Waterfowl Festival Wraps Up Its 47th Year

Waterfowl Festival had many successes as well as some challenges during its 47th year. Despite the cold temperatures, the streets of Easton were full of people of all ages enjoying food, music and fall weather, making the downtown area vibrant with activity and showcasing the best of an Eastern Shore fall. Yet bustling streets are not the only measure of success for the town-wide, non-profit event; this year’s official attendance came in at approximately 14,300 people, a decrease from the last several years.

“Festival has always been about celebrating our community – through wildlife art, our sporting heritage, and the Eastern Shore way of life. We are very pleased to have attracted so many visitors to town,” says Festival President Albert Pritchett. “As an event, however, tickets sales are also a measure of our continued success, so the reduced number of tickets purchased is something we’ll be thinking about as we plan for the future.”

The more than fifty Festival Chairman – who volunteer countless hours and days to manage everything from venues and exhibits to ticket sales, transportation and security – were supported by a veritable army of more than 1,200 people who also gave their time to the weekend. “The Chairs and the community volunteers are the engine that make the Festival unique,” says Judy Knight, Festival Volunteer Chair, who is a volunteer herself. “We are so grateful to everyone who came out to make our 47th year a great success!”

The Festival weekend kicked off with Waterfowl Chesapeake’s Premiere Night Party, attended by more than 600 guests – including corporate supporters and art buyers – who turned out to enjoy an evening of food, cocktails and a preview of the Festival’s five downtown art galleries. The “Making Way for Ducklings” Art and Decoy Auction, held that evening to benefit the Wm. A. Perry Scholarship Fund, successfully raised more than $8,000 that will benefit local college-bound students. “We felt the evening was a great fun overall and were very pleased with the number of new people that joined the party,” said Waterfowl Chesapeake Executive Director Margaret Enloe.

The Chesapeake Conservation Pavilion, sponsored by Easton Utilities, hosted twenty conservation exhibits this year, a kids’ scavenger hunt and offered “Chesapeake Snap Chats” – short talks by experts that highlighted everything from oyster restoration efforts to using mosquito-larvae-eating zooplankton for pest control to changes in student education programs. It was also the location for the Friday morning “Coffee & Conservation” breakfast, co-hosted by Waterfowl and the Talbot County Office of Tourism and Economic Development, where more than 100 local business and conservation representatives networked and heard about innovative efforts to improve quality of life, build business and conservation partnerships and ways in which ‘green’ financing can be supportive of capital improvement projects.

In the five Festival Art Galleries, more than 110 of the world’s finest nature and wildlife artists – some here for their first Festival, some who were returning favorites – came from all over the world. Featured Artist Julia Rogers had a great weekend, selling “The Long Stretch” to a Festival guest from Virginia, who came specifically to purchase the piece. Master Carver Richard Jones was thrilled to sell several of his unique, interpretive bird sculptures as well, having one of his best events of the year.

If the number of children playing is any indication, families certainly seemed to enjoy the more family-friendly atmosphere at Easton Middle School venue which included an expanded food vendor area, a birds-of-prey handler and a hay bale maze. Several artisans in the Artisans’ Crafts and Gifts there reported selling out and seemed to enjoy the new layout for the venue. The ever-popular Delmarva DockDogs® continued to draw spectators but the temperatures meant fewer dogs made the leap into the chilly pool. Across town, temperatures didn’t stop our regional hunting dogs from showing off their skills at the Retriever Demonstrations, though the hardy spectators there and during the fishing activities were bundled up tight.

The expanded Sportsman’s Pavilion focused on the regions’ sporting heritage was a beehive of activity all weekend. With two new tents, including an additional space for duck and goose call-makers, several major vendors completely sold out of their wares. Activities onsite like the new Kids Goose & Duck Calling Clinic, led by champions from the World Waterfowl Calling Contest, saw registration fill quickly and helped introduce at least sixty of the youngest Festival guests to the nuances of duck and goose calling. Across the street, the Buy, Sell, Swap offered visitors the opportunity to learn about the Shore’s waterfowl-related heritage by visiting with traders and collectors. At the Harry M. Walsh Artifacts Exhibit next door guests had the singular opportunity to see museum exhibitions and private historic collections – including one belonging to a young, 13-year-old collector.

