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.

Op-Ed: The Good and Bad News on Oyster Restoration by CBF’s Tom Zolper

New scientific information unveiled Monday, July 10 provides yet more encouraging news that the largest man-made oyster restoration project in the Chesapeake Bay is working. The project is in Harris Creek.

Unfortunately, just as the investment in Harris Creek seems to be paying off, efforts to duplicate that success in two other tributaries of the Choptank River are hitting snags. Political pressure and substrate shortages threaten to bring restoration efforts to a screeching halt if the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) does not act quickly.

First the good news. New monitoring data indicate that 30 oyster reefs created in 2013 in Harris Creek have high densities of oysters, reported Stephanie Reynolds Westby, Chesapeake Bay oyster restoration coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Westby reported the findings at the monthly meeting of the Maryland Oyster Advisory Commission (OAC). The NOAA report can be found here.

Scientists have developed specific metrics to determine when an oyster reef can be officially called “restored.” About 97 percent of the 30 reefs planted in 2013 in Harris Creek met the minimum metric for oyster density, and 80 percent met a higher “targeted” density. In fact, only one of the 30 reefs failed to meet the metrics. OAC members speculated someone could have poached oysters off that reef, or that the seabed underneath could have been too muddy for the oysters to thrive.

Despite data to the contrary, some OAC members challenged the conclusion that a restoration project is successful simply because it achieves metrics such as oyster density and biomass. They said putting oysters in the water and having them grow and prosper is not enough. The real success will be if oysters at Harris Creek reproduce, and their larvae help seed oyster bars miles away where oystermen harvest. Some scientific modeling from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science has suggested that could happen.

Scientists at the OAC meeting said a restored reef is successful even if it doesn’t seed far-away oyster reefs. They said a massive network of reefs such as in Harris Creek will attract fish, filter the water and provide other ecological benefits. Harris Creek is a “sanctuary reef,” meaning oysters can’t be harvested there.
Now the bad news. Also at the OAC meeting, officials with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) revealed oyster restoration in the Little Choptank and Tred Avon Rivers have hit political snags. Those two projects were meant to duplicate the success in Harris Creek – building large networks of man-made reefs where oysters had once thrived.

Chris Judy of DNR reported that the plan for Maryland to restore 118 acres in the shallow reaches of Little Choptank is still on hold. For several years DNR has delayed requesting a permit for the work, most recently after complaints from watermen representatives. Restoration work at the mouth of the river has nearly been completed by various partners, including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, but DNR has long delayed doing its part.

DNR recently asked NOAA experts to further survey the bottom of the river where restoration was planned to find additional suitable acres for restoration in deeper water. Initial estimates suggest that there may be as few as 20-30 acres of suitable area in deeper water, meaning a permit would still be required to complete the project. Because of these political delays and additional surveys, Judy estimated that construction in the Little Choptank won’t begin for a least a year, bringing restoration in the Little Choptank to a halt.

Also at the OAC meeting, Angie Sowers of USACE said her agency had to stop construction in the Tred Avon because of a shortage of mixed shell substrate. The Corps’ contractor was only able to complete 6 out of 10 planned acres. The use of mixed shell instead of other materials in the Tred Avon was a result of negotiations at the OAC after watermen halted restoration work there in 2016. When questioned at the OAC meeting, Sowers said the work could have proceeded with stone.

Ironically, within the new data on Harris Creek was a finding that oysters were growing to densities four times greater on rock substrate than they were on traditional oyster shell. The very thing that watermen object to in reef construction might be the best substance. A recent article in the Chesapeake Bay Journal reported that watermen in Virginia also have discovered the benefit of rock foundations for reefs. But Maryland watermen remain resistant because they claim rock substrate makes it difficult to catch crabs in the area with trot lines, or causes other problems.

Tom Zolper is Assistant Director of Media Relations at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. For more information about CBF please go here.

Memories still Alive and Thriving at Horton Homestead by Tom Horton

The smell of the piney woods and the call of bobwhite quail; tracks of my toy wagon in the soft sand road bordered by ditches alive with tadpoles; the warm odors of the grain bin where mom stashed me as she rolled it through the chicken houses at feeding time; racing to pick up bloody squirrels as they tumbled to the ground after blasts from dad’s shotgun.

