A Serious Warning from Horn Point Lab: Director Mike Roman Talks of Climate and Sea Levels

Yesterday afternoon, the President of the United States travelled to the Environmental Protection Agency’s headquarters in Washington to sign a number of executive orders to gut his predecessor’s hallmark Clean Power Plan and nullifying many of this country’s climate change efforts, reviving its coal industry, and, as the New York Times pointed out this morning, “effectively cede American leadership in the international campaign to curb the dangerous heating of the planet.”

There could be no better backdrop to the Spy’s recent interview with Michael Roman, director of the University of Maryland’s Horn Point Laboratory,  who, in no uncertain terms, warns of the grave consequences of these anti-science actions and policies, which will have profound consequences for the entire Chesapeake Bay ecological system.

From this very candid and forthright interview with Mike, we learn first hand from one of the most respected research centers in the world of the devastating impact that would take place with President Trump’s new initiatives to seriously dilute, if not completely withdraw, America’s pledge to honor the historic 2015 Paris Agreement to reduce America’s greenhouse gas emissions by more than one quarter below 2005 levels by 2025. 

This video is approximately six minutes in length. For more information about the Horn Point Laboratory and its mission please go here.

 

Black Rail Bird Population Sinking Fast as Rising Sea Level Drowns its Habitat

Getting to know the Eastern black rail has always been tough. The sparrow-size bird lives deep in marshes that are hard to access, and it is most active in the wee hours of the morning. Even then, it tends to scamper through dense vegetation, rather than fly — some call it a “feathered mouse.”

“We know almost nothing about this species,” says ornithologist Bryan Watts, director of the Center for Conservation Biology in Virginia. “It’s very tiny and incredibly secretive. Even most bird watchers have never seen this species before.”

Now, even hearing their call is unlikely. Its habitat, a delicately balanced zone deep within coastal marshes, is being flooded by the rising waters. And the Eastern black rail is disappearing fast — potentially becoming the first victim of sea level rise around the Chesapeake Bay and other areas of the East Coast.

Watts recently completed an exhaustive review of literature about the black rail, going back more than 100 years. His findings on the status and trends of the rail population were compiled in a 148-page report released in 2016.

“They are sort of evaporating around us,” Watts says.

The decline has been rapid and unexpected. Only 50 years ago, part of Dorchester County on Maryland’s Eastern Shore was a world-renowned hot spot for birders seeking a glimpse of the elusive black rail. Today, the black rails are gone from Elliott Island, and only a handful are left in the state. None have been seen in Virginia’s coastal marshes for a couple of years.

Their exact number doesn’t make much difference, Watts said, because the downward trend is so strong — Maryland numbers have fallen 90 percent in just 25 years.

“This species is not going to be sustainable in its landscape in the face of sea level rise,” he says. “It will be lost. Maybe in five years, maybe in 10 years. But it’s on the way out.”

David Brinker, an ornithologist with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, shares this assessment. He said that surveys for the state’s next Breeding Bird Atlas would start in 2022. “By which time,” he says, “we’ll be really lucky to find a black rail, unless some miracle happens.”

The bird is listed as endangered in both Maryland and Virginia, as well as several other states along the Atlantic Coast. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering protecting it through the federal Endangered Species Act and is expected to make a recommendation in September 2018.

Historically, the black rail has received little attention. Along with its deep marsh habitat and nocturnal activity, the black rail is quite small. Its body is about 6 inches long, with dark feathers and white speckles on its wings, back and abdomen. It has brilliant red eyes. But hardly anyone sees it — even among professional ornithologists. “I’ve seen one in my lifetime,” Brinker says.

The closest most birders — and scientists — come to the bird is hearing males call in the early morning hours of breeding season: “kickee-doo” or “kic-kic-ker.”

Biologists “look” for black rails by playing recordings of the call and listening for a response. Even that is difficult because the birds are most active between midnight and 4 a.m. Surveys sometimes require maneuvering boats in shallow-water marshes in the dark.

Black rails were once found from Texas up the East Coast as far as Massachusetts. Over time, they have suffered major habitat loss as marshes were buried to make way for urban growth. Places such as Cambridge, MA; Queens, NY; Atlantic City, NJ; and Baltimore once supported black rails. The historic ditching and draining of marshes eliminated more habitat.