“The Festival owes a great deal of thanks to our many corporate, business, promotional and non-profit partners for their new or continued support this year,” says Pritchett. “We absolutely couldn’t do it without each and every one of them and the services that the town and county also provide. We are particularly grateful for the funding we received from the Talbot County Arts Council and Maryland State Arts Council.”

Waterfowl Festival will be back next year on the second weekend in November, the 9th – 11th, 2018.

Riverkeeper Pumpout Boat Tops Last Year’s “Pump Don’t Dump” Season

Vessel operator Jim Freeman

In spring 2016, Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy (MRC), with funding from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources in conjunction with the Clean Vessel Act administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, purchased a 22’ Pump Kleen® pumpout boat for the Miles and Wye Rivers. For the past two years, the pumpout boat operated from May to October.In its 2016 season, the boat pumped over 8,500 gallons of waste from almost 350 boats. During the 2017 season, MRC continued its partnership with the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum (CBMM) in St. Michaels and extended the pumpout season through October, including CBMM’s OysterFest. In its 2017 season, the boat increased its statistics by almost 50%, pumping over 12,000 gallons of waste from over 400 boats.

The pumpout boat operates in partnership with CBMM, where the boat is based. CBMM donates free dockage, storage and use of their land-based pump out station to offload the waste from the pumpout boat. The sewage waste removed from boats goes directly to the recently updated St. Michaels Wastewater Treatment Plant that provides high quality treatment.

MRC’s pumpout boat is the first of its kind on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The mobile pumpout facility significantly reduces nutrient pollution and harmful bacteria introduced by recreational boaters. The vessel allows boats to conveniently and properly dispose of waste rather than discharging it into our waterways. This service is greatly needed since there are no pumpout services on the Wye River and very few on the Miles. Because these services are limited, existing pumpout stations are often very crowded, and boaters are discouraged by long wait times or unable to reach land-based pumpout facilities.

“We are once again very proud to have had the opportunity to partner with Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy on this now annual initiative,” says CBMM President Kristen Greenaway. “CBMM is committed to helping protect the Chesapeake Bay, both environmentally and historically, and the pumpout boat is a great tool in this respect.”

“We are thrilled with the increased results of our second season,” says MRC Executive Director and Miles-Wye Riverkeeper Jeff Horstman. “We want to thank the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum for all their help and support. The pumpout boat has a direct and measurable impact on clean water, which contributes to our mission to protect and restore our rivers. Additionally, this fun little boat, expertly operated by Jim Freeman, has been one of our best public outreach tools, educating people who use the river the most on how much our rivers need help.”

For more information, please contact Jeff Horstman at 443.385.0511 or jeff@midshoreriverkeeper.org.

Midshore Riverkeepers Host Creation Care Workshop November 30

St. Luke’s congregation in Cambridge planting native trees in St. Luke’s second environmental stewardship project.

Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy (MRC), in partnership with Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake, will host a one-hour “Creation Care” workshop to bring together the faith community and the environmental community. The workshop, which is part of MRC’s Stewards for Streams Faith Initiative, will be held on Thursday, November 30 from 5:30-6:30pm at the Eastern Shore Conservation Center, located at 114 S. Washington Street in Easton.

Faith organizations and dedicated individuals of any denomination are encouraged to attend. Through this workshop, MRC will offer three free ways that the faith community can engage their congregations in environmental stewardship and education. MRC and Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake have already collaborated with 10 churches to install rain gardens and native trees that beautify the church grounds while reducing pollution and benefiting the local environment. MRC and Interfaith Partners can provide a menu of options that go beyond in-the-ground projects, including youth trips and service learning, adult education programs, and advocacy.