Tom Horton rides his hobby horse in front of the log cabin circa 1948. (Horton archives)

These are some of my earliest memories — from the 1940s — of the old log cabin where we lived when I was born, eight miles outside Salisbury on Maryland’s lower Eastern Shore.

And you may suspect that I’m about to spin another variation on a theme all too familiar: of better, greener times past, and returning, dismayed, to find all that was dear has been steamrollered by “progress.”

But sometimes you really can go home again. The log cabin 72 years later stands square and sturdy amid blooming shrubs and flowers. The forest has reclaimed several acres of what was open, scrubby field in my childhood. Some of the pines are becoming giants, up to 14 feet around; woodland orchids, sweet magnolias and ferns abound in the understory.

Betty Lou Davis has lived 60 years in the cabin where the Horton family was living when Tom was born. She and Rob dug deep to buy adjacent woodlands to save them from imminent logging. (Dave Harp)

Luckily, the cabin’s current tenant has taken a shine to me. Across the fireplace mantel, in a pine-paneled living room that has changed little, is a wooden board inscribed: “birthplace of Tom Horton, environmentalist.” A Washington Monument would not be as pleasing.

Betty Lou Davis greets me at the door. Going on 89, she’s just back from her regular hour-long swim at the Salisbury YMCA. I’ve learned when calling for a visit to let her phone, a landline with no answering machine, ring “about 13 times” because she’s always outside working in the yard, and that’s how long it takes her to pick up.

The real monument here is the well-maintained, modest cabin and the opulent nature surrounding it, testament to the long and caring stewardship of Betty Lou and her late husband, Rob, a nationally noted bow hunter. Rob once told a local newspaper it was the sight of an eight-point buck munching acorns behind the cabin that sealed its sale to the Davises in 1958 (for $6,800).

The cabin was built on 18 acres in 1934 for a New York man, Robert Cleland, who put $5 as down payment and moved here thinking he might “get a foothold in a small place,” his widow told Betty Lou. The logs were cut from the property and hauled out by mule team, skinned of bark and creosoted, then chinked with mortar and brick. My parents bought the place from Cleland in 1945 — “lucky to get it,” my mom told me, as housing after World War II was scarce.

After almost 60 years at the log cabin, Betty Lou says she can’t imagine being anyplace else. She and Rob dug deep to buy adjacent woodlands to save them from imminent logging, expanding the property to its present 45 acres. Betty Lou and her son maintain trails throughout, with benches placed at scenic points, sharing the nature there with visitors year-round.

The resplendent greenery here is far more beautiful and diverse than in my childhood. Betty Lou took every course on botany offered at Salisbury University during the 18 years she spent earning her degree. (She is no slow learner, but life was busy — and she and Rob had different views on women and education, she said.)

Some changes: The bobwhites that I recall fondly, and the whip-poor-wills whose night calling terrified me, are both heard no more, their species in serious decline because of environmental degradation. “The bird sound when we came here was just thunderous,” Betty Lou said. “Now, not nearly so much.”

Recently, we have been figuring out how she can arrange her affairs to permanently protect the old cabin and its surrounds, a fitting legacy for a remarkable woman and her late husband.

And selfishly, it would mean I can keep going home again, and again. In 1986, when I left off full-time environmental reporting at the Baltimore Sun to move to tiny Smith Island in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay, I wrote that after trekking the Amazon and following famines across Africa, I was feeling “a need to shrink my prospects, narrow my horizons, move on to smaller endeavors.”

I have happily maintained that course, living now three blocks from the hospital where I was born, biking to teach at Salisbury University a few blocks in the other direction, on the same streets where my grandfather, the college’s dean of education, launched me on my first tricycle in 1948. Not so long ago, after I gave a talk, a very old man came up from the audience. “You won’t remember me, but I delivered you,” he said.

The log cabin, and its inimitable spirit of place, one Betty Lou Davis, are the icing on that cake.

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

Pickering Journal: Sixth Graders Invade Audubon Center

“Oh, my gosh, they are so cute!” a sixth grade student whispers after peering into a bluebird nest box during a hike at Pickering Creek Audubon Center. Talbot County’s 340 sixth grade science students visited Pickering Creek in May for a field experience that culminated from multiple classroom lessons about wetlands, birds and climate change. Seeing the baby birds up close is an exciting moment for each student that builds a personal connection to local wildlife.

