston School and other local organizations.

The three key points arise from the testing results, Trumbauer said.  One–there is pollution in the river.  Two–it derives from local sources; and three–restoration works to improve water quality. He noted that the Baltimore sewer system and the Conowingo dam are not significant contributors to the state of the river, whereas agricultural practices, residential lawn care and stormwater runoff from the towns in the two counties are major sources of the current pollution. But the water in the river and its tributaries has improved from a D+ grade 10 years ago to a C+ the last several years, largely due to restoration practices. Nitrogen and phosphorus have been reduced, and water clarity is noticeably improved. In another 10 years, he said, we can hope to see the grade improved to B+.

Trumbauer said there are 77 ongoing restoration projects in the Chester River watershed, which together have resulted in a reduction of pollution entering the river by 31,000 pounds of nitrogen pollution, 10,000 pounds of phosphorus, and 1.3 million pounds of sediment.

Slide from the presentation showed happy swimmers enjoying the river.

It can be safe to swim in the river, he said, as long as it is not within 48 hours of a heavy rainfall and the swimmer has no open wounds. However, swimmers should shower after leaving the river.  He also recommended checking out the current state of a river at the SwimGuide website.  This site covers water quality for over 7,000 freshwater and marine beaches and popular swimming areas in Canada, the USA, Mexico, New Zealand, Australia, and the Bahamas.  They even have a free downloadable app for your phone!

To do their part for the health of the river, he said, farmers need to study and implement best practices for fertilizing their crops and for using pesticides. Homeowners should also reduce the amount of fertilizer they use, and introduce native plants into their lawns and gardens. “And tell your neighbors and support us,” he concluded.

Emily Harris, ShoreRivers watershed manager, followed up with hints for homeowners on making their lawns and gardens river-friendly. Reducing the use of turf grasses and fertilizers, and putting the emphasis on native plants – especially in rain gardens and buffers– can make a big difference, she said. ShoreRivers sponsors a series of yard workshops, conducted by master gardeners, that can help individual homeowners arrive at a plan that fits their own property.

A lively question-and-answer period concluded the evening.  It was clear from both the number and the detail of the questions asked that the audience members were well-informed and very concerned about the state of our waterways.

This meeting was one of five “State of the Rivers” series across the area. The final presentation which will cover the Wye and Chester Rivers and the Eastern Bay will be held at 5:30 pm on Wednesday, May 16 at the Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center, 600 Discover Lane, in Graysonville.  Speakers there will include the Miles-Wye Riverkeeper Elle Bassett and the Chester Riverkeeper Tim Trumbauer.

ShoreRivers has a large cohort of volunteers–citizen scientists, river testers, and others who help to gather data and work on the various projects.  Anyone interested in becoming a member, donating or volunteering for a project should visit the ShoreRivers website or contact Kristan Droter at kdroter@shorerivers.org or 443.385.0511.

Volunteers regularly take samples of the river water and vegetation. The compiled data helps in monitoring water quality and tracking any changes in the river or the surrounding flora and fauna.

###

 

Mid-Shore Authors: The Unexpected Environmentalist J.I. Rodale with Andrew Case

Share

It’s pretty clear that J.I. Rodale did not set off in life to be what we now call an “environmentalist.” The godfather of the “natural food” lifestyle, founder of Prevention magazine, and advocate of organic farming, Rodale saw himself first and foremost as a publisher.

That’s one of the many takeaways from Washington College professor Andrew Case’s new book, “The Organic Profit:
Rodale and the Making of Marketplace Environmentalism,” (University of Washington Press) which chronicles Rodale’s unique role in building a marketplace for organic products and supplements.

Nonetheless, Rodale began a movement that eventually led to the popularity of organic products, the awareness of the dangers of pesticides, and the importance for taking care of one’s own body and what it consumes. All which encompass the fundamentals of our current environmental movement in this country.

All of this proved to be irresistible to Case whose scholarship has focused on the history of environmentalism and consumer culture. He began to document Rodale’s rise after World War II, the rapid success of the Rodale Press, and a family business that has left a permanent legacy in the annals of the American environmental history.

The Spy sat down with the author at Cromwell Hall on Washington College’s campus to talk about the overarching themes found in Organic Profit and the fascinating profile of one of America’s great entrepreneurs.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. Please go here for more information on “The Organic Profit:
Rodale and the Making of Marketplace Environmentalism.”

 

Horn Point’s Chesapeake Champion Jerry Harris Takes a Bow

Share

For the 6th year in a row, the folks from Horn Point Laboratory gathered at Waterfowl Festival Headquarters on Harrison Street last Friday to once again celebrate the achievements of a special individual from the Mid-Shore who had made a substantial contribution to the environmental health of the Chesapeake Bay.

This year, Jerry Harris, former businessman and now farm owner in Dorchester, received the award for his work in working with Horn Point and Ducks Unlimited (where he serves on the national Board of Directors) to host educational programs for students wishing to become wildlife managers.

Harris joins an extraordinary list of conservation leaders as a Chesapeake Champion They include Amy Haines of Out of the Fire Restaurant; Chip Akridge, owner of Harleigh Farms; Albert Pritchett of the Waterfowl Festival and Waterfowl Chesapeake; Jordan and Alice Lloyd of the Bartlett Pear; and Jim Brighton of the Maryland Biodiversity Project.

The Spy was there to capture some of the evenings best moments as Horn Point Director Mike Roman hosted the gathering of two hundred guests.

This video is approximately four minutes in length. For more information about the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science Horn Point Laboratory please go here

New Solar Field and Sustainability Take Center Stage at Horn Point

Share

This spring, the switch was flipped on a new solar field spanning 10 acres on the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s Horn Point Laboratory campus. The 11,000 solar panels are expected to generate the equivalent of 50% of the campus’ annual energy consumption.

“The solar field is another example of how we are using innovative ways to reduce our environmental footprint and engage with the community,” said Mike Roman, director of UMCES’ Horn Point Laboratory, where scientists engage in world-renowned research in oceanography, water quality, and restoration of seagrasses, marshes and shellfish. “This is a milestone in a long journey to carbon neutrality and non-dependence on fossil fuel.” 

The project is a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) in which Standard Solar installs and operates the solar panels in exchange for the use of land. UMCES agrees to purchase the equivalent energy being generated over the next 20 years from Standard Solar.

The campus also put the final touches on a new solar canopy over a 46-space, crushed stone parking lot that will offset the cost of four level-II electrical vehicle charging stations. This project is thanks to a grant from the Maryland Energy Administration.

The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science is a signatory to the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (Second Nature) and has launched a number programs aimed at reducing its environmental footprint, including setting goals for reducing Green House Gas (GHG) emissions at each of its four laboratories, upgrading aging infrastructure to newer, more energy-efficient alternatives, and building all new campus buildings to at least the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Silver standard or equivalent. UMCES was recently awarded a Mark of Distinction for meeting its 25% Carbon Reduction Goal.  

“Higher education has a key role in shaping a sustainable society. It’s extremely important that we lead by example,” said Peter Goodwin, president of the University of Maryland Center for

Environmental Science. He also serves Vice Chancellor for Sustainability for the 12-institution University System of Maryland. “We are committed as an institution to understanding and the protecting the environment, and we must be a leader finding ways to reduce energy consumption and increase sustainability.”

 

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

Share

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”

Share

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.