“Faith organizations are pillars in our community that can stand as examples of environmental stewardship,” says Suzanne Sullivan, MRC’s Stewards for Streams coordinator. “They have an audience of dedicated individuals and families who can help spread environmental messages and actions.”

Participating congregations include: Grace Lutheran, Presbyterian Church, and St. Mark’s in Easton, and St. Luke United Methodist and Waugh Chapel in Cambridge, as well as Greater New Hope Baptist in Preston. To RSVP for this event, email Suzanne@midshoreriverkeeper.org or call 443-385-0511.

Opinion: Tangier Island needs Help no Matter how you Define its Woes by Tom Horton

When I began a documentary film this year about climate change and the Chesapeake, I knew that even though local residents were affected by it, I’d never be able to record most of them talking about sea level rise.

They know what they see. And around Dorchester — Maryland’s lowest-lying county and the focus of our film — residents see erosion of the shoreline, high tides that seem to come more often and forests dying along the marsh edges.

It’s easy to talk past one another, we who are comfortable with the lingo and concepts of climate science, and those who are not — even while all talking about the same thing.

This was on my mind recently when my friend, James “Ooker” Eskridge, the mayor of Tangier Island, VA, appeared on a CNN Town Hall with former Vice President Al Gore, one of the world’s foremost proponents of how humans are warming the planet.

Eskridge, who’s not convinced that this is really happening, was invited on the cable TV show because of a phone call he got earlier this summer that brought him in early from fishing his crab pots.

The caller was President Donald Trump. He’d heard about Tangier’s plight: battered by erosion that will soon spell its demise if it can’t find an estimated $25 million to $30 million to bulwark its Bay shore with rock. He’d also heard that the island of some 400 residents, with a culture harking back to 17th century England, had voted nearly 90 percent for him last November.

Ooker heard Gore out, but maintained: “I’ve lived there 65 years and I just don’t see it (sea level rise).”

I talked about the disjunct between the two men with Michael Scott, a colleague at Salisbury University and a professor of geography whose specialty is environmental hazards.

He and I are both in Gore’s camp on climate; but Scott has as good a feel as any scientist I know for explaining the nuances and complexities of such global, long-term phenomena at the level of the average citizen.

“I was upset that CNN portrayed (Eskridge) as this sort of pro-Trump nut job,” Scott said. Eskridge is not wrong at all when he says Tangier’s problem is erosion, the professor said, adding that it’s happening very quickly and is very noticeable.

“But there are really two processes going on and they are not separate,” Scott added.

The second process he refers to is sea level rise, propelled by a warmer climate that is melting glaciers. That’s exacerbated by land around the Bay sinking back to its original contours after being pushed upward by the glaciers that extended into Pennsylvania during the last Ice Age.

Add to that the thermal expansion of the oceans as they warm and the potential slowing of the Gulf Stream that could back up more seawater in the Chesapeake.

Rising sea levels make erosion worse. But Scott’s not at all surprised that Tangier’s mayor said that he “didn’t see it (sea level rise).”

Sea level rise at this point, unlike erosion, “is happening very slowly,” coming up mere inches throughout Eskridge’s lifetime on the Chesapeake.

“It’s been slight enough up to now that it’s actually very difficult to measure unless you’re taking very precise scientific measurements,” Scott said.

But the overwhelming scientific consensus, he continued, is that the Earth’s temperatures have reached the point where a measurable acceleration in sea level is under way. In the Bay, it will add 2 feet or more to everyday tides by around 2050.

The forecasts for 2100 are less certain because we can’t tell how fast the massive ice sheets of Antarctica will melt. But estimates foresee everyday tides 5.5 feet above present levels, “and that’s probably on the low end . . . every time we look at it, it seems our estimates are too low,” Scott said.

A couple wrinkles disguise the coming impact further, he said.

