MD Septic Pollution Lawsuit Cleared for Trial

A Caroline County judge has ruled that a former Maryland woman who sued the state and the Eastern Shore town of Goldsboro, blaming them for the loss of her family campground to unchecked septic pollution, will have her day in court.

In early September, Circuit Court Judge Sidney Campen denied a motion by the town and the state to dismiss the case, saying that a jury needed to decide if either bore responsibility for the pollution to Lake Bonnie, a 28-acre impoundment on the 100-acre property that Gail Litz used to own.  The judge has yet to set a trial date.

In 1996, the Caroline County Health Department closed the campground’s lake to swimming, citing unsafe fecal coliform levels in the water, which were traced to failing septic systems in nearby Goldsboro.

That same year, the town signed a consent order with the Maryland Department of the Environment acknowledging that residents’ septic systems were failing. The order outlined a schedule for the town to install a public sewer system and said Goldsboro would be fined $100 a day if it did not comply.

The town never undertook the wholesale fix, and the state didn’t enforce the order. In 2010, Litz lost her property to foreclosure and filed a lawsuit, alleging the town and county’s negligence cost her the property.  She asked for $7 million in compensation.

Campen wrote that the “most significant and overarching disputed fact” in this case is whether, and to what extent, the pollution of Lake Bonnie continued after the 1996 consent order. “This factual dispute must first be resolved by a jury before other factual or legal issues can be addressed,” the judge wrote.

For seven years, across various courtrooms, Goldsboro’s attorneys said that the town had no money to fix the problem, and that Litz had waited too long to file suit.  The state also argued that it was not legally obligated to enforce the consent order. Lawyers for the MDE contended that they could not force Goldsboro to pay.

Those arguments prevailed in lower court hearings, but in February 2016, Maryland’s highest court said that the state’s failure to enforce the consent order could be viewed as “inverse condemnation” if Litz could prove it was the septic pollution that caused her loss. The case was sent back to Caroline County Circuit Court for a trial.

A trial was all Litz has wanted since she filed the lawsuit seven years ago. After losing her home and lake, she moved in with her son and his family in Florida, and worried that she wouldn’t have any inheritance to leave them.

“I just want responsibility taken and my children and I to be compensated,” she said. “No one can replace the home we loved and treasured.”

This summer, as the case went before Campen after the town and state filed to dismiss it, both began raising new arguments. After years of not disputing Litz’s claim that Goldsboro’s failing septic systems contaminated Lake Bonnie, MDE attorneys spent much of a July hearing questioning how much of the lake’s problem could be laid on the town. They pointed to other possible sources, including a small llama herd and a chicken farm. In motions filed before the hearing, they also contended that Litz lost her property because of poor business decisions.

Meanwhile, Goldsboro’s attorneys, who had always argued the town could not afford the fixes, said the town was “not obligated” to fix residents’ septic tanks because they were private and fell under the county health department.

In 1985 and again in 1988, Goldsboro residents voted down a sewage plant that would have raised their rates. The plant would have cost several million dollars, but at that point, the federal government was willing to fund 90 percent of it. The cost to Goldsboro residents: between 39 and 62 cents a day, according to Litz’ lawyer, G. Macy Nelson.

After the bank foreclosed on Litz’s property, it sold the campground and lake for $400,000 to a family that now uses the land as a private residence. Three decades after the county health department declared that Goldsboro desperately needed a wastewater treatment system, the state and federal government funded a solution. In 2015, the county broke ground on a $19 million wastewater plant on Greensboro that will connect to the 100 or so homes in Goldsboro, about 10 miles away, next year.

by Rona Kobell

Rona Kobell is a former writer for the Baltimore Sun.

An Eastern Shore Land Conservancy Toast to Sandy Hoon

In a few weeks, the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy will be having their annual gala in Kent County to honor one of their organization’s founders, Alexander “Sandy” Hoon, who passed away a few months ago. The Spy was delighted to hear the news of the gala.

While Sandy might have been best known in his senior years as being the father of the well-known attorney in town, Philip Hoon, the legacy of Sandy Hoon’s contributions to Chestertown, Kent County, and a good bit of the Mid-Shore are not only noteworthy but truly worthy to celebrate.

While no one could never accuse Sandy of shyness, like many of his generation, it was not in his core nature to take a bow. Like many of a certain age, he never sought credit for when he and other dedicated Mid-Shore land conservationists, like former Governor Harry Hughes and Centreville attorney Howard Wood, helped formed the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy in 1990.