Student pairs use binoculars and bird guides to identify as many birds as possible during their field trip at Pickering Creek.

During each field trip to the 400-acre wildlife sanctuary, the sixth graders hike along the forest and meadow trails that are home to many residential birds like Northern Cardinals and migratory birds like Tree Swallows. Short competitions ensue when students use binoculars and field guides to identify hidden bird pictures in the meadow’s brush. Later, the students play a game, acting like birds competing for food resources on their nesting grounds. A “normal” year becomes much more challenging when an unusually warm winter results in plants blooming weeks before the migratory birds arrive in the spring, creating unforeseen competition for resources among the student “birds.”

Students pull on waterproof boots and walk out into one of the Center’s 15-year-old restored wetlands, where they find crayfish, tadpoles, dragonfly nymphs, snails, and diving beetles. The small aquatic animals found in the water depend on specific temperature ranges in order to survive. The students consider how the health of the habitat might change if the global temperature increases just a small amount, causing more frequent hot days in Maryland and the water temperature to rise above its normal range.

As a global issue, climate change is often framed as a problem for the Arctic or low-lying islands far away, but the focus on local wetlands not only gives students a chance to see how climate change will affect human communities and wildlife on the Eastern Shore, but to also participate in positive solutions.

A sixth grade student holds up a crayfish found during a wetland survey at Pickering Creek.

In class, students learn how burning of fossil fuels results in Earth’s atmosphere trapping more heat on Earth. In a wetland soil lab they learn how the low-oxygen condition of the wetland soil enables it to store carbon for thousands of years. That characteristic of wetland soil makes wetlands a “carbon sink,” or a place that stores more carbon than is released. When the students add plants to the new wetland on their field trip, they are increasing the soil’s capacity to capture and store heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Students walk away from their field experience with a firm grasp of the local impacts of climate change on wildlife—and also with knowledge of community-based solutions. One student reflected, “I wish people knew that climate change affects animals finding food, not just your electric bill for air conditioning!” Asked what actions they or the community could take to help local wetlands, students respond with ideas ranging from cutting their carbon footprint to planting more native plants for local birds and using renewable energies.

This project is supported in part by the Chesapeake Audubon Society, MADE CLEAR and the Chesapeake Bay Trust. Pickering Creek Audubon Center sees Eastern Shore students of all grade levels for hands on, standards-aligned environmental education programs in both classroom and field-based experiences. Educators and schools interested in developing a program for their students should contact the Center at 410-822-4903 to begin planning for the 2017-18 school year.

Birding Competition- Student pairs use binoculars and bird guides to identify as many birds as possible during their field trip at Pickering Creek.
Crayfish – A sixth grade student holds up a crayfish found during a wetland survey at Pickering Creek.

For more information, press only:
Mark Scallion
410-822-4903
mscallion@audubon.org
For more information on the events:
www.pickeringcreek.org

Maryland and Virginia Move to Trim Bay Crab Harvest

Crabbers in Maryland and Virginia face new harvest restrictions, a move that managers in both states have said is necessary because of the Chesapeake Bay’s low population of juvenile crustaceans.

Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) announced Tuesday that the commercial crab season will close Nov. 20, ten days earlier than it did last year. The state’s crabbers also face a cutback in the number of adult female crabs they can harvest. Those who fish 300 pots will be able to keep five bushels of females, as opposed to nine last year; those with a 600-pot license can keep 10, as opposed to 13 last year; and those with a 900-pot license can keep 15, as opposed to 30 last year.

The Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) voted Tuesday to close its crabbing season Nov. 30 — twenty days earlier than last year. Virginia also instituted reduced bushel limits for its license holders for all of November. It will open its 2018 spring season March 17, instead of March 1 this year.

VMRC board chairman John M.R. Bull called the commission’s decision “prudent management of this species” and said the crabbers recognized they were taking a necessary step. “Crab management issues are always difficult, but we’ve seen tremendous improvements in the species over the past seven or eight years,” he said. “We have the largest number of adult female crabs. We have to protect the juveniles, though. This year’s babies are next year’s mamas.”