First, it is quite possible for waters locally to shallow up as seas rise. In our filming, we’ve found examples of this in Dorchester County. The sediment eroding from shorelines and disintegrating marshes has to go somewhere, and it may fill in channels and other places where currents carry it.

The larger complication, Scott said, “is that sea level rise is not linear.” In other words, it isn’t going to happen steadily, inch by inch, over the years. That would be relatively easy to predict and respond to.

Unfortunately, the path to 2, 3, 5 or more feet of daily tide around the Bay is going to resemble a curve that steepens as average high tide levels rise.

“The trouble with an increasing curve is that for a while, things will seem as if they’re OK, but then the rate’s going to really increase and you’re going to lose the ability to adjust to it,” Scott said.

Helping localities around the Chesapeake adjust is where Scott’s passion lies; and he said we’re still at a point on the curve where we can act reasonably and cost-effectively.

“This (Delmarva) Peninsula is very precious to me and to my family . . . we want to preserve it for our children and we can do that if we are honest with what’s happening and with how we can try to respond,” he said.

He finds most people don’t care too much about why the tides and the erosion are getting worse, or about the politics of climate change.

“They want to know what is going to happen to them and what they can do about it,” Scott said. For many, the real threat won’t come in their lifetimes, and they aren’t likely to pay tens of thousands of dollars to jack up their houses.

The key he said, is to honestly acknowledge the threat and install public policies that over time guide “the way that development takes place, rearrange the way people build their homes, the way roads are maintained.

“And as we lose marshes we are going to need spaces on the landward edge for them to move into. . . . We’re going to need to buy the development rights to such places from the people who own them now . . . a very appropriate response.”

In low-lying places like Dorchester County, he said he thinks that “if we can get a hold of this in the next five to seven years, we have time to fix it that way. If we wait, then we will be in crisis mode, and things are going to happen in a very shocking and upsetting way.”

As for Tangier Island, it won’t make much difference now whether Mayor Eskridge and his townspeople vote yea or nay on closing coal-fired plants to reduce the long-term buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Tangier needs rock, pretty soon, and no change in energy policies is going to change that.

Even the best seawall at Tangier is not the same as a dike, which would cost hundreds of millions of dollars and realistically isn’t going to happen. Even less likely are Trump’s assurances to Eskridge that his island would persist for “hundreds more years.”

But a seawall would buy time for another generation or two of Tangier residents to continue the island’s unique culture and heritage, time enough for hundreds of thousands of us to visit and enjoy that — a reasonable investment in my opinion.

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 reflect those of the Bay Journal.

ShoreRivers: The Shore’s Uncompromising Voice for Clean Rivers by Jeff Horstman and Isabel Junkin Hardesty

 

The Eastern Shore’s rivers weave through farmland, forests, marshes and towns on their way to the Chesapeake Bay. Each river is unique, with its own character, but they share in common the fish, crabs, waterfowl and people that depend on them.

Much as these individual rivers ultimately come together as part of the Bay, three great Eastern Shore conservation organizations are uniting. Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy, Chester River Association and Sassafras River Association are merging into a single nonprofit, ShoreRivers, Inc., to serve as a leading voice for healthy waterways on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

Through science-based advocacy, restoration and education, ShoreRivers will protect and restore Eastern Shore waters that flow into the Chesapeake Bay. We will work collaboratively with our communities, yet maintain an uncompromising voice for clean rivers and the living resources they support.

Our three legacy organizations each have a deep history of working collaboratively to improve the health of the waters in our communities, and that mission will continue. By joining together, we become more than just the sum of our parts – we will be one committed voice with more influence on policy, more capacity to enact programs, and more potential to undertake large restoration projects that directly reduce pollution.

We will need that influence to tackle the major issues affecting our environment. ShoreRivers will now be a statewide leader on conservation issues so that when we travel to Annapolis to meet with elected officials or to testify for legislation, we will have the backing of our 3,500 supporters who care about our waters and our Eastern Shore quality of life.