But the results of that fledgling organization, twenty-seven years later, show how remarkable that achievement has been. Since those early days, literally thousands of acres of some of the Eastern Shore’s most extraordinary landscapes have been permanently protected in all five counties of the Mid-Shore.  Just as importantly, the ESLC has taken on a leadership role in keeping small towns in the region vibrant with such stunning successes like the Eastern Shore Conservation Center in Easton or the transformational plans for the Cannery Building in Cambridge.

The Spy sat down with the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy’s first and only executive director, Rob Etgen, and Sandy’s son Phil to reminisce  about Sandy and his impact on land conservation.

This video is approximately two minutes in length. For more information about the ESLC gala please go here

The Most Important Fish in the Bay Needs Help

Join the Chesapeake Bay Foundation on September 6, 6:30 p.m. at the Eastern Shore Conservation Center in downtown Easton for an evening of all things menhaden. CBF is screening the short film Menhaden: The Most Important Fish in the Bay, followed by a discussion of the current state of the fishery in the Chesapeake Bay. CBF’s Maryland Fisheries Scientist Allison Colden will describe the critical role that menhaden play in the Bay’s food web and answer questions from the audience. One lucky audience member will walk away with a fun and fishy CBF gift basket.

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

Any threat to this critical fish is also a threat to the countless Chesapeake critters who rely on it. Learn more about the current state of this fishery and what you can do to help on September 6. This event is free and open to the public, but registration is required at cbf.org/MenhadenFilm. Contact Hilary Gibson at hgibson@cbf.org or 410/543-1999 with questions.

If you can’t make the event, you can still make your voice heard. A public hearing is scheduled for Monday, September 18 from 6-8:00p.m. at Anne Arundel Community College, Cade Center for the Fine Arts – Room 219, 101 College Parkway, Arnold, MD. Written comments on ASMFC’s Amendment 3 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Menhaden will be accepted through October 20, 2017. Comments can be sent to comments@asmfc.org (Subject line: Draft Amd. 3).

 

ESLC Teams Up with Lyon Distilling for Limited Batch of Black Rum

A local nonprofit known for land preservation and town planning on the Eastern Shore has hooked up with one of Maryland’s finest distilleries for a good cause.

Lyon Distilling Company of St. Michaels, known since 2013 as a micro, craft distillery producing ultra-small batches of award-winning rums and whiskeys in St. Michaels, has released its latest concoction – a special, limited batch Black Rum with a percentage of every bottle sold benefitting the projects and programs of the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy (ESLC).

This rum varietal features a rich and smooth finish, with subtle touches of oak spice and sweetness. From the bottle’s packaging: “Together we are committed to protecting the land on which we work and play, and encourage you to sip this delicious spirit soundly knowing that a portion of your purchase helps fund ESLC’s many worthwhile endeavors.”

“We’re so excited to help support the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy with our Black Rum,” says Lyon owner and co-founder Jaime Windon. “I’ve always admired partnerships like this. Philanthropy is so important to us and as a startup we are limited in what we can do. But we try to do everything that we can locally, and this is the first effort that has been organized at this level. Exciting times!”

ESLC plans to commemorate the release of the Black Rum partnership with a happy hour party on Thursday, August 31st from 5-7pm at their headquarters in Easton. Bottles will be available for sale with Lyon staff on hand providing tastings and joining in the celebration. ESLC’s Communication Manager David Ferraris described the partnership as “a natural fit.”

“ESLC is ecstatic to have its name associated with a local company producing an exceptional product,” said Ferraris. “Since their arrival on the Shore, Lyon has made it clear that they support local initiatives that are near and dear to their hearts. Protecting and preserving the environment in which they live and conduct business is one of those initiatives, so this makes perfect sense.”

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

Pilot Project planned to Dredge Conowingo Dam Sediments by Tim Wheeler

Declaring the sediment buildup behind Conowingo Dam a growing threat to the Chesapeake Bay, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced Tuesday a pilot project to dredge up a tiny portion of the accumulated silt and sand.

Speaking at a press conference at the dam, Hogan said the state later this month would issue a request for proposals to dredge 25,000 cubic yards of sediment by next spring from the reservoir upstream of the hydroelectric facility on the Susquehanna River.