The harvest cuts come after the latest winter dredge survey results, released in April, showed that the highest number of female crabs in the 28-year history of the annual count. The tally for females was 254 million, a 31 percent increase over last year.

But the Baywide survey, which counts the crabs in more than 1,000 locations as they burrow in the mud, showed a marked decrease in young crabs. It estimated that there were 125 million juveniles in the Chesapeake — a 54 percent decrease from the 271 million found in 2016. That is the lowest tally since 2013 (a year when crabbers also had their catch curtailed) and one of the five lowest estimates since 1990, managers said.

Catches of the Chesapeake’s most valuable seafood are being curtailed later in the year in an effort to protect the smaller population of juvenile crabs as they reach market size, so that they will be around to reproduce next year.

Maryland DNR’s Blue Crab Industry Advisory Committee and Tidal Fisheries Advisory Commission approved the cuts in votes this week, DNR officials said. The DNR’s announcement came a day after the Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee, made up of federal and state fisheries officials, warned both states to take a “cautious, risk-averse approach” to managing blue crabs.

Billy Rice, chairman of the DNR Tidal Fisheries Advisory Commission and a Southern Maryland crabber, said the department was doing just that with this decision.

“We’re taking a conservative approach. We’re not going whole hog. We tried to make the changes as liberal as possible, but we felt there had had to be a response,” he said. Other options included a shorter season and less of a bushel cut; Rice said it’s better for the population and the markets to have a longer season with a higher bushel limit.

By law, the Virginia commission must annually consider reopening that state’s winter dredge fishery for crabs, which would allow crabbers to take pregnant females that spend the cold months burrowed in the mud. The dredge fishery in Virginia closed a decade ago, a move researchers have credited with helping the Bay’s crab population recover from a crisis in 2008. This year, Bull said, no one asked for the fishery to be reopened.

Not every crab scientist approves of how management has reacted to the year-over-year changes in the notoriously boom-and-bust blue crab species. Tom Miller, a crab specialist who directs the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, said it’s hard to evaluate the population’s long-term stability and the harvest it can withstand if management reacts seasonally. Crabs live between one and three years and can reproduce furiously, or not much at all. After being spawned near the mouth of the Bay, their offspring hitch a ride on ocean currents back into the Chesapeake. Some years, many return; some years, many don’t.

“I am not convinced that we need to change management,” Miller told the Bay Journal in May. “One of my concerns has been that managers have been too responsive to individual winter dredge survey results. The reference points are meant to be long-term responses of the crab population under constant conditions — and as a result, frequent changes to the management regime makes evaluation of this problematical.”

No Maryland DNR fisheries managers were available to answer questions about the state’s new harvest limits, a department spokesman said.

In the past, the DNR’s longtime blue crab manager, Brenda Davis, would have explained changes in management to both the public and crabbers But Davis, a 28-year employee, lost her job in February after several Dorchester County watermen held a private meeting with Gov. Larry Hogan Jr. and his deputy chief of staff, Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio, an Eastern Shore native who is close to many watermen.

They accused Davis of not being flexible enough about rules on the legal size of crabs. Those rules have not been changed, though a small group of crabbers continue to push for it.

“When you fire your expert,” Billy Rice said, “it’s pretty tough [to provide information].”

By Rona Kobell

Bay Journal staff writer Rona Kobell is a former reporter for the Baltimore Sun.

UMCES Invites Everyone to Report Dolphin Sightings in Chesapeake Bay

The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science invites everyone who spends time on or near the Chesapeake Bay to report dolphin sightings with a new online tracking system. Chesapeake DolphinWatch allows users to mark the location of their dolphin sightings on a map of the Chesapeake and its tributaries so scientists can better understand where the dolphins are and where they go. The online tracker is accessible at www.chesapeakedolphinwatch.org .

“We’d like to increase people’s awareness of the dolphins and collect data at the same time,” said Helen Bailey, a scientist at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s Chesapeake Biological Laboratory. She specializes in studying the movements of marine mammals.“Whether you’re at home, whether you have a community pier, you live near the water, or you go out on the water, we need your eyes on the sea telling us where are the dolphins.”

Bottlenose dolphins are frequently spotted in the Chesapeake Bay during the summer with reports of them leaping in the air or bow riding boats. However, very little is known about how often dolphins actually come into the Bay, how long they spend there, what areas of the Bay they are using and why.