We will also have increased capacity to implement bigger, better projects. That means expanded work with our agricultural partners, broader funding to encourage innovative technologies that reduce pollution, and region-wide restoration projects that capture polluted runoff before it enters our rivers.

From Kennedyville to Kent Island, from Cambridge to Crumpton, ShoreRivers staff, partners and volunteers will work together across the Eastern Shore. You’ll see us out on the rivers and creeks as well as in farm fields and forests. Our leadership, staff and board of directors are comprised of members of the three legacy organizations.

The main headquarters for ShoreRivers will be in downtown Easton at the Eastern Shore Conservation Center. We will also maintain regional offices in Chestertown and Georgetown, the former offices of the Chester River Association and Sassafras River Association, respectively. And we will heavily rely on watershed advisory boards for each major river to continue our strong local connections.

An important part of our mission is our Waterkeeper program. Waterkeepers are full-time advocates who regularly patrol and monitor their local bodies of water. Including the ShoreRivers merger, there are now 17 Waterkeepers working in the Chesapeake Bay region – 11 in Maryland. Waterkeepers focus on their individual waterbodies, but frequently work together with other “Keepers.” ShoreRivers will have four Riverkeepers: Jeff Horstman is the Miles-Wye Riverkeeper; Emmett Duke is the Sassafras Riverkeeper; Matt Pluta is the Choptank Riverkeeper and Tim Trumbauer is the new Chester Riverkeeper.

Despite encouraging signs of clearer water and more grass beds in recent years, the waterways of the Eastern Shore remain polluted – they are still threatened with excess nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment runoff. At ShoreRivers, we believe there are real solutions to these threats, and we are committed to developing projects and programs that will improve the health of our waters and keep them robust and beautiful for all of us – now and in the future.

Jeff Horstman is the Miles-Wye Riverkeeper and Executive Director of ShoreRivers and Isabel Junkin Hardesty is the former Chester Riverkeeper and new Regional Director of ShoreRivers.

 

 

Bay Ecosystem: Relationships Before Reason with Peter Forbes

The Eastern Shore Land Conservancy’s annual planning conference has a reputation of “shaking it up” every year with the inclusion of sometimes radical points of view on ecosystem protection with a full range of political and social perspectives, and this year was no different.

Peter Forbes, with such important credentials as having a long career in the land conservation movement, an award winning nature photographer, the author of four books, and since 2001, the owner of a working berry and sheep breed stock farm in Northern Vermont is one those with a unique point of view. As a keynote speaker for the ESLC’s 18th meeting on Kent Island. Peter may hold conventional views of the state of our environment and the threats of global warming, his thoughts of finding solutions are not your typical policy or political prescriptions.

In fact, Peter’s first weapon in the battle to confront the world’s climate challenges is as simple as forming lasting relationships with those who may disagree on what needs to be done. Everything else, according to Peter, is secondary to the need and the importance of finding common ground and purpose with those who work the land.

In his Spy interview, Peter talks frankly about this enormous gap in conservation thinking and how it can be the real solution to moving forward.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. For more information about the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy please go here

 

Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy Offers glassybaby Candles for Holiday Giving

Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy (MRC), along with Waterkeepers Chesapeake, has formed a partnership that brings the West and East Coasts together in support of a cleaner Chesapeake Bay. In glassybaby hot shops in Seattle and Berkeley, more than 80 glassblowers handcraft molten glass into unique and functional votive candles and drinking glasses in a dazzling array of colors. In addition to creating beautiful products, glassybaby reports that it “actively supports causes that help people, animals and our planet heal.” To date, glassybaby has given over $7 million to a wide variety of nonprofit organizations.

A gaggle of shimmering Chesapeake glassybaby votive candles.

MRC is one of 19 Riverkeeper organizations that make up Waterkeepers Chesapeake, a coalition of independent programs working to make the waters of the Chesapeake and Coastal Bays swimmable and fishable. MRC is part of this alliance that monitors and cares for all the rivers that flow to the Chesapeake Bay, a watershed that covers six states.

Waterkeepers Chesapeake and glassybaby have joined forces to launch a beautiful new votive candle called Chesapeake, glassybaby’s first product for the Chesapeake Bay region. The Chesapeake votive captures the colors and clarity that are the essence of the Bay. Under glassybaby’s power of giving program, 10% of the price of each Chesapeake glassybaby will be donated to Waterkeepers Chesapeake to help support their work from New York to Virginia.

The glassybaby candles will be available at Easton’s famous Waterfowl Festival, which takes place November 10-12, 2017. NOTE: Waterkeepers Chesapeake will receive 10% of ALL SALES (not just Chesapeake) made during Waterfowl Festival (November 10-12) and up to 2 weeks afterwards. Use the code “waterfowl” when ordering.

Or purchase your very own Chesapeake glassybaby online at midshoreriverkeeper.org/glassybaby. For more information, contact Kristan Droter at kdroter@midshoreriverkeeper.org or 443.385.0511.

Margaret Enloe on Waterfowl Festival’s Big Challenge

According to Margaret Enloe, the executive director of Waterfowl Chesapeake, the ‘sister’ organization for the legendary 47-year-old Waterfowl Festival, the event has a challenge on its hands.

Drawing over 16,000 people to downtown Easton every year, the Festival is popular celebration of the Eastern Shore heritage and wildlife art.  The challenge is that many of its participants no longer realize it’s a non-profit and that the proceeds benefit waterfowl-related conservation work carried out by Chesapeake.  It’s a bit like those who enjoy all the fun that Christmas brings but don’t have a clue what the real purpose of it might be.

The original aim of the event’s founders in 1970 was to come up with an exciting fundraiser to help support local waterfowl conservation efforts. Well, they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams on that front, but the price for that success has meant that the November celebration’s real purpose has been lost for many.

Edloe, and the board of directors of Waterfowl Festival, along with its charitable foundation, Chesapeake Waterfowl, is trying to fix this dilemma  this year.  The organization will be launching a special community challenge, entitled “Community in Conservation, ” funding project throughout the Festival that should help connect visitors to its long-standing conservation mission.

As Margaret notes in her interview with the Spy, the Community in Conservation project will start with providing vital matching funds for programs at the Mid-shore Riverkeeper Conservancy, University of Maryland’s Horn Point Laboratory, and Delaware Wildlands.

This video is approximately three minutes in length. For more information about the Community in Conservation program please go here

State Slashes Oyster Restoration Acreage Goal

The state of Maryland has decided to reduce the large-scale oyster restoration project goal in the Little Choptank River after boaters ran aground at another sanctuary and some of the man-made reefs there had to be rebuilt.

The sanctuaries are among five planned to be built as part of a federal-state agreement to improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

The project, which grows and plants oysters on man-made beds in protected waterways, has been touted by environmentalists and generally opposed by watermen. Numerous agencies have agreed to a longterm goal of growing oysters on at least 50 percent of restorable oyster habitat.

The habitat goal for the Little Choptank River sanctuary has been cut by 118 acres — about one-fourth of the original target.

This means there will be roughly 19.5 million fewer oysters at this site alone — enough to filter up to 1.03 billion liters of water per day.

Oysters’ capacity to filter water can vary widely depending on temperature, salinity and other factors, according to Matthew Gray, an assistant professor specializing in oyster feeding habits at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.

A construction error in Harris Creek — Maryland’s first large-scale oyster restoration site — caused damage to multiple boats, as vessels grounded or scraped against stone-based reefs that did not meet five feet of navigational clearance, officials said.

Skeptical of oyster restoration from the start, watermen have complained of trotlines getting stuck in new stone river bottoms and boats being damaged by oyster reef “high spots” in Harris Creek. A trotline is a long, heavy fishing line with short, baited lines suspended from it. They are often used to catch blue crabs in Maryland.

Watermen depend on their boats to earn a living. No boat means no fishing. No fishing means no income.

The extent of damage to boats as a result of Harris Creek groundings varied widely, said Jeff Harris, a Tilghman Island waterman. Even a relatively insignificant repair requires taking the boat out of the water.

“You could lose maybe three days of work,” he said.

The state’s natural resources agency cited navigational risks for boaters and the inconvenience to trotlining in its decision to curb construction in shallower spots in its second oyster sanctuary — the Little Choptank — going forward, according to Chris Judy, Maryland Department of Natural Resources shellfish division director.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District was tasked with designing the reefs in Harris Creek and hired contractor Argo Systems LLC, based in Hanover, Maryland, to build them.

But after stone-reef construction in Harris Creek in 2015, the location was left with “high spots,” according to Angie Sowers, oyster restoration study manager at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Baltimore District.

Argo Systems could not be reached after repeated requests for comment.

The “high spots” in Harris Creek have since been leveled to meet specifications determined by the oyster recovery partners — the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the Army Corps and the Oyster Recovery Partnership.

But for the Little Choptank, 118 fewer acres may have greater implications.

The oyster recovery partners finished planting 350 acres in Harris Creek in 2015, and it has been touted as the largest oyster restoration in the world. The Little Choptank project was scheduled to overtake Harris Creek, with 440 acres of river bottom to be covered with restored reef by late 2018.

In 2009, then-President Barack Obama signed the The Chesapeake Bay Protection and Restoration Executive Order, setting a goal of restoring 20 tributaries by 2025.

The goal was amended by the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Agreement, which set out to restore oyster populations in 10 tributaries — five in Maryland and five in Virginia — by 2025, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Under the amended agreement, the oyster restoration partners agreed to restore 50 to 100 percent of “currently restorable oyster habitat” in each tributary, according to a 2011 Oyster Metrics Workgroup report. Restorable habitat has hard riverbottom, suitable for man-made reefs, which keep the bivalves from sinking into sediment and dying.

“In order to qualify as successfully restored,” said Stephanie Westby, oyster coordinator at NOAA’s Chesapeake Bay Office, at least 50 percent of the tributary’s suitable habitat must be restored.

The Little Choptank had 685 restorable acres at the project’s onset, Judy said. The original goal was to restore 64 percent of that restorable habitat — a total of 440 acres. Now Maryland has pared back the target.

Though the state is removing the shallower areas from the Little Choptank’s restoration plan, Judy said, “there is a commitment to make sure it’s 50 percent and we will do that.”

The Little Choptank’s new, 50-percent target is 342.5 acres.

“We’re disappointed,” Allison Colden, fisheries scientist at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service. “The state is doing the bare minimum to meet restoration standards and setting a bad precedent for future oyster restoration in Maryland.”

Judy maintained that the state’s only obligation is to restore at least 50 percent and that the department will do that.

At the new 342.5-acre target, 390 million fewer spat — baby oysters — will be planted in the Little Choptank.

The mortality rate of spat developed at the state’s Horn Point Hatchery is regularly 90 percent or higher once they are released into river, Judy said. The spat are highly vulnerable because of their small size, he added.

At a 95 percent mortality rate, 390 million spat translates to 19.5 million adult oysters.

No more stone

The amended version of the Little Choptank restoration also aims to avoid using stone and other substrate foundations for reef construction, a practice the watermen community has opposed from the project’s inception.

Robert Brown, president of the Maryland Watermen’s Association, said NOAA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers “didn’t do their job. They had criteria they were supposed to go about.”

“They put so many stones in there that it has disturbed the places where (watermen) crabbed at,” Brown said. “When you’re running a trotline down … you have a long line with bait on it and it’ll get hung underneath the stones and your line can’t come up.”

Harris, who took a 15-minute break from working on the water to speak with Capital News Service Oct. 20, said the oyster recovery partners “ruined Harris Creek for trotlining.”

He also pointed out that the lines actually shift with the tides, increasing the likelihood of the baited-lines getting snagged.

Brown added: “I don’t wanna see ‘em use no more stone, anywhere.”

The decision to avoid stone and substrate-based reefs raises concerns about the filtering potential of the oyster restoration.

Stone-based oyster reefs in Harris Creek produced an oyster density about four times greater per square meter than mixed-shell based reefs, according to NOAA’s 2016 Oyster Reef Monitoring Report.

“If you’re constructing reefs … for the oysters’ sake, then that points to the stone being a very promising material,” Westby said.

She added: “the science we have indicates” that oysters seem to do better on stone.

Constructing the remaining reefs exclusively from shell magnifies the shortage of recycled shell.

Shell is acquired from restaurants, which can recycle oyster and clam shells, or by purchasing out-of-state shells.

The Department of Natural Resources is also seeking a permit to dredge buried oyster shells from waterways, Judy said. “Every possible option is being pursued, whether it’s in-state or out-of-state.”

As it stands, the Little Choptank is approximately 63 acres shy of reaching the new 342.5-acre goal, Judy said.

In other words, the oyster recovery partners have completed more than 80 percent of that project with various reef-bases, including stone and substrate. The remainder will be built with a shell base.

In-the-water work in the Little Choptank began in 2014 and is expected to be completed mid-summer 2018. But that may take up to a year longer than expected “because you have to accumulate the shell to complete the project,” Judy said.

By Alex Mann

Pickering Creek Announces Late Fall Programs for the Public

Pickering Creek’s four miles of trails are open to the public dawn to dusk every day.  In addition to wandering on your own the Center invites the community to join us at one of our upcoming programs, they are a great opportunities to get outside this fall.

A student at the Center looking at a skink he captured on his woods walk.

Introduction to Bird Language will be held on Saturday, November 4 from 9:00 – 11:00am. Participants will discover the language of birds and listen in on what they tell us about the world around us during this fun morning at the Center’s newest tract, Peterson Woods at Pickering Creek Audubon Center. You will sharpen your observation skills and uncover the keys to understanding unique patterns of behavior common to birds through guided instruction and outdoor activities. You’ll see birds and the world we share with them in a whole new way. The program requires no experience in bird watching and is for adults. More bird fun is offered the following week with Hoot and Holler Owl Prowl on Friday, November 10 from 5:30 – 7:30pm. Take a break from the crowds in town and use your senses to discover nightlife on an evening hike at Pickering Creek! Participants will listen for Barred Owls calling, “Whoooo cooks for youuu,” identify the rambunctious hoots of the Great Horned Owl, and awe at the whinnies coming from our smallest, the Eastern Screech Owl.  Adults and families with children are welcome as we search out Owls at the Center.

Pickering offers a pre Thanksgiving exploration for our youngest friends with their parents and grandparents at Tiny Tots:  Totally Turkeys! on Thursday, November 16, 2017 from 10:00 – 11:00am. Bring your 3 to 5 year old to Pickering Creek for a morning of turkey tales, gobbling, outdoor exploration, and a craft.  We’ll start with a fall-theme turkey story before adventuring outside in search of turkey habitat.  Your tiny turkey will leave with a fun and creative turkey craft.

The season’s final offering is an opportunity to get outside, volunteer and make your community nature center even better.  At the Fall Cleanup on Saturday, December 9 from 9:00 am-12:00 pm you are invited to join Center staff for the last Saturday Service Day at Pickering Creek Audubon Center of the year. We will be painting inside our garden classroom during this down time between the fall and spring school field trip season.  We’ll also be clearing the leaves from the waterfront picnic area and making adjustments to the trails. Join us for a hearty morning of activity then stay for potluck lunch. If you’d like to sign up to attend a program at the Center please call 410 822 4903, reservations are strongly recommended as programs do sell out.