The intent, he said, is to pin down what it would cost to dredge massive quantities of sediment from the Conowingo “pond,” as the reservoir is called, and to find out if there are viable markets for reusing the material. He said that he hoped the project would help the state determine whether large-scale dredging is feasible — even though an earlier study concluded that dredging the built-up sediment would be costly and provide little overall benefit to the Bay.

Since its completion in 1928, the 94-foot high dam has been trapping millions of pounds of sediment, as well as the nutrients attached to the particles, keeping them from flowing into the Bay 10 miles downstream. But the pond has been slowly filling, and a study led by the Baltimore District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers found that it has reached capacity and now does little to prevent material from reaching the Chesapeake.

Another concern is that major storms, and even routinely heavy spring rains, can scour large quantities of the deposited sediment from the river bottom and flush it into the upper Bay.

“Much of our efforts to protect the Bay and safeguard our environment for future generations could be wiped out by the effects of one bad storm,” Hogan said. “Simply put, this is a growing threat which must be addressed.”

Hogan’s announcement came on the heels of a brief, invitation-only, closed-door “summit” about the dam at a nearby volunteer firehouse. The meeting, the second that Hogan has held on Conowingo, was welcomed by rural elected officials who’d been invited and have long complained that the dam is a bigger pollution threat to the Bay than almost anything coming from their portions of the watershed, including farming, septic-based development or stormwater runoff.

Charles D. “Chip” MacLeod, a lawyer for the Clean Chesapeake Coalition, a group of seven rural counties, most of them on the Eastern Shore, called the summit “total vindication” of its position that the sediment buildup behind the dam should be made a priority of the Bay cleanup.

“We’ve lost sight of the real problem,” said Richard Rothschild, a commissioner from Carroll County, one of the coalition members.

Others are not so sure. Alison Prost, Maryland director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, who was not invited to the summit, issued a statement saying that “while dredging could be a part of the solution” for cleaning up the Bay, the Corps study indicated that the most cost-effective way to reduce pollution coming across the dam would be to carry out more runoff control practices upriver.

Hogan, though, has aligned himself with the Clean Chesapeake Coalition’s position on the dam since he campaigned for governor in 2014, claiming that state and federal officials and environmentalists were ignoring Conowingo’s threat. He recently became chairman of the Executive Council that oversees the federal-state Bay Program restoration effort, which gives him greater clout to press his case.

The Republican governor said he was gratified that scientists have come around to agree with his position on the importance of dealing with the sediment behind the dam.

The scientific assessments, though, don’t exactly concur. The Corps of Engineers study found that between 2008 and 2011, only 13 percent of the sediment coming into the Bay from the Susquehanna was scoured from what had been deposited in the reservoir behind the dam. Even during Tropical Storm Lee in 2011, a major flood, only about 20 percent of the sediment that flooded into the Bay originated from sediment stored behind Conowingo, while the rest was flushed downriver past the dam without ever being deposited.

But the diminished trapping capacity of the dam does mean that more nutrients from up the Susquehanna are washed downriver to the Bay, where they contribute to algae blooms and fish-stressing low-oxygen conditions in the water. To compensate, the Corps study estimated that areas upstream of the dam would need to keep an additional 2.4 million pounds of nitrogen and an extra 270,000 pounds of phosphorus annually from getting into the river. That would require a 9 percent greater reduction in nitrogen and a 38 percent greater cut in phosphorus from now to 2025.

Dredging the sediment and nutrient buildup from behind Conowingo would in theory allow the dam to trap more sediment, as has happened in the past. But the Corps study found that this would be costly and of limited benefit to the Bay. To restore sediment levels to what they were in the mid-1990s, the study estimated, 25 million cubic yards of silt would need to be excavated. The Corps estimated that could cost up to $3 billion. And unless the flow of sediment coming down the river is curtailed, the pond would gradually fill in again. Roughly 3 million cubic yards a year, or 1.5 million pickup truck loads, would need to be dredged annually to avoid losing ground. The Corps study estimated that could cost anywhere from $48 million to $267 million each year.

Clean Chesapeake representatives maintain that the Corps study was flawed. And in any case, they suggest some short-term actions are needed now, because Pennsylvania is lagging so badly in reducing its pollution to the Susquehanna. “It’s breathing room for the Bay,” said MacLeod, the coalition lawyer.

But a recently completed study by researchers with the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science found that phosphorus flushed past the dam along with sediment scoured from the reservoir “would not have a large effect on the Chesapeake Bay.”

The state last year issued a “request for information” seeking preliminary proposals for dealing with the sediment behind the dam. It received 13 responses suggesting dredging and other options for using it to treat soil or create building materials. Roy McGrath, director of the Maryland Environmental Service, said the request for proposals would be more detailed.

The federal-state Bay Program is re-evaluating the progress made to date in restoring the Chesapeake’s water quality, and is finalizing new computer modeling to project what more needs to be done. Meetings are planned this fall, and states are expected to begin drawing up revised cleanup plans next year. Ben Grumbles, Maryland’s environment secretary, said state officials hope the information gleaned from the demonstration project will help shape those plans.

“We’re going to keep our fingers crossed,” said Bob Meffley, a Cecil County councilman who was among the summit invitees. He said he lives on the Bohemia River which, like much of the Bay, is showing signs of recovery, with underwater grasses seemingly everywhere and crabs plentiful — “except when we get [heavy] rain.” he added. Then, he said, they don’t see anything, because of the sediment stirred up in the water.

Others in attendance at the summit saw the dredging demonstration as a minor step, but one still worth taking.

“What it represents is a sliver of the problem,” said Ann Swanson, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Commission. “It’s important,” she added, “because they want to see if they can engage the private sector in (finding) innovative uses (for the sediment), but what’s equally important is to recognize that 80 percent of the (pollution) load coming down the Susquehanna is from the upstream watershed and 20 percent is from scour.”

Cecil A. Rodrigues, the Environmental Protection Agency’s acting mid-Atlantic regional administrator, said federal regulators are interested in seeing the results of Maryland’s demonstration project.

“We don’t care where reductions come from,” he said, adding that if the test indicates it’s feasible, it could be factored into future cleanup plans. But whether dredging is done or not, he said, upstream pollution reductions will still be needed.

Joel Dunn, president and CEO of the Chesapeake Conservancy, a conservation group, who was also invited, praised Hogan’s move. But he said it should not take away from working to reduce pollution from upriver, while enlisting private as well as public involvement.

“The sediment behind the dam is a major issue and should be addressed in the most creative way possible,” Dunn said, “but perhaps more important is a focus on reducing future pollution from coming down the river, otherwise our children will be dealing with this same issue.”

In his press conference remarks, Hogan seemed to acknowledge that. He said that dealing with the sediment and nutrients behind the dam is “just one of many approaches we must take.” But he added that he considered it “an extremely important one.”

The demonstration project will be funded by Maryland, but Hogan made it clear that if it led to more dredging, he expected financial help and cooperation from Exelon Corp. the dam’s owner, as well as from the federal government and the states upriver. Maryland has held up renewal of Exelon’s federal license to operate the Conowingo hydroelectric facility, citing concerns about the impacts on state water quality of the sediment buildup.

“This is not just Maryland’s problem,” Hogan said. And in response to a reporter’s question, he said, “If it comes to that, we’ll file suit against the EPA and the upstream states.”

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.

Teachers Investigate Human Impacts by Land and Sea at Pickering Creek

“Every time I do a workshop with Pickering Creek it’s always diverse, interesting, and hands-on,” Cathy Bornhoeft, Environmental Science teacher at North Caroline High School, said after participating in the two-day Audubon Watershed Experience teacher professional development workshop this summer.

Now in it’s fifteenth year, the Audubon Watershed Experience (AWE) program, funded by Chesapeake Bay Trust, has connected thousands of high school biology and environmental science students to local conservation efforts on the Eastern Shore through hands-on and investigative in-class lessons and field experiences at Pickering Creek. Although the students are the focus of this successful program, another equally important and engaged group at the program’s center – teachers – experienced their own exciting and experiential AWE program this summer.

Environmental Science teachers from Talbot, Wicomico, and Caroline Counties look on as Dr. Dave Curson, Director of Bird Conservation for Audubon MD/DC, demonstrates a bird monitoring protocol

The theme of 2017’s summer workshop was “Investigating Human Impacts by Land and Sea.” Day One took place at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and focused on the impacts of rising seas on critical habitat for bird populations that rely on local salt marshes. Throughout the day, teachers from Wicomico, Caroline, and Talbot Counties played interactive games, practiced using data and scientific evidence to support arguments, and took home hands-on activities and resources to use in their classrooms.

Dr. Ariana Sutton-Grier, Director of Science for the Maryland/DC chapter of the Nature Conservancy and an Associate Research Professor at the University of Maryland, presented her research on “blue carbon” and salt marshes. In the afternoon, Dr. Dave Curson, Director of Bird Conservation for Audubon MD/DC, toured the teachers to several Refuge areas where Audubon is working closely with Refuge staff on projects to help local salt marshes adapt to a changing climate and rising seas.

With strong coffee in hand, the teachers started Day Two at 6:00 AM for a trip to the Chester River Field Research Station in Chestertown to experience bird banding up close. Maren Gimpel, Field Ecologist for Washington College’s Center for Environment and Society, toured the group around the 228-acre Chino Farms migration banding station; demonstrated how birds are caught, banded, and released; and shared research findings from the banding station’s records. Similar to Pickering Creek Audubon Center, Chino Farms has a long history of agriculture and a recent history of conservation and restoration efforts to improve and protect bird habitats.

Maren Gimpel shows teachers a recently banded Blue Jay at the Chester River Field Research Station

Using data collected from the banding station, teachers practiced a lesson investigating the impacts of weather, land management, and local habitat changes on Northern Bobwhite Quail and Grasshopper Sparrow populations. Following their morning at the banding station, the teachers boarded Washington College’s research vessel Callinectes for an afternoon on the Chester River. Emily Harris, Watershed Coordinator for the Chester River Association (CRA), demonstrated water sampling techniques for fresh and brackish water; discussed restoration, behavior change, and policy initiatives to reduce pollution; and introduced projects CRA works on with landowners, homeowners, and legislators to improve local water quality.

Teacher professional development workshops with Pickering Creek Audubon Center introduce teachers to new activities, resources, and lessons for their classrooms, and connect teachers directly with scientists working in the field. When asked what they found most valuable about the two-day workshop, one teacher commented, “Interacting with the scientists and hearing first hand the importance of the experiments they were conducting. This allows me to better explain these things to my students and show actual work.”

For more information on Pickering Audubon Center please go here

 

MRC Installs Rain Garden at St. Mark’s UMC

Through a partnership with Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy (MRC), St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Easton has an attractive new addition to their property. On July 20, volunteers from St. Marks, MRC, and special guests from the YMCA summer camp planted a 240-square-foot rain garden. Workers of all ages planted more than 200 native plants, including over 22 different species, such as red twig dogwood, joe-pye weed, and blueberry bushes.

A rain garden is an attractive and functional technique to reduce stormwater pollution by collecting and absorbing runoff from impervious surfaces such as parking lots, driveways, and roofs. Before the rain garden was installed, a roof gutter from the church building led directly to the storm drain. Since installation of the rain garden, stormwater will be diverted to the rain garden. In addition to improving water quality, this native rain garden will serve as a habitat for birds, butterflies, and other native wildlife.

Runoff from the downspout shown here will now be diverted into the new rain garden.

The St. Mark’s project was funded by Chesapeake Bay Trust. Other project partners included Adkins Arboretum, Kurt Bluemel, Inc, Environmental Concern, Herring Nursery, and Severn Grove Ecological Design. Representatives from St. Mark’s included Frank Meyerle, Bill Gunther and Pat Lewers.

This project is the second rain garden planted in MRC’s Stewards for Streams program,which connects faith-based organizations and environmental stewardship. The program offers congregations a range of engaging and meaningful teachings and activities, from restoration projects and congregation kayak trips, to rain barrel installation and adult/youth environmental education opportunities.

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. For those interested in getting involved in projects with MRC, future rain garden plantings are scheduled with Grace Lutheran in Easton and Greater New Hope Ministries in Preston. For more information or to volunteer, please contact Suzanne Sullivan at suzanne@midshoreriverkeeper.org

ESLC to Host Celebration of Land Win in Cecil County

The Eastern Shore Land Conservancy (ESLC) invites the public to attend a celebration and tour of OBX Farm – the site of a recent 460-acre land conservation easement that will eventually be transferred to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and turned into what will be called Bohemia River State Park. The event will take place on Wednesday, August 2, 2017 from 5 to 7pm. This is a free event.

Guests will be treated to refreshments, tours, and inspirational words regarding the acquisition by ESLC Executive Director Rob Etgen. The prime agricultural land, which also contains riverfront access to the Bohemia, as well as a rich network of riparian forests and tidal/non-tidal wetlands, sits just off Rt. 213 in Chesapeake City.

ESLC asks that guests RSVP for the event by emailing Owen Bailey at obailey@eslc.org or calling 410.690.4603, ext. 0.

“Over the course of the past 27 years, ESLC has been involved with literally thousands of Eastern Shore farms. OBX Farms is truly one of the most beautiful we’ve ever assisted in preserving!” said ESLC Executive Director Rob Etgen. “This purchase will keep the land open, free from future development, and most exciting of all, available to the public for generations to come. ESLC is incredibly proud to play a role in this important legacy.”

The acquisition of OBX Farms was fully funded by Program Open Space, which preserves natural areas for public recreation, and watershed and wildlife protection across Maryland. The Board of Public Works unanimously approved the acquisition in June.

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

Eastern Shore Land Conservancy (ESLC) is a 501(c)3 nonprofit land conservation organization committed to preserving and sustaining the vibrant communities of the Eastern Shore and the lands and waters that connect them. More at www.eslc.org.

The Collaborative Turtle Research of WC Student and Professor Earns the Cover of “Animal Conservation”

After Hannah O’Malley proposed that her senior thesis be based on research with Washington College Biology Associate Professor Aaron Krochmal, the results of her original hypothesis and the pair’s collaboration to test it are helping conservation managers reassess the role of learning when it comes to moving endangered animals from one habitat to another.

The results of their study are featured in a manuscript entitled “An Empirical Test of the Role of Learning in Translocation” published this summer in the online edition of Animal Conservation. Coauthored by Krochmal’s research associate Timothy C. Roth of Franklin & Marshall College, the paper will be the print edition’s cover story in February 2018.

Hannah O’Malley ’12 in the field radio-tracking Eastern painted turtles.

For O’Malley ’12, a biology major who minored in secondary education and has gone on to become a key member of Walt Disney’s Animals Sciences and Environment education team, co-authorship of her first peer-reviewed paper “feels great, and I’m very excited to officially see it in writing, (and) that my thesis has a purpose beyond just being my Senior Capstone Experience. I love that it has implications for conserving species.”

Although many researchers have studied translocation—the practice of moving an animal from one location to another to protect it from habitat loss or other extinction risks—this research is the first that examines the practice experientially through the lens of cognition and learning. Wildlife managers have long used “soft release”—giving an animal time to learn a new habitat by penning or otherwise protecting it for a period of time before turning it loose—but this research shows that for some species, even soft-release translocation can only succeed if the animals are able to learn the new habitat.

For Eastern painted turtles, whose migratory patterns and navigational methods Krochmal and his students have been studying for eight years, that critical window of learning only happens within their first three years of life. O’Malley was one of Krochmal’s Summer Research students who had worked with him on turtle research at DuPont’s Chesapeake Farms, a 3,300-acre agriculture and wildlife management property near the College.

An Eastern painted turtle with radio tag attached sets off in search of a new water source.

“This project was Hannah’s idea. She was looking into the conservation education side of things but with a strong science background,” Krochmal says. “She suggested the idea of translocating animals with both a short time window and a long time window to compare their behavior against animals that live in that habitat, asking ‘Can you, as newly introduced animal, catch up to their culture?’ And the answer is no, unless you do it when you’re young.”

These data, Krochmal says, encourage more research into this question for other species that are likely to need translocation. And, it can help conservation managers better allocate limited resources—for instance, they may want to spend their money and efforts only on juvenile and newly hatched turtles, rather than adults, since the former are clearly able to learn a new environment while the latter will likely die in the attempt.

“I remember Dr. K saying, ‘What do you think is going to happen?’ and I said, ‘We’re going to translocate turtles and they’re not going to know what the heck is going on,’ ” says O’Malley. “I had already watched how the resident turtles know so clearly what they’re doing. It’s like us waking up in the morning and saying, ‘It’s wintertime and I guess I need to put my coat on.’ They just know what to do.”

Asking newly introduced adult turtles to learn the new habitat “was like moving someone from Florida up north—‘Whoa! I don’t know how to handle this!’ It would have been cool if they miraculously have this sense of direction without having to learn that, but we definitely saw that was not the case.”

In her career with Disney, O’Malley works with other teams to connect children and families to the global environment, creating outdoor education experiences at Walt Disney World in Florida, as well as curricula and resources for educators. For instance, while working with content from the film “Moana,” O’Malley helped develop an activity packet and teacher resource guide that included lessons on sea turtle conservation, while with the new film “Born in China,” she worked on materials related to education and conservation of pandas, snow leopards, and golden snub nosed monkeys—key species featured in the film.

Her work with Krochmal, she says, taught her that the purpose of research is less to find answers than to learn what are the next questions to ask. As an educator now, she also has realized fully the value of his method of mentorship.

“Dr. Krochmal was one of the first educators who treated me as an equal,” she says. “It was, ‘OK, we have this question, let’s work on it together and see where it goes and where it takes us.’ He would say, ‘This is as much your project as it is my project.’ Over time I became more and more invested and empowered and more confident, and I definitely felt like I was contributing, which as a student you don’t always get.”

See the Animal Conservation abstract here: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10.1111/(ISSN)1469-1795/earlyview

Read the entire paper: here: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/317719204_An_empirical_test_of_the_role_of_learning_in_translocation

Learn more about the turtle research here: https://www.facebook.com/taskforceturtle1/

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.

MRC Breaks Ground on Restoration and Stormwater Projects at Chesapeake College

On June 28, Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy (MRC) and Chesapeake College jointly hosted a groundbreaking ceremony on the college’s Wye Mills campus. MRC has been leading an effort in collaboration with the college and funding partners to develop a comprehensive initiative to address major stormwater challenges on the campus. A suite of 14 projects will materially improve water quality in the Wye River. The projects include a wetland restoration, bioretention facilities that filter stormwater, and a stream restoration that will reduce erosion and treat pollutants coming off hard surfaces and the agriculture fields surrounding the campus.

Kristin Junkin, director of operations for MRC, led the ceremony by describing the projects and the valuable partnerships with both Chesapeake College and the funders that are supporting the work. These funders include Maryland Department of Natural Resources, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Chesapeake Bay Trust, and Queen Anne’s County. She thanked all of these partners and emphasized the importance and necessity of local leaders taking responsibility for restoring and protecting our rivers and Chesapeake Bay.

Photo: Pictured at the groundbreaking ceremony are (left to right) Rob Gunter (Queens Anne’s County Planning & Zoning), Ben Hutzell (Resource Restoration Group), Michael Mulligan (Chesapeake College), Sarah Hilderbrandt (Maryland Dept. of Natural Resources), Steve & Julie Burleson (MRC Advisory Committee), Barbara Viniar (former Chesapeake College president), Jim Moran (Queen Anne’s County Commissioner), Kristin Junkin (MRC Director of Operations), Evan Blessing (Blessings Environmental Concepts), Greg Farley (Chesapeake College), Bill Anderson (MRC Board), Timothy Jones (Chesapeake College), Michael Wiznosky (Queen Anne’s County Planning & Zoning), Dr. Clayton Railey (Chesapeake College), Lucie Hughes (Chesapeake College), Chris Oakes and Jess Lister (Environmental Concern), Tim Junkin (MRC founder) and Gus (Tim’s puppy). 

The college’s vice president of finance, Tim Jones,thanked MRC and all of the funder partners, saying,“Chesapeake College’s mission is to educate the residents of our five county region. Not only will these watershed projects allow us to enhance our classroom programs, they will also allow the college to serve as a working model of best practices for all residents on the Eastern Shore. The college is very appreciative of our partners on these projects. It is through partnerships like these that the college has become a nationally recognized leader in sustainability.”

Queen Anne’s County Commissioner Jim Moran applauded the well-organized and thoughtful proposal MRC brought to the county, adding that,“Queen Anne’s County is ready to do our part in cleaning up our waterways. We are delighted to work with MRC and we look forward to more projects down the road.”

The attendees at the ceremony had the unique opportunity to explore with the contractors the keystone project in the group, a Regenerative Step Pool Stormwater Conveyance. This project uses shallow pools to slow down and treat runoff from the college’s hard surfaces and surrounding agricultural fields before the water empties into the headwaters of the Wye East River. Attendees got a behind-the-scenes tour on how these types of projects are engineered and constructed.

The Chesapeake Bay Trust funded MRC’s Wye River Assessment that identified the project opportunities, Queen Anne’s County and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation funded the design work, and Maryland Department of Natural Resources and Queen Anne’s County are funding the construction. All of these projects are scheduled for completion by 2018.

Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the restoration, protection, and celebration of the watersheds of the Choptank River, Eastern Bay, Miles River, and Wye River. For more information on these projects, contact Kristin Junkin at kristin@midshoreriverkeeper.org or 443-385-0511.