But scientists believe the recent, rapid demise of black rails is linked to rising water.
Black rails live in high marshes that, with slightly higher elevation, typically escape the daily tidal over-wash. But the birds forage for invertebrates, such as water beetles, in areas that have wet soil or even a thin covering of water.

It’s a narrow band that Watts describes as a “hydrology tightrope.” With sea level rise, he said that he believes the nests are increasingly inundated by storms and unusually high tides. If a nest is ruined in a single year, the population can rebuild the next year. But if nests are drowned more frequently — and eggs along with them — the birds gradually disappear.

The birds can adjust by moving upslope but, because marshes are relatively flat, even a small amount of rising water can push them out of suitable habitat toward trees, roads or stands of invasive phragmites.

“If the water gets up 2 centimeters, it is not just inundating the edge of the marsh, it is inundating the entire marsh,” Watts said. “Once it hits that tipping point, you are effectively flooding the entire marsh.”

In the Saxis Wildlife Management Area on Accomack Island on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, black rails were last located at the tree line, and then they were gone.

The decline has been rapid. In 1991–92, a DNR survey in Maryland’s portion of the Bay recorded 180 black rails. “We found more than we expected,” Brinker says. “They were widespread. It was the third most frequently encountered rail in the marshes of the Chesapeake Bay.”

In 2007, the DNR and the Center for Conservation Biology, which is affiliated with both the College of William and Mary and Virginia Commonwealth University, collaborated on a Baywide survey. They found just 50 calling males in Maryland and Virginia combined. “That was the first indication that we had that the population was collapsing,” Watts says.

Birders had been reporting a decline, Brinker says, “but the magnitude of the change sort of hit us in the face.” A 2014 survey found just 10 individuals — eight in Maryland and two in Virginia.

The decline isn’t limited to the Bay. Black rails have largely disappeared at the northern edge of their range, with “catastrophic” rates of decline in New Jersey, Delaware and North Carolina, according to Watts’ status report, which was prepared for the upcoming federal endangered species review. South Carolina had a slower rate of decline, but still more than 4 percent each year.

According to Watts’ report, the total number of breeding pairs along the Atlantic Coast is between 455 and 1,315. Their status might be better in Florida and Texas, both of which have large amounts of potential habitat, but many of those areas have not been surveyed. In those two states, “we have a huge amount of uncertainty,” Watts says. Biologists, state and federal agencies are coordinating to conduct surveys in those and other areas in the next two years.

Historically, black rails were also found at some inland sites in the Eastern United States that simulated conditions found in high marshes, such as hayfields adjacent to river flood plains. But over time, most of those locations have also disappeared, largely because agricultural practices have intensified and altered the habitat, Watts said.

Black rails are also found in the Caribbean and in Central America, but little is known about their status.

Devising protection for black rails will be difficult. Creating special habitats for the birds is one possibility; they have, for instance, survived in impoundments built for waterfowl, where they are able to nest on the edge and forage on the flat, wet bottoms. But, Watts cautions, “the slightest rain will fill these impoundments up and flush the nests out.” Designs might be tweaked to accommodate the birds, but doing so at a scale that would secure the population’s survival could be costly. “You have to get it just perfect, or they won’t be there,” Brinker says.

Also, securing funds for a bird that most people never see could be difficult. “Black rails are nowhere near as charismatic as bald eagles and whooping cranes,” Brinker says.

While the immediate concern is for the black rail, steep declines have been seen in other species that use the same habitat, such as the sedge wren and saltmarsh sparrow, which ranges from Accomack County in Virginia to New England. The sedge wren has already largely disappeared from most coastal areas in the region, though it is still found inland. But the saltmarsh sparrow is declining at a rate that would make it extinct in less than 50 years, biologists say.

But the black rail, the reclusive “feathered mouse” that scampers through the high marsh in the dead of night, is the canary in the coal mine,” says Brinker. “It’s telling us that things are going on in our tidal wetlands, and they are not good things,” he says. “[The black rail] is just the first one to go, because its niche is so narrow and so precise.”

Karl Blankenship is editor of the Bay Journal and executive director of Chesapeake Media Service. He has served as editor of the Bay Journal since its inception in 1991

Annapolis: Democrats Blast Hogan Silence on Bay Cleanup Cuts as Administration Fires Back

Democrats in Annapolis Thursday railed against Republican Gov. Larry Hogan for not doing enough to protect the Chesapeake Bay under the Trump administration’s proposed cuts to the Bay cleanup plan and under a new EPA administrator historically hostile to environmental regulations.