“Right now we have such scarce information. This is really the first time we are systematically recording this,” said Bailey. “We are hearing anecdotally that dolphins are becoming more frequent visitors to the Chesapeake Bay, but we really don’t have much information at all about where they are going and when. The more eyes we have on the water the better to report dolphin sightings. We think that citizens can make very good citizen scientists,” she said.

The online tracker has four main sections. There is a map page where users can see all of the reported sightings and tap to report their own sighting. Users can either enter the location where they saw the dolphins or have the device use the current location to mark the sighting. Users will be able to view how many users are accessing the tracker and the dolphin sightings in real time. There is also an information page with responsible wildlife viewing guidelines and to learn more about dolphins and the Chesapeake Bay.

“We are excited to be using new technology that will enable everyone to help us understand more about dolphins,” said Tom Miller, director of UMCES’ Chesapeake Biological Laboratory. “Citizen science, such as the DolphinWatch tracker, is becoming more and more important and helps connect everyone to our work to protect, restore, and sustain the Bay.”

Bailey notes that changes in climate, improvements in water quality, and improvements in fish stocks upon which dolphins feed could be factors in a surge in dolphin sightings. She already has a few underwater microphones in the Patuxent and Potomac Rivers where they meet the Chesapeake Bay listening for the echolocation click sounds dolphins make. The data collected through Chesapeake DolphinWatch will help inform where to put more devices to help understand where the dolphins are going and where are feeding.

“People have been really excited to tell us about their sightings, but there was no easy way to report them before,” said Bailey. “Dolphins are very iconic, and they are in our backyard.”

More information on the DolphinWatch program is available on the UMCES website at www.umces.edu/dolphinwatch. Tag your photos of dolphins to @dolphinwatch_cb on Instagram.

Funding for ChesapeakeDolphinWatch.org was provided by the Chesapeake Bay Trust.

UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND CENTER FOR ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE 

The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science leads the way toward better management of Maryland’s natural resources and the protection and restoration of the Chesapeake Bay. From a network of laboratories located across the state, UMCES scientists provide sound advice to help state and national leaders manage the environment, and prepare future scientists to meet the global challenges of the 21st century. http://www.umces.edu

Op-Ed: Why Cut a $73 Million Program that Provides Billions in Benefits? By Kim Coble

There is more good news for the Bay this year. The clear consensus in the scientific community is that the health of the Bay is improving. In the last five months, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s “State of the Bay” report, the Chesapeake Bay Program’s “Bay Barometer,” and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s “Bay Report Card” all show progress.

Female crab numbers are up, oysters are beginning to rebound and underwater grass beds have hit new records in each of the last four years. Pollution is down, the Bay’s dead zone is getting smaller, and at times, the water has been clearer than many can remember. The Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint is working.

All three reports, though, show that much more needs to be done. The recovery is fragile. The EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program, currently funded at $73 million annually, is the glue that holds the multistate restoration effort together. It coordinates Bay restoration science, modeling and monitoring. All are essential for measuring progress and guiding restoration activities forward.

The Bay Program also provides funding to state and local governments to help reduce pollution, as well as grants to universities and nonprofits to put practices on the ground to improve water quality.

In February, a bipartisan group of 17 Congressional representatives from Maryland and Virginia wrote to President Trump asking that he fully fund the Bay Program in his upcoming budget. “Significant progress has been made,” they wrote, “with six states and the District of Columbia, the 19 federal agencies, nearly 1,800 local governments, and more than 60 nongovernmental organizations working together to implement state-developed plans to protect and restore the Chesapeake Bay.”

When the Trump administration released the highlights of its proposed budget in March, it requested that Bay Program funding be zeroed out.

When Congress voted on funding for the rest of this fiscal year, it provided $3 million more funding than requested by President Obama for this fiscal year. In the next few months, Congress will be considering the fiscal year 2018 budget. With a formal request from this administration to eliminate the Bay Program, bipartisan support will be critical to save it.

Without that investment, there is the very real chance that the Bay will revert to a national disgrace, with deteriorating water quality, unhealthy fish and shellfish, and water-borne diseases that pose a real threat to human health. The argument for that investment is not a difficult one to make: the financial support translates directly into improved water quality and improved local economies.

Many businesses depend on clean local waters and a healthy Chesapeake. The Bay is one of the foremost economic engines of the region, providing billions in annual economic activity in the travel and tourism, recreational, and seafood industries. Furthemore, the Bay and its countless tributaries support hundreds of thousands of jobs and are critical to our quality of life, our property values and the safe, drinkable water we need.

The value of clean water to our economies has been validated repeatedly. A report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, for instance, showed that the commercial seafood industry in Maryland and Virginia contributed nearly $3 billion and more than 31,000 jobs to the region’s economy. An EPA study found that for every $1 spent on source-water protection, $27 were saved in water treatment costs.

There are other benefits to restoring local rivers and streams. Every time a farmer fences cattle out of a stream, the fence posts, trees and shrubs are bought from local businesses. Every time a sewage treatment plant is upgraded, engineers and construction workers are employed. And then there are many indirect and less visible benefits: cleaner drinking water, cleaner air, hurricane and flood protection, recreation, and fresh, healthy food and seafood. These benefits extend to everyone in the Bay’s 64,000-square-mile drainage basin, from headwater streams to the Atlantic Ocean.

A peer-reviewed report commissioned by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation found that the economic benefits provided by nature in the Chesapeake Bay watershed will increase by $22 billion annually if the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint is fully implemented. If the region relaxes efforts, however, and does little more to clean up the Bay than what has been done to date, pollution will worsen, and the value of Bay benefits will decline by almost $6 billion annually.

To ensure continued bipartisan support for the Blueprint, its critical for citizens of the region to let their local, state and federal elected officials know that clean water is important. Along with the benefits to our quality of life, our health and our economy, it is the legacy we can leave to our children and future generations.

By Kim Coble

Kim Coble is vice president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Her opinions do not necessarily reflect those of the Bay Journal.

CBF: Pennsylvania Still a Problem with Nitrogen in the Bay

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s (CBF) assessment of progress made implementing milestone commitments in 2016 found Maryland and Virginia largely on track to meet commitments for reducing pollution and Pennsylvania falling significantly short in reducing nitrogen pollution.

“While there is significant room for improvement in all the states, it is important to note that reduced pollution is benefitting the Bay. Over time, the dead zone is getting smaller, Bay grasses are at record levels, and oysters are rebounding,” said CBF President William C. Baker. “The success all three states have had in reducing pollution from sewage treatment plants is important, but it also masks shortfalls in each of the states’ efforts to reduce pollution from agriculture and urban/suburban runoff. Continued federal and state investments will be key to success on the state level, and we know the payoff will be significant.”

Under the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, the states have committed to implementing 60 percent of the practices necessary to restore the Bay by 2017, and 100 percent by 2025. Over the next year, the states and EPA will assess progress and develop new plans to achieve the 2025 goal.

The two-year milestones provide transparency and accountability for restoration efforts. This assessment is for the first year of the 2016-17 milestone period.

CBF’s assessment looked at the practices the states put in place in 2016, as well as selected programs each state has designed to achieve the long-term goals. (Attached to this email is a narrative summary of the Maryland assessment, and a chart summarizing findings for all six states in the Bay watershed and the District of Columbia.)

Pennsylvania practices

Pennsylvania is significantly off track in reducing nitrogen and phosphorus pollution from agriculture as well as urban/suburban runoff. Progress in reducing pollution from sewage treatment plants is on track. Overall progress to reduce nitrogen pollution is significantly off track, but efforts to reduce phosphorus and sediment pollution are only slightly off track.

Pennsylvania programs

Pennsylvania’s re-boot committed the Commonwealth to develop and implement an agricultural compliance and enforcement strategy. As part of that strategy inspections were to be conducted on 10 percent of its farms annually. With funding from the Chesapeake Bay Program and other sources, over 1,100 farms were visited between October 2016 and March 2017, an inspection rate below what is needed to visit 10% of farms. However, the pace of inspections has increased now that the process is more established. Roughly 70% of the farms had the required plans. These inspections, however, only assess whether the required plans exist, not whether they are implemented – a major shortfall of state efforts to date.

Pennsylvania also committed to counting and reporting on agricultural practices that are not government funded. A recent Penn State study reported many practices that the Commonwealth had not counted.

Pennsylvania’s efforts to reduