Trump’s Proposed Chesapeake Bay Cleanup Cuts faces Hill Battle

President Donald Trump’s plan to slash 90 percent of Chesapeake Bay cleanup funding, which could dismantle several decades of environmental restoration, met resistance from Maryland’s Democratic congressional delegation.

The cuts, which would drop the budget for Chesapeake Bay programs from $73 million to $7.3 million, are nestled in a proposed 33.7 percent decrease in funding for the Environmental Protection Agency.

That would be a paltry sum “to support the nation’s largest estuary,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, said in a statement.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan told Capital News Service the state would fight hard against massive cuts to the bay cleanup program.

“This is yet another assault on clean water, from a president who campaigned saying he valued it,” William Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said in a statement.

Trump tweeted in April 2017 that he was “committed to keeping our air and water clean but always remember that economic growth enhances environmental protection.”

Maryland’s bay-wide commercial harvest for all crabs rebounded from under 20 million pounds in 2013-2014, the lowest marks since 1990, to about 30 million pounds in 2016, according to statistics from Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources.

Critics said the proposed cuts to the EPA have the potential to derail the progress that Maryland has seen, putting both the economic growth and environmental protection Trump referenced in jeopardy.

“Protecting the bay is important not only to protect a great national treasure, but to protect our economy,” Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, told Capital News Service. “If you look at Maryland’s economy, tourism, the watermen, the boating industry, all of these people rely on a healthy bay for their economic livelihood.”

The Chesapeake Bay’s importance to Maryland is underscored by the efforts that federal, state and local officials over the years have coordinated to preserve it. It was the first estuary in the nation to see restoration efforts of this magnitude, according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

“We look forward to working with our Chesapeake delegation in Congress to move the decimal point over to its rightful place and restore bay funding to $73 million,” said Chante Coleman, director of the Choose Clean Water Coalition, a group of more than 200 organizations in the bay region.

Under the Clean Water Act of 1972, the Chesapeake Bay Program Office is tasked with implementing “pollution control programs such as setting wastewater standards for industry.”
The office also sets limits on contaminants.

Van Hollen introduced legislation to increase funding to $300 million in his Chesapeake Bay Farm Bill Enhancements Act in November 2017, which would further assist in efforts to clean up the bay.

Trump tried to eliminate all funding to the Chesapeake Bay Program Office in his proposed fiscal 2017 budget.

“The Chesapeake Bay (Program) Office is the coordinating entity for all the partners in the Chesapeake… all of that depends on the federal government to coordinate the stakeholders’ responsibilities,” Cardin said. “If that program were to receive the type of coverage that is in president Trump’s budget, it couldn’t do its work.”

“The budget from the president, we hope, is dead on arrival because it would be bad news for our region,” Van Hollen said.

By Julia Karron, Jarod Golub and Timmy Chong

Bay Ecosystem: A Walk In The Woods With A Different Kind Of Forester by Tom Horton

It was a chill November morning, the rising sun sloshing light on the tree tops. Larry Walton and I were about half a mile into the woods that line the Nanticoke River near Vienna, MD, when he wrapped his arms around a great old Atlantic white cedar.

That tree species once shaded thousands of acres of Delmarva Peninsula swamps with its dense, evergreen canopies, until rampant logging and wetlands destruction made cedars relatively rare. Today, you seldom see specimens like this.

Larry Walton

I was about to kid my friend Larry, a career commercial forester, that he’d become a tree hugger as he approaches retirement at age 65. But he was just measuring the massive, columnar trunk to see how much wood the cedar’s added since he was here some years ago. “(I) used to be able to reach around it; not now,” Larry said.

But I also know he was happy to see that cedar thriving, standing tall, promising to thrill hikers here long after he and I are gone.

With Larry, it’s never been “hug or log” or “for us or against us.” Maybe that’s why his recent farewell party was a unique assemblage of the region’s logging community and a number of environmentalists. Only for Larry, I thought.

He could have cut that big cedar and others like it anytime during the years he managed around 60,000 acres of woodlands and wetlands around the Bay’s tidal rivers for Chesapeake Forest Products, a Virginia-based commercial timber corporation.

The company surely was not shy about clear-cutting or the almost complete leveling of the forests it owned hereabouts. That’s simply the most effective way to harvest the predominantly pine stands that are the mainstay of commercial timbering in this region.