“The Bay can’t speak for itself obviously and needs a spokesperson,” said Senate President Mike Miller, leading a press conference of House and Senate Democratic leaders. “Obviously the person in the highest office in the state is not speaking out for the Chesapeake Bay, so we’re here to say this Bay is ours, it’s the largest estuary in the world…and we’re going to protect our Chesapeake Bay.”

(The world’s largest estuary, where fresh water combines with saltwater from the ocean, is at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River, according to numerous sources. The Chesapeake is the largest in the U.S.)

Miller, whose home overlooks the bay at Chesapeake Beach, said progress has been made to bring back the canvasback duck and rockfish populations and establish oyster sanctuaries “and we’re not going to retreat,” Miller said.

Conspiracy of silence

Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s, said the Hogan administration has been guilty of a “conspiracy of silence” since the federal budget came out last week with $73 million in proposed cuts to the Chesapeake Bay cleanup program, which was enacted in 2010 to put the Bay on pollution diet to reduce nutrients flowing into it.

“The program, the resources and the oversight…have been cut and not a word from the second floor,” Pinsky said. “It is a conspiracy of silence and it is guilt of omission.”

“Without that program we are going to slide backwards not only losing that $73 million but the oversight and push from the federal government. Without that we have a major problem,” Pinsky said.

Pinsky said Hogan’s support of a bill to weaken penalties on oyster poachers and the firing of scientists, had become an act of commission. He was referring to the recent firing of Brenda Davis, blue crab fisheries manager at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources who spent 28 years at the agency.

She was supposedly fired for setting limits on the size of crabs that could be harvested after July 15 every year to 5 ¼ inches.

Lawsuit compelled enforcement

Maryland’s Bay cleanup plan was the result of a lawsuit won by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in 2010 that compelled the EPA to enforce the 1972 Clean Water Act. Under a consent decree, states in the Chesapeake Watershed, from New York to Virginia, were required to implement plans to reduce nutrient pollution, bringing the Bay into compliance with the Clean Water Act by 2025.

Kim Coble, the foundation’s vice president for environmental protection and restoration, said the “bay is improving” because of a 35-year state and federal partnership that started with President Ronald Reagan.

“Our ‘State of the Bay’ report this year has the highest reporting level we’ve ever had,” Coble said. “We have improved water clarity and the [population] of oysters and crabs and underwater grasses are coming back. And all of this is at risk.”

Administration pushback

The administration answered the Democratic leadership with a little sarcasm and it defended Hogan’s record on the Bay.

“With two weeks left in the session, we wish that the majority leadership would focus on doing their jobs here in Annapolis instead of focusing on Washington, D.C. partisan politics,” the statement said. “The governor has already made it clear that he will always fight for the Chesapeake Bay and that he opposes hypothetical cuts at the federal level.”

“Our administration will continue to support the Bay at record levels in the state budget, which has included over $3 billion for the Bay since taking office. We are happy to see that the presiding officers have seen the light on Bay restoration funding, given their support for the past administration raiding over $1 billion from restoration efforts.”

“President Miller and Speaker Busch promised that their entire focus this session would be on Washington politics; at least that’s one promise they’ve delivered on.”

Rep. Andy Harris, the only Republican left in the Maryland congressional delegation, said last week: “The Chesapeake Bay is a treasure, and as a member of the Appropriations Committee, I am committed to working with the administration to prioritize programs within the Environmental Protection Agency that would preserve Bay cleanup efforts.”

By Dan Menefee

Big Game Hunting Program on Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) has announced the Compatibility Determination for big game hunting of white-tailed deer, sika, and wild turkey on Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is available for public comment.  The Service developed this compatibility determination to facilitate the evaluation of the proposed refuge use, including anticipated impacts of the activity and stipulations to ensure compatibility.

In addition to the formal comment period on the Compatibility Determination, the public is also invited to attend an open house on the refuge’s big game hunt program. The open house meeting will be an opportunity to learn more about big game public hunting opportunities on the refuge, ask questions, and provide comments on the hunt program in general or the Compatibility Determination specifically.  The open house will be held on Wednesday April 5, 2017 from 6-9 pm at the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center, address 2145 Key Wallace Drive, Cambridge, MD 21613.

The compatibility determination is available for viewing at the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge headquarters, and on the refuge website at http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Blackwater/. Comments should be submitted in writing to the attention of Mr. Matt Whitbeck, Wildlife Biologist, at Chesapeake Marshlands NWRC, 2145 Key Wallace Drive, Cambridge, MD 21613; or matt_whitbeck@fws.gov.  Comments will be accepted until April 14, 2017.

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals, and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov.

For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit http://www.fws.gov/. Connect with our Facebook page, follow our tweets, watch our YouTube Channel and download photos from our Flickr page.

Oyster Sanctuary Bill finds Support in House of Delegates

The House of Delegates voted 102-39 on Thursday in favor of a bill that would keep intact existing oyster sanctuaries on the Chesapeake Bay, a blow to the commercial fishing industry’s efforts to expand the state’s oyster fisheries.

Supporters and opponents of the bill, named the Oyster Management Plan, are both saying that their solution is best for the long-term health of the bay and its oyster population, which helps clean the Chesapeake by filtering nutrients like excess algae out of the water column.

“(The Oyster Management Plan) protects the fragile progress that has been made to date in recovering oyster populations,” the Chesapeake Bay Foundation said in written testimony to the House Environment and Transportation Committee on Feb. 24. “This bill would in no way impact (the Department of Natural Resource’s) ability to manage the public oyster fishery, including the development of rotational harvest management for public oyster bottom.”

Bill opponents, such as the Clean Chesapeake Coalition, disagreed, saying that harvesting in the sanctuaries is vital to maintaining existing oyster stock in “idle” areas.

“There’s this idea that the sanctuaries would be generating all this oyster larvae,” coalition spokesman Chip MacLeod said to the committee on Feb. 24. “That larvae does no good unless it has a clean, hard bottom to strike. One of the things that doesn’t work with the oyster sanctuary theory is that we don’t have clean, hard bottom (around these sanctuaries).”

Opening parts of the sanctuaries to commercial use, MacLeod said, would remove aging oysters whose environmental usefulness had subsided, and free up space for oyster larvae to flourish.

The Department of Natural Resources, the agency that controls the sanctuaries, opposes the bill.

Opponents point to a 2010-2015 study conducted by the Oyster Advisory Commission, a Natural Resources department subsidiary, that concluded that there is “justification” to adjust current sanctuary boundaries.

“There are sanctuaries that are known to have poor habitat and/or very low densities of oysters,” the advisory commission’s study report said. “If the ultimate goal is to have more oysters in the water, then some areas that are currently sanctuaries could contribute to this goal and provide economic and cultural benefits to fishing communities.”

Conversely, a bill enacted in 2016, the Sustainable Oyster Population and Fishery Act, mandates that the Department of Natural Resources, in conjunction with the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, conduct a study to adopt a science-based fishery management plan by 2018. Supporters want to see this study concluded before allowing the department to entertain any ideas of opening sanctuaries to harvest.

Opponents contend that doing so undermines the efforts of the department and its advisory commission.

“The (Oyster Advisory Commission) is doing all of this good work, because the prior administration wouldn’t adopt a management plan,” Delmarva Fisheries Association chairman and waterman Rob Newberry told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service.

Newberry told the Environment and Transportation Committee that the bill would “kill” the management plan adopted by the commission.

Supporters of the bill contend that oyster populations have not recovered enough to sustain themselves without protection.

Citing a self-commissioned poll that found 88 percent of Marylanders support sanctuaries and a 2016 Department of Natural Resources report that found oysters are thriving inside designated sanctuaries but not outside them, the bay foundation said in a press release, “Sanctuaries are Maryland’s insurance policy for the future oyster population. By protecting a small portion of the state’s oyster bottom from harvesting, oysters on the sanctuaries can grow and reproduce.”

The bill was voted on favorably with a couple amendments by the House Environment and Transportation Committee on Tuesday before it moved to the House floor. The amendments would prevent anyone from using the bill to block any sanctuary projects.

The bill is expected to be heard by the Senate in the coming weeks.

By Jack Chavez

No Fooling! Project Clean Stream is April 1st

Every spring, from New York to Virginia, tens of thousands of volunteers come together to clean up local streams and neighborhoods as part of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay’s Project Clean Stream, one of the largest cleanup events in the Chesapeake Bay region.This year’s Project Clean Stream takes place on Saturday, April 1, 2017 (in case of schedule conflicts, groups may opt to participate on a different date). Once again local partner MidshoreRiverkeeper Conservancy (MRC) is seeking residents, organizations, and businesses to take action to clean up local streams, rivers, and community streets. MidshoreRiverkeeper Conservancy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the restoration, protection, and celebration of the waterways that comprise the Choptank River, Eastern Bay, Miles River, and Wye River watersheds.

clean stream

Project Clean Stream teams pick up trash at the Bill Burton Pier in Talbot County

Through Project Clean Stream, individuals make a true impact on their local environment. For years, dedicated groups have adopted sites and removed thousands of pounds of trash and litter. In 2016, MRC organized 200 volunteers at 19 sites and collected 1,400 pounds of trash. The bay-wide project brought in approximately 3.3 million pounds of trash with more than 74,000 volunteers across 3,700 cleanup sites.

Previous MRC Project Clean Stream teams have included: The Country School, Talbot and Dorchester County Chamber of Commerce Young Professionals, Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Talbot Mentors, Easton High School, Royal Bank of Canada, and many more.

Join the movement to restore and protect our local waterways! To captain a team, join a team, or recommend a pickup location, please contact Suzanne@midshoreriverkeeper.org or call 443-385-0511.

Midshore Riverkeepers Launch Lawn Fertilizer Awareness Week April 1-8

Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy (MRC) has launched its second annual Lawn Fertilizer Awareness Week from April 1 to April 8, 2017. Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the restoration, protection, and celebration of the waterways that comprise the Choptank River, Eastern Bay, Miles River, and Wye River watersheds. Last year, MRC spearheaded Lawn Fertilizer Awareness Week, partnering with over other 20 environmental organizations to spread the word about lawn fertilizer awareness. These combined social media efforts reached over 10,000 people across Maryland.

This year, MRC is building on this outreach in an effort to reach an even larger audience. The goal of the program remains to educate the public and lawn care professionals and encourage them to reduce or eliminate lawn fertilizer. In addition, the program promotes alternatives to lawns that keep landscapes beautiful. It is vital that we reduce lawn fertilizer use due to its key ingredients—nitrogen and phosphorous. When it rains, excess nutrients are a major source of pollution that washes off the land into storm drains, streams and rivers. Once in our waterways, these nutrients have negative impacts by contributing to the growth of algae blooms that block sunlight from reaching underwater grasses, robbing the water of oxygen, and threatening underwater life.

Lawn Fertilizer Campaign CroppedIn October 2013, Maryland’s Lawn Fertilizer Law went into effect. The law helps protect the Chesapeake Bay against excess nutrients entering its waters from a wide range of non-agricultural sources, including golf courses, parks, recreation areas, athletic fields, businesses and hundreds of thousands of lawns. The law spells out common sense practices that can reduce the risk of fertilizer runoff while promoting best management practices that support healthy lawns.

Lawn fertilizer accounts for approximately 44 percent of the fertilizer sold in Maryland. There are over 1,300,000 acres of lawns in Maryland and almost 86 million pounds of nitrogen-rich lawn fertilizer will be applied to their lawns each year. It is critical that everyone does their part to help Maryland meet the pollution caps established by the “pollution diet” for the Chesapeake Bay.

More information is available at mda.maryland.gov/Pages/fertilizer.aspx. Additional guidance, along with seasonal and yearly fertilizer rates, is available at county extension offices or online at extension.umd.edu.

A Lawn Fertilizer Awareness Week Tool Kit is available on the MRC website at midshoreriverkeeper.org. For more information please contact Tasha at 443.385.0511 or keitasha@midshoreriverkeeper.org.

Trump bid to Axe Bay Restoration Funding draws Fire

President Donald Trump’s budget outline proposing to defund the Bay Program and slash other programs aiding the Chesapeake restoration drew expressions of dismay this week from those engaged in the long-running effort, along with vows from members of Congress on both sides of the aisle to resist such deep cuts.

Trump’s proposed spending plan, if enacted, would eliminate funding for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Bay Program Office — from $73 million last year to nothing in fiscal 2018. It would be part of a recommended 31 percent reduction in the budget for the agency, with only the State Department targeted for deeper cuts.

The White House’s budget blueprint also called for sharp decreases in other departments and offices that have contributed to the Bay restoration effort, without giving details of how those might play out in specific programs or initiatives. The administration is planning to release a more detailed spending plan in May.

Environmentalists promptly denounced Trump’s fiscal plan, warning that it could cripple the Bay restoration effort and reverse the gains seen in recent years.

“If this program is eliminated, there is a very real chance that the Bay will revert to a national disgrace,” said Chesapeake Bay Foundation President William Baker, “with deteriorating water quality, unhealthy fish and shellfish, and water-borne diseases that pose a real threat to human health.”

Earlier this year, driven by improvements in blue crabs and other fisheries, underwater grasses and water quality, the Bay Foundation gave the estuary’s ecological health a grade of C-minus, the highest score given in nearly two decades. The CBF report card mirrored recent assessments of modest progress reported by the Bay Program and the University of Maryland.

While the Trump budget has alarmed some Bay advocates, many have noted that Congress, not the president, has the final say on federal spending. They said they hoped that lawmakers would reject the proposed cuts.

The federal government’s support of the Bay cleanup over more than three decades has helped to develop a “world-class expertise” in managing large ecosystems, which in turn has inspired and guided other restoration efforts, said Donald Boesch, president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.

“It’s just unconscionable that Congress would let that all slip away by terminating it,” Boesch said in a telephone news conference arranged by the Bay Foundation.

Several members of Congress representing portions of the Bay watershed pledged to fight to maintain the Bay Program funding. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-MD, called Trump’s proposal to eliminate it “wrong and outrageous.” And he questioned how that squared with Trump’s campaign pledge to build the nation’s economy and create more jobs.

“The Chesapeake Bay creates $1 trillion in our economy,” Ruppersberger said, across the six-state watershed. “These are jobs in fishing, farming, boating and tourism.”

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-MD, a member of the Senate’s Budget and Appropriations committees, issued a statement saying the proposed cuts “seriously damage our efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay — and threaten the jobs that depend on a healthy Bay ecosystem.”

And Sen. Ben Cardin, D-MD, one of the Bay’s staunchest advocates in Congress over the years, called on the body to “quickly reject” Trump’s budget “before the absurdity of his cuts . . . causes ripples of uncertainty and fear across the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed economy.”

Members of Trump’s own party joined Democrats in challenging the Bay Program cuts, though generally with less saber rattling. Reps. Andy Harris, R-MD, whose district borders the Bay, and Rep. Scott Taylor, R-VA, whose district covers portions of Hampton Roads and the Virginia Eastern Shore, indicated that they would try to keep federal funds flowing to the restoration effort. Both had joined three other Republicans and 12 Democrats from Bay watershed states in a letter to the White House more than two weeks ago urging it to keep the current funding of $73 million next year.

“We do not support reductions in the cleanup,” said a spokesman for Taylor. A spokeswoman for Harris issued a statement saying he would work with the Trump administration to “to prioritize programs within the Environmental Protection Agency that would preserve [the] Bay cleanup effort.”

Their support for the Bay restoration effort is significant because both sit on the House Appropriations Committee, which in coordination with the Senate panel on which Van Hollen serves, will draw up the actual federal spending plans.

Even so, Trump’s spending blueprint presents a challenge, as it calls for the federal government to back off from environmental efforts like the Bay restoration. “The Budget returns the responsibility for funding local environmental efforts and programs to State and local entities, allowing EPA to focus on its highest national priorities,” explained a summary of the president’s budget that was posted online.

Also targeted for elimination was federal funding for restoration of the Great Lakes, Puget Sound and other compromised watersheds.

That view of the federal role in the Bay’s restoration represents a radical shift from the stance taken by every president since Ronald Reagan, who in 1984 declared the Chesapeake a “treasured national resource.” Reagan called for a sizable boost in the EPA’s budget, in part to begin “the long, necessary effort” to clean up the Bay. The Bay Program, which operates as a partnership between states and the federal government, was created the year before, when the EPA administrator signed the first of several agreements pledging to work with the Bay watershed states and the District of Columbia to deal with pollution degrading the estuary’s water quality and fish populations.

Funding for the EPA’s Bay Program Office has ticked up or down from year to year, but has increased overall since then. Along the way, Congress wrote the Bay Program into law, spelling out the EPA’s responsibilities to coordinate the efforts of other federal agencies and of the states in reducing pollution and restoring the estuary’s living resources. Jon Mueller, the Bay Foundation’s vice president for litigation, said he thinks that the federal government can’t legally walk away from its statutory obligations to support the Bay Program. But he acknowledged that other legal experts believe Congress can’t be compelled to fund programs like this, even if supposedly required by law.

The White House’s proposed elimination of Bay Program Office funding comes despite praise that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt lavished on it during his Senate confirmation hearing in January. Under questioning from Cardin, Pruitt called it “something that should be commended and celebrated.” He pledged to enforce the Bay pollution reduction plan EPA had worked out with the states, and to see that the effort continued to get federal resources.

Asked how Trump’s budget blueprint squares with Pruitt’s Senate testimony, an EPA spokeswoman emailed a statement saying it “reflects the President’s priorities of preserving clean air and water as well as to ease the burden of costly regulations to industry. Administrator Pruitt is committed to leading the EPA in a more effective, more focused, less costly way as we partner with states to fulfill the agency’s core mission.”

The loss of $73 million for the Bay Program would be significant in itself, but the impact of Trump’s overall proposed EPA budget cuts would go far beyond that, as the agency spent an additional $121 million on other water-related grant programs in the watershed last year, some of which may also face cuts. The largest of those is the EPA’s Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund, which made $102 million in low-cost loans to states last year for projects that improve water infrastructure.

While not facing outright cuts, the revolving loan fund would likely have less money to spend in the watershed. The Trump administration would end a $498 million grant program under the U.S. Department of Agriculture that pays for improvements to rural communities’ water and wastewater infrastructure. Instead, the budget would have rural areas compete for the EPA funds — so the money available for water infrastructure would effectively be spread among a larger group of communities.

Although the most severe cuts would fall on the EPA, other federal departments that play a role in Chesapeake Bay restoration also face double-digit reductions. Altogether, federal agencies provided $536 million for Bay-related projects in 2016, helping to fund everything from wastewater treatment plant upgrades and farm runoff controls to oyster reef construction and wetland restoration.

In the budget plan, though, the U.S. Department of Agriculture faces a 21 percent cut, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 16 percent, and the Department of the Interior 12 percent.

In many cases, the budget provides little detail about how hard various programs would be hit, but the Interior Department’s land acquisition money, which has been used to help purchase sensitive areas around the Bay in recent years, would be slashed.

At the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, $250 million would be cut from grants supporting coastal and marine management, research and education. Among the areas slated for elimination is NOAA’s Sea Grant program, which provides about $4 million annually in Bay-related research and education efforts.

In that context, the EPA’s Bay Program funding accounts for just about 14 percent of the annual federal spending on the Chesapeake. But the Bay Foundation’s Baker called it a “linchpin” of the overall restoration effort. Roughly two-thirds of the $73 million in this year’s budget goes to state and local governments in the form of grants to aid their cleanup efforts. The rest supports things such as water-quality monitoring to measure the efficacy of cleanup efforts, computer modeling to help inform cleanup plans, and the activities of nonprofit groups to encourage public engagement in the restoration. (A portion of Bay Journal funding comes from a Bay Program grant.)

Environmentalists said cuts in EPA funding would hurt the ability of states to carry out a wide range of environmental programs, including those related to the Bay.
“Essentially they are saying they are going to turn over more authority to the states, and then cut the amount of money for the states to do it,” said Scott Slesinger, legislative director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection echoed that concern in a letter it sent to Pruitt on Thursday, which said the state agency relies heavily on federal funding to implement air and water pollution control programs.

Cutting the EPA Bay Program funds, the DEP said, would hurt the state’s ability to pay for pollution control efforts on Pennsylvania’s farms, where the state has tried to focus its lagging nutrient control efforts.

“These budget cuts do not reduce any of the responsibilities that DEP has to the people of Pennsylvania, but does decrease the resources available to fulfill those responsibilities,” DEP Acting Secretary Patrick McDonnell wrote. “These cuts, if enacted, would harm businesses seeking permits, and harm residents’ clean water, air, and land.”

CBF’s Baker said he’s worried that the loss of federal funds may result in a loss of “political will” in state houses and city halls to increase spending. And UM’s Boesch noted that much of the federal largesse for the Bay restoration effort comes in the form of matching grants.

“If the federal funds go away,” Boesch said, “the thought that we could go back and get state governments to double or triple investments is just naïve, given the budget issues they’re dealing with.”

Even if, as many expect, Congress dismisses Trump’s budget as too extreme, environmentalists said they worry it could give lawmakers cover to slash environmental programs much more than they have in the past.

“The real danger here is not that Congress will approve these numbers, it’s clear that they won’t,” said David Goldston, director of government affairs with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The danger is that people start taking it seriously as a point of negotiation.”

Timothy B. Wheeler is managing editor and project writer for the Bay Journal. He has more than two decades of experience covering the environment for The Baltimore Sun and other media outlets. Bay Journal editor Karl Blankenship contributed to this article.

ESLC Climate Change/Sea Level Rise Half-Day Conference Set for April 1

The Eastern Shore is the third most susceptible region to the effects of sea level rise in the country. The Eastern Shore Land Conservancy (ESLC), a progressive, environmentally-focused nonprofit organization headquartered in Easton, will host the half-day conference, Unsinkable Eastern Shore II: Rural America Responds to Climate Change, on Saturday, April 1st from 9am to 1pm. The event will be held at the Eastern Shore Conservation Center – the former McCord laundry facility which ESLC rehabilitated and has since occupied with several other conservation groups since 2015.

The event is $20 to attend and includes breakfast, two panel discussions, and presentations by two keynote speakers. Also included with admission is a copy of speaker John Englander’s book High Tide on Main Street, which Politico Magazine called “one of the 50 most important books to read in 2016.” Attendees may register online at eslc.org/events, but are encouraged to do so soon, as seating is limited.

The conference will be hosted by ESLC’s Coastal Resilience Manager, Brian Ambrette, who has been working with town and county government on the Mid and Upper Shore for more than two years, helping to bring awareness about the effects of climate change – most notably, sea level rise – as well as working to help implement sound planning in the form of mitigation strategies and town/county comprehensive plans.

“I hope our audience will learn how their communities and their neighbors are embracing change as an opportunity to innovate and make the systems we rely on stronger and greener”, notes Ambrette. “I am excited about the new ideas that our keynote speakers will inject into the conversation.”

While the conference panels boast a mix of knowledgeable educators and emergency management professionals, the inclusion of oceanographer, author, and consultant John Englander is perhaps the most impressive addition to the conference. As a leading expert on sea level rise, Englander’s broad marine science background coupled with explorations to Greenland and Antarctica has allowed him to see the big picture of sea level rise and its societal impacts. He has served as chief executive officer for such noteworthy organizations as The International SeaKeepers and The Cousteau Society. Interestingly enough, legendary Captain Jacques Cousteau tapped John to succeed him as CEO.

Please contact ESLC’s Communication Manager, David Ferraris, at dferraris@eslc.org or 410.690.4603 x165 for more information.

Support Adkins Arboretum’s Goat Herd at Twelfth Annual Arbor Day Run

Dust off your running shoes and start training! Runners, walkers, families and nature enthusiasts are invited to hustle for the herd at Adkins Arboretum’s twelfth annual Arbor Day Run on Sat., April 8. Proceeds benefit the Arboretum’s goat herd, used for targeted grazing of invasive plants.

Featuring a 5K race, a NEW 10K race, a free One-Mile Fun Run/Walk and a free Healthy Kids 100-yard dash, the Arbor Day Run is a wonderful opportunity to enjoy an early-spring morning in nature. Participants will pass the Arboretum’s goat herd on the cross-country course plotted along a network of scenic, easily navigable trails.

Check-in and day-of registration begin at 8 a.m. The Healthy Kids Dash begins at 8:50 a.m., followed by the 10K Run at 9 a.m., the 5K Run at 9:05 a.m. and the One-Mile Fun Run/Walk at 9:10 a.m.

arbor run  Adkins goats

Awards will be presented to the overall male/female master winners and to the top three male/female winners in categories 10 and under through 70 and older in 10-year age groups. Bluepoint Race Management will provide chip timing for the 5K and 10K races. Post-race festivities include an awards ceremony with one-of-a-kind tree ring medals, a goat puppet raffle and refreshments, including goats’ milk cheese and crackers.

Registration is underway, with a discount and a goat-themed Arbor Day Run T-shirt for those who register for the 5K and 10K by March 26. Fun Run and Healthy Kids Dash participants may order T-shirts for $10 each. For fee information or to register, visit adkinsarboretum.org or call 410.634.2847, ext. 0

The Arbor Day Run is generously sponsored by Eco-Goats, a subsidiary of Sustainable Resource Management, Inc. Arbor Day Run T-shirts are funded by an award from Choptank Electric Trust, Inc.

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