Clear-cuts, to most non-timber people, are visually shocking, ugly. Far less apparent was what Larry and Chesapeake were electing not to cut, which included some beautiful forests and magnificent trees, including woods buffering tidal creeks and rivers like the Nanticoke and Pocomoke.

Where we were hiking could easily have been a giant sand and gravel pit, he said. Instead, it’s a fine tract of pine and hardwood, with patches of forested swamp, sloping down to the Nanticoke. It’s understory of wild rhododendron will bloom gorgeously in May and June. It features a nature trail now, open year-round to the public.

“A mining company approached us about selling this and forests up on the Marshyhope,” he said, referring to a tributary of the Nanticoke, where sturgeon are making a historic comeback. “We just didn’t like that kind of future for the land.”

Back in the early 1990s, stung by environmental criticism of his company, Larry and one of his woodland managers, the late Tom Tyler, began opening up to environmentalists, taking us through their operations. It gave us a lot to think about, and it began to build trust. More than anyone I knew on the logging side of things, Larry understood us greenies and respected where we were coming from, even if it wasn’t his view.

“A lighter shade of green,” is how he describes himself. Even as a New Jersey kid growing up in the shadow of New York and Newark, he loved wandering the phragmites-lined local brook, which wound through landfills and developments on its way to the Passaic River. Summers with family in the Maine woods probably steered him to Clemson University’s forestry school, he said.

Around 2000, as his timbering career flourished, something happened that would delight environmentalists but threaten to end life as Larry knew it. In a massive land deal, assembled in secrecy until it was done, all of the forests he managed for Chesapeake Forest Products were sold out from under him, to be added to Maryland’s public timberlands as the Chesapeake Forest.

“I was about as welcome as a pig at a Bar Mitzvah,” recalled Neil Sampson, a nationally known conservationist and forestry consultant who came to the Eastern Shore to handle the transition with Larry and his staff.

The giant Chesapeake acquisition, which added 58,000 acres, or 1 percent of the state’s area, to public lands, was intended by state officials to set the standard for sustainable, verifiable, long-term forest management.

Larry and his crew “made it happen,” Sampson said. Eventually he and Larry would form a new company, Vision Forestry, and take over management of the whole forest for several years.

Today, 17 years later, “it is a heck of a lot better forest . . . huge improvements,” Sampson said.
Larry plans to soon head back to the Clemson, SC, area for retirement. “[There are] opportunities in disagreement,” he said during our walk. “But it seems like it’s getting harder to disagree respectfully anymore.”

Years ago, Larry gave me a bumper sticker. “Trees Are the Answer,” it said. I told him I was always leery of simplistic solutions. But you know what? He was right.

Bottom line, there is no other land use better for the Chesapeake Bay and its flora and fauna. The worst clear-cut, if left to regrow, is still better for air and water quality than farming or suburban development, and it leaves your options open for an older, more diverse forest next time.

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

Canadian Sculptor Éric Tardif Chosen as Waterfowl Festival’s 2018 Featured Artist

The 48th Annual Waterfowl Festival is pleased to announce the selection of Éric Tardif as its 2018 Featured Artist.  Tardif began exhibiting at Maryland’s premier showcase of fine arts and unique sporting heritage in 2013.  “I’m so excited to have been selected and looking forward to the show!” he exclaims. “The collectors and artists are always interesting and the Festival volunteers really make artists feel so welcome. When I exhibit there, I feel I belong to an organization and artist group that loves and pays special attention to nature.”

Tardif, who hails from Gatineau in the Canadian province of Quebec, was at one time a naturalist in Cap Tourmente National Wildlife Area preserve along the shores of the St. Lawrence River.  The preserve was specifically created in 1978 to protect the habitats for migratory waterfowl, especially migratory snow geese. It continues to be world-renowned for exceptional marshes and plains that support more than 20 different duck and goose species.

The natural landscapes, heritage and bird life of Western Canada have been Tardif’s creative muse for over fifteen years – first inspiring him to pursue his art and still today, helping to shape his perspective. Wild birds, in particular, with their natural elegance and graceful movements, continue to be the source for his inventive and unique brass, bronze, wood and stone sculptures.

“We are thrilled to have Éric and his work as a signature representation of the variety of artists and wildlife perspectives that the Festival has in store for 2018,” says Kathy Dawkins, Featured Art Co-Chair.  “It’s exciting for us to both celebrate our history of waterfowl in art and also evolve each year to showcase new and different artistic interpretations of nature.”

Tardif does not sculpt in the traditional sense; he bends and shapes. While some of his work is in brass and bronze, his primary medium remains walnut, Canadian maple, ash, cherry and elm.  “I have always been intrigued by the expressive possibilities of wood,” he explains.  “I am constantly researching and refining my methods.  Like birds, my work is in a state of perpetual artistic migration, from what I know toward even more expressive ways to form my vision.”

Using a process called ‘steam bending’ – in which strips of wood are steamed to a temperature of more than two hundred degrees (°F), making them pliable enough to bend into curving, intricate forms – Tardif creates abstract sculptures that capture the nuances and intimacies of our feathered friends as they fly, preen, hunt and interact with each other.  He notes that even the choice of type of wood “adds touches that are sometimes voluptuous, sometimes solemn” to the feeling of a piece.

For the 2018 Festival, November 9-11, Tardif is creating a signature sculpture in bronze.  He will only hint about the piece saying it comes from “a moment etched in my memory.  It was not minutes, but hours being fascinated by two birds that were so engaged with each other that they were completely oblivious to my presence.”

In addition to many group exhibitions around the world and solo exhibitions in Canada and the U.S., Tardif has been highlighted in the annual “Birds in Art Exhibition” at Ohio’s prestigious Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum. Early in his artistic career he won several awards in Japan and more recently has been a finalist for the NICHE Awards in Washington, D.C., an esteemed competition celebrating excellence and innovation in American and Canadian fine craft. Tardif exhibits at the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition in Charleston, South Carolina and other wildlife art events across the U.S each year. He has also served on the Board of Directors for numerous culture, craft and art councils in his home country.

Visit for updates and more information on the 2018 Festival as it evolves.

About the Waterfowl Festival & Waterfowl Chesapeake

Waterfowl Festival, a partner of Waterfowl Chesapeake, is dedicated to wildlife conservation, the promotion of wildlife art, and the celebration of life on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The 48th Festival will be held November 9-11, 2018 in historic Easton, MD. For more information visit or call 410-822-4567.

Environmental Concern Celebrates World Wetlands Day

Environmental Concern (EC) will host a Shoreline Clean-Up Day in celebration of World Wetlands Day on February 2nd. Joining Environmental Concern in this celebration are National Wildlife Refuges, “Wetlands of International Importance”, and many other environmental facilities around the globe, commemorating World Wetlands Day with a variety of activities and programs all focused on wetlands. EC staff and volunteers will walk the shoreline along the San Domingo Creek in St. Michaels, picking up trash along the way. The event will be posted on the international site at, along with many other events that are planned in many countries.

World Wetlands Day marks the date of the signing of the Convention on Wetlands in 1971 in the city of Ramsar, Iran. The Convention on Wetlands is a treaty that provides the framework for international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands. There are presently over 160 Countries participating in the Convention, including the United States.

Around the globe, there are over 2,250 wetland sites, totaling 557 million acres designated as “Wetlands of International Importance”. Although the treaty only requires Countries to designate at least one “Wetland of International Importance”, most have many more. The United States has designated 38 sites, covering 5 million acres. The focus of the designation is not regulation, but education about the benefits of wetlands.

Join the celebration! We are proud to have one Ramsar site in our local area. Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is part of the larger Chesapeake Estuarine Complex, designated in 1986. Visit the Refuge on February 2nd, and participate in a global celebration of wetlands. There will not be a formal event at the Refuge, but the wildlife will keep you entertained.In the winter months, you will observe many species of migrating birds in their natural habitat at Blackwater NWR. This month, a ground survey totaled over 12,000 waterfowl, including approximately 7,000 Canada Geese and over 500 Wood Ducks.

You don’t have to go beyond your own backyard to participate in the World Wetlands Day events. By cleaning up trash around your neighborhood (be sure to wear gloves!), you will prevent the trash from finding its way to a local drainage area, and then into our waterways. Send a picture to if you’re recycling, picking up trash, or visiting a local Wildlife Refuge on February 2nd, 3rd or 4th, and it will be sent to the International Ramsar office to be posted on line, along with other events taking place in the United States.

Suzanne Pittenger-Slear, EC’s President, commented that celebrating World Wetlands Day supports the mission of Environmental Concern by raising awareness of the importance of wetland resources, and encouraging the public to participate by learning about the benefits of wetlands. This year’s World Wetland Day theme is “Wetlands for a Sustainable Urban Future” – retain, restore and manage urban wetlands. For more information about World Wetlands Day, visit: Free posters and activities are available on the site.

To join the Shoreline Clean-Up, call 410.745.9620.

About Environmental Concern

Environmental Concern is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation established in 1972 to promote public understanding and stewardship of wetlands with the goal of improving water quality and enhancing nature’s habitat. The organization accomplishes its mission through wetland outreach and education, native species horticulture, and the restoration, construction and enhancement of wetlands. For the last 45 years, Environmental Concern has been working to restore the Bay…one wetland at a time.

ShoreRivers seeks an Agricultural Specialist

ShoreRivers seeks an Agricultural Specialist to act as the primary liaison with the farming community in our efforts to achieve healthy waterways across Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The ideal candidate will be committed to environmental conservation and have significant
experience in agricultural practices and with the farming community on the Eastern Shore.

This is a full-time position that will be based primarily in our Chestertown, MD, office. Salary range is $45,000-$60,000 and commensurate with experience; competitive benefits package. To apply, send cover letter and resume to Isabel Hardesty, Regional Director, Chester and Sassafras:

Adkins Arboretum Awarded Funds from the Institute of Museum and Library Services

The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) has awarded funding in the amount of $25,000 to Adkins Arboretum to upgrade and increase the accessibility of its Living Collections Database. These funds were awarded through IMLS’s largest competitive grant program, Museums for America, in the category of collections stewardship. Adkins Arboretum is considered a living museum due to its living plant and land preservation exhibits and its educational mission.

The Arboretum plans to upgrade its current Living Collections Database into a robust, user-friendly database, geographic information system (GIS) and web mapping platform for broader public access and improved future monitoring and management of its living collections. The desired result is an easy-to-navigate Living Collections Database that may be accessed online by all who are interested in learning more about the Arboretum’s flora. The expanded inventory of mapped plants will make it easier for visitors to locate species of interest.

The project will be undertaken over the next 18 months by Adkins staff, including Executive Director Ginna Tiernan, Land Steward Kathy Thornton, Chesapeake Conservation Corps member Blake Steiner, Arboretum volunteers, and local contractors Sylvan Kaufman of Sylvan Green Earth Consulting, Thayer Young of Cicada Systems GIS Consulting and Leslie Hunter Cario of Chesapeake Horticultural Services.

Originally founded as Maryland’s state arboretum in 1980, Adkins Arboretum has operated as a nonprofit since 1992. The Arboretum serves as a model for land management that strives to engage all people in the conservation, appreciation and enjoyment of the Chesapeake region’s native landscapes through education, recreation, art and community events. Located adjacent to Tuckahoe State Park, it operates and maintains a visitor’s center, 400 acres of meadows, woods and wetlands, and five miles of trails under a 50-year lease with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. The Arboretum’s diverse collection includes more than 600 species of trees, plants, grasses and wildflowers native to the Eastern Shore and the Mid-Atlantic coastal plain. For more information, visit or call 410-634-2847.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s approximately 120,000 libraries and 35,000 museums. Its mission is to inspire libraries and museums to advance innovation, lifelong learning and cultural and civic engagement. IMLS’s grant making, policy development and research help libraries and museums deliver valuable services that make it possible for communities and individuals to thrive. To learn more, visit or follow IMLS on Facebook and Twitter.

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 or call 410-634-2847, ext. 0.

Op-Ed: Hydraulic Dredging for Clams on the Rise as is the Damage by Jeff Horstman

Hydraulic dredging for clams in our rivers is on the rise. Many of us have witnessed the damage this practice causes.

Clamming licenses in Maryland have sharply increased over the past few years, from just eight in 2013 to over 30 in 2016, perhaps signifying a modest comeback of the soft-shell clam and reflecting the increasing popularity of clams as crabbing bait. Similar to oysters, clams are a vital filter feeder and key component in the ecological food chain. Historically, the clam population has been decimated by overharvesting and disease, and, without a Department of Natural Resources (DNR) management plan, is now at risk of another serious population downturn. Today’s clam populations mirror those of oysters, resting at only about 1 percent of historic levels.

The practice of harvesting clams with a hydraulic dredge is akin to underwater strip mining. High velocity jets of water strip away the river bottom, leaving trenches that can be two feet deep and three feet wide, while a mechanical conveyor belt attached to a long metal arm churns through the newly cut river bottom collecting clams. This action causes major damage to the river floor and irreversible damage to submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) beds, ripping up their roots and leaving large sediment pollution plumes in its wake.

According to multiple studies, hydraulic dredging is catastrophic to SAV beds and the sediment kills oyster spat in surrounding areas. While there are regulations aimed at prohibiting hydraulic dredging in SAV beds, some dredging is allowed in and near oyster sanctuaries. Additionally, it is getting much more difficult to determine where SAV beds are located as they continually change and many large SAV beds are frequently not mapped at all, leaving them vulnerable to this destructive practice.

Hydraulic clam harvesting currently is allowed year-round and the practice is increasing without any assessment of the growing environmental damage it’s causing. Day after day, these hydraulic machines scour, scrape and gouge the river bottoms, producing thousands of pounds of sediment pollution. We think it’s time to develop a clear management plan for this valuable species, taking into consideration clam populations, their immense value to the ecosystem, the residual damage of hydraulic harvest, and the views of all stakeholders. Clams, today, represent a tiny portion of the Bay’s seafood harvest. As the demand for clams increases, we should answer some important questions before clam dredging grows into an even larger problem.

Our rivers are already listed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as impaired for sediment pollution, among other pollutants.

Our rivers are virtually choking from sediment. So, the first question we might ask is: Should we continue to allow hydraulic dredging in impaired rivers when we know it causes catastrophic SAV damage and creates large areas of sediment pollution capable of killing oyster spat and all the underwater life it chokes out? The second question might become: Are there better ways to protect and manage our natural resources, to benefit all stakeholders, while insuring a healthy and sustainable clam population?

Our rivers belong to all of us. The current hydraulic harvesting practices hurt more of us than they help.

Jeff Horstman is executive director of ShoreRivers, Inc.

Is Organic Farming Good for the Chesapeake? By Whitney Pipkin

Organic agriculture is the fastest growing sector of the food industry in the United States, and its footprint in the Chesapeake Bay watershed is growing in kind.

The brand of agriculture that eschews the use of pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics and genetically engineered ingredients now makes up 20 percent of Perdue Farms’ poultry production on the Delmarva Peninsula, where the company is headquartered.

Smaller poultry producers in the region also are growing their organic operations at a steady clip: Bell & Evans, which is based in Fredericksburg, PA, and sells its chicken meat to high-end retailers such as Whole Foods Market, launched its line of organic products in 2009 and opened a certified organic hatchery this year.

Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley Organic opened its first poultry facility in Harrisonburg in 2014, providing contract feed growers interested in making the switch with an alternative buyer in that region.

As organic poultry production increases, so does the demand for organically grown grains to feed the birds, such as corn and soybeans, much of which comes from outside the country. But that’s beginning to change — and could represent a significant shift in land use for the Bay watershed. Perdue alone is buying organic grains grown on more than 13,000 acres of cropland across the region, and seeks much more.

The practices that earn poultry and grain producers the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s organic label may keep certain pesticides, antibiotics and hormones out of foods, but are they necessarily better for water quality and the Bay than conventional agriculture?

“The basic answer is, it depends on if you’re a good organic grower or not,” said Michel Cavigelli, lead scientist on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farming Systems Project in Beltsville, MD. “Not all organic is equal, and not all conventional is equal.”

Comparing organic and conventional practices on mid-Atlantic soils is just what Cavigelli’s team has been doing for more than 20 years. The project has measured the performance of conventional and organic cropping systems by applying the different management systems to fields planted with the same crops.

Nutrient runoff is one of several factors monitored that has implications for local water quality. When asked whether the growth of organic practices in the watershed could be good for the Bay, Cavigelli began with the caveats.

For starters, he said, each type of farming comes with tradeoffs: Conventional growers use genetically engineered seeds and herbicides to combat weeds; organic growers till their fields to suppress weeds, which can lead to erosion and nutrient runoff when compared with farms that practice no-till cultivation.

The project’s findings so far indicate that organic fields typically have less phosphorus, nitrogen and sediment runoff than conventional plots — unless those conventional plots are no-till. That, in part, is because organic farms tend to build organic matter in the soils over time, which helps fields retain water and nutrients. But some of that work is undone when an organic farmer, rather than using herbicides, tills the soil to prevent weeds.

About a quarter of cropland acres in the country are farmed using no-till practices, according to the latest U.S. Census of Agriculture in 2012. Another 20 percent of those acres were farmed with other “conservation-tillage” practices aimed at minimizing soil disturbances. Maryland farmers had the highest percentage of no-till acres at 55 percent in 2012.

“Based on our studies, no-till has less runoff of silt and nutrients than any other method we use, including organic,” Cavigelli said.

Since time immemorial, farmers have fertilized and plowed croplands in the spring to turn over the soil and prepare it for planting. But heavy spring rains can wash fertilizer and soil from bare fields. The nutrients from fertilizers and sediment from freshly plowed fields run off into nearby ditches and streams, eventually winding up in the Bay.

No-till farming, which began taking root after the 1930s Dust Bowl, leaves the soil undisturbed from the fall harvest through winter. In the spring, seeds are planted in narrow slots that are “drilled” into the ground.

Cavigelli’s research project has compared the different cultivation regimens using virtually the same crop rotations, patterned after most commodity-growing fields in the Bay region, over a three-year period: corn the first year, soybeans the second year and wheat the third. In the third year, the conventional fields, including tilled and no-till, follow the wheat with a quick crop of soybeans, which are harvested too late in the fall to allow a cover crop to be planted. The organic fields, in contrast, are planted in a perennial alfalfa after the third-year crop, so they have less nutrient runoff that year than all of the conventional fields.

In the short-term, the runoff-control benefits of no-till farming edge out organic. But if the organic crop rotation pattern is repeated for decades, using cover crops for longer periods, Cavigelli said, the organic fields could end up performing better on overall nutrient absorption.

“We’ve been improving conventional for 100 years now,” he said, referring to technological improvements that have reduced conventional farming’s impacts on water quality over time, “and organic for just 20 years or so. There are trade-offs between all these systems, but it seems there’s a lot of room for improvement with organic.”

Cavigelli acknowledges that his work focuses on just a few aspects of the many comparisons that can be drawn between the farming practices. There’s another factor to consider — fertilizer use.

Organic crops typically use less nitrogen to begin with, or rely on slow-release forms of nutrients, such as manure, which reduce the risk of nutrient runoff and leaching.

While organic advocates bring that up as a water-quality advantage, other research indicates organic farming practices can leach just as much nitrate as conventional farming systems if the goal is to maintain the same crop yields.

With manure application, “it’s more difficult to be prescriptive,” said Ken Staver, research scientist at the University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. “When you use chemical fertilizers, there are methods to apply it very precisely and to apply it closer to where the crop uptake is” to reduce nutrient loss.

But that comparison only holds true if the fields are planting the same crops. If organic agriculture does, in fact, plant more perennials such as alfalfa, Staver added, “that will always lower the nutrient loss.”

As a riverkeeper who grows organic grains for Perdue chickens on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Jeff Horstman views the intersection of agribusiness and water quality from a unique perspective. Horstman is the executive director of ShoreRivers, a new consolidation of watershed advocacy groups on the peninsula — the Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy, the Chester River Association and the Sassafras River Association.

Those organizations’ priorities have at times diverged from those of local poultry producers, to put it mildly. The Waterkeeper Alliance, the umbrella organization for riverkeeper groups like his, filed an unsuccessful federal lawsuit seven years ago accusing Perdue and one of its contract growers of polluting a Bay tributary. The case, dismissed by a judge after a lengthy trial, left a trail of lingering bitterness and suspicion between farmers and environmentalists.

But Horstman and others see in organic agriculture a growing opportunity to find common ground. “I moved back to the family farm and one of the things I wanted to do was become an organic farmer,” said Horstman — whose grandfather, J. I. Rodale, founded the Rodale Institute, a nonprofit devoted to organic farming research in Kutztown, PA. “I appreciate what Perdue does for the Shore and how they’re trying to cultivate organic.” he said. “I think agricultural diversity is good, and organic is a step toward that.”

This fall, the farmland Horstman inherited on the Wye River in Queenstown produced its first crop of organic corn — 170 acres of it — to be sold to Perdue for chicken feed.

Perdue got into organic poultry with its purchase of Coleman Natural Foods in 2011. In response to growing consumer demand, Perdue has since converted a poultry plant in Milford, DE, and a feed mill in Hurlock, MD, to process only certified organic products. The company has also banned the use of antibiotics by all its producers, not just organic operations.

The company has been spreading the word among local growers that it needs organic grains — and that the price is right. This season, farmers could get close to $10 per bushel for organic corn, which can come with lower yields, compared with $3 a bushel for conventional. But a farmer who decides to grow organically on a piece of land in 2017 typically would have to wait until 2020 to sell its first organic crop because of a three-year transition period required by the organic label.

Even with the lag, Perdue expects to have purchased 7,000 acres of organic corn, 3,600 acres of organic soybeans and 2,700 acres of organic wheat from Bay watershed states this year, company spokesman Joe Forsthoffer said. Most of Perdue’s organic grains are currently imported from growers in South America.

“The nice thing about the larger outfits like Perdue is, because they need it and have the capacity, they’re willing to do a contract that reduces your risk and locks in a price early,” said Matt Nielsen, the farmer who’s growing organic grains on Horstman’s land.

Nielsen, 33, also has 75 acres of his own land in organic production and is looking for more organic acreage to farm. He thinks 250 acres or so would be enough to achieve some economies of scale and would also allow him to diversify. He’d like to pasture animals on some acres that aren’t fit for crops and leave several fields at a time in perennial grasses to combat weeds.

But is all that better than the alternative when it comes to local water quality?

“The soil will truly benefit from a lot of different types of agriculture,” Nielsen said. “I’m not sure if you can conclusively rule organic as better or worse, but I do know that there are things we do in organic that have benefits.”

For Horstman, growing organic grains is a good place to start — both for his family farm and for the local water quality he’s concerned with protecting. Like the consumers who are fueling the organic industry’s growth, Horstman is concerned about the environmental and health impacts of conventional agriculture: its reliance on pesticides and herbicides and the way it bolsters an intensified approach to both grain and meat production.

“It’s definitely going to be better for human health, and I think less herbicides and pesticides in the water is definitely an improvement,” he said. “I do think it will be better for the Bay.”

Steve Levitsky, Perdue’s vice president of sustainability, said the company’s ultimate goal is to make organic poultry more affordable for consumers — and sourcing more organic grains from the Bay watershed, rather than overseas, will help.

“Part of the equation is getting more organic [feed] grown on the Eastern Shore,” he said. “That would also help the local grain farmers get higher premiums for their crops, and maybe they won’t need as large of a land mass to be viable.”

Perdue growers produced almost 40 million organic chickens in the Bay region in 2016, or 20 percent of the company’s regional production, with 80 percent of those houses in the Lancaster region of Pennsylvania and the rest on the Eastern Shore.

There are several reasons that organic chicken costs more at the grocery store, and some of them have stronger links to environmental benefits than others. Most of that extra cost is attributable to organic chicken feed, which can cost two to four times as much as conventional. Organic poultry houses also include comparatively expensive amenities, such as windows, “enrichment” equipment and access to the outdoors.

Alicia LaPorte, campaign manager for Fair Farms Maryland, a coalition of environmental and public health groups that advocate for better farming systems, said Perdue’s operation-wide antibiotics ban changed the industry, with other retailers and producers following suit. That gives her hope that other incremental changes, including the continued growth of organic production.

Fair Farms founder Betsy Nicholas, who’s also the executive director of Waterkeepers Chesapeake, said more organic options in the watershed might be a step in the right direction for local farmers and water quality — but one that still doesn’t go far enough.

Nicholas points to a growing number of small farms, organic and conventional, that are raising animals on pastures, rather than growing feed for them on the Eastern Shore and selling them to local markets.

“It’s absolutely better to have more organic than non-organic farming, [considering] pesticides alone,” she said. “But, ultimately, what we’d want to see is a more diverse agricultural system with more diverse crops. If you have a system that’s based on animal agriculture and the grain crops to feed that animal agriculture, that’s not a diverse system.”

Whitney Pipkin writes at the intersection of food, agriculture and the environment from her home base in Northern Virginia. She is a fellow of the Institute for Journalism & Natural Resources.

Cambridge Residents Invited to Kick-Off Event for Cannery Park

The Eastern Shore Land Conservancy (ESLC) and its project partners will host two community design charrettes, as well as a project kick-off event, to celebrate and gather community input for Cannery Park. The park, which will be located adjacent to the former Phillips Packing Co.’s last remaining building (soon to be known as The Packing House), is the culmination of a planning and funds-seeking process that has been in the works for approximately seven years.

The media kick-off event will happen at 11am on Tuesday, January 23rd at 411 Dorchester Avenue. All residents, local businesses, and members of the media are encouraged to attend to find out more about the future park, and about Parker Rodriguez – the Alexandria, VA-based landscape architecture firm that has been selected to design and create Cannery Park.

The two community design charrettes will be open to the public in an effort to capture feedback and input on the design of Cannery Park’s master plan, as well as to provide updates on Cambridge’s newest public space. The first charrette will be held from 6:30 to 7:30pm on Tuesday, January 23rd at the Cambridge Empowerment Center, located at 615 B Pine Street. The second charrette will be held at 6:30pm on Thursday, January 25th at the Public Safety Building, located at 8 Washington Street.

Along with ESLC staff, members from the City of Cambridge, Dorchester County, Cross Street Partners, and Parker Rodriguez will be in attendance during all of the week’s events. The restoration of Cambridge Creek, along with the removal of an inactive railroad line so as to create a rail trail connecting the park to downtown, will be among the first action items in the creation of the new park.

Parker Rodriguez was founded in 1996 as a full service land planning, landscape architecture, and urban design firm serving public and private clients across the U.S. The firm has a strong record of working in close collaboration with public planners, citizens, architects, and artists during its projects, which has led to landscape design that is imaginative, sensitive to the community, and authentic to place – all reasons that the firm was selected from the many who submitted proposals. The firm is also known to be deeply informed by principles of sustainability, believing that good design and ecological effectiveness are not mutually exclusive.

For more information about the media event on January 23rd, please contact ESLC’s Communication Manager David Ferraris at or 410.690.4603 x165. For questions regarding the community design charrettes, please contact ESLC’s Community Projects Manager Elizabeth Carter at or 410.690.4603 x152.

Eastern Shore Land Conservancy

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

Bay Ecosystem:Tangier Island Recovers from Icy Grip

As temperatures on the Chesapeake Bay dropped as low as 9 degrees early this month, a barricade of ice up to 10 inches thick formed around Tangier Island, preventing boats from bringing groceries, medicine and other supplies to the 722 residents on that speck of Virginia off the Eastern Shore.

Fortunately, a variety of agencies came to the rescue — the U.S. Coast Guard out of Maryland, the Virginia National Guard and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources organized emergency ice-breaking operations to free Tangier Island.

Nearly two weeks after the snowstorm, regular activity on the waters around Tangier resumed Wednesday, and the mail delivery ferry went out to Tangier’s residents for the first time Thursday morning.

“We’re happy to help with what is really life-saving work,” said Gregg Bortz, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Tangier is located in the Chesapeake Bay and consists of three villages — Ewell, Tylerton and Rhodes Point. The island depends on boats for mail and shipments, and single-digit temperatures and thick ice made that impossible.

Tangier Island falls within the Coast Guard’s 5th District, which includes Maryland and Virginia.

“The Coast Guard has a history of providing assistance to Tangier,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Ronald Hodges. “The organizations that responded to Tangier Island were based on the availability of assets with ice-breaking capabilities.”

Then the Virginia National Guard flew in from Richmond, making two trips to deliver additional food.

Island officials sought assistance from the Coast Guard, which sent the cutter Chock on Jan. 3. The ship conducted ice breaking and supply delivery until Jan. 5, Hodges said.

“The Chock had to be redirected to break ice in another area, and second request was submitted to the Coast Guard by Tangier for assistance,” Hodges said. “The Coast Guard was unable to facilitate the request, and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management took over relief duties.”

According to Bortz, a 100-foot Maryland icebreaker, the J. Millard-Tawes, was brought in from Crisfield, Maryland, 13 1/2 miles from Tangier.

Clearing a path, he said, was “the primary goal.”

The Maryland DNR was called to the island last in 2015. Bortz said the U.S. Coast Guard primarily responds to Tangier while Maryland DNR focuses on helping nearby Smith Island, Maryland.

Capt. Eddie Somers of the J. Millard-Tawes was part of the rescue team that met trucks of supplies at the city docks in Crisfield and took the two-hour journey to Tangier.

Besides the Tawes, the Maryland DNR has three ice-breaking vessels — the John C. Widener in Annapolis, A.V. Sandusky in Kent Narrows and Big Lou on the Choptank River.

Tangier Mayor James Eskridge said the island hasn’t experienced ice like this in many years. The community, he added, always pulls together.

“Some 40 years ago, folks would have bonfires and go ice skating,” he said. “This was the closest to an ice storm we’ve had since then.”

By Sophia Belletti and Katie Bashista.

Photos from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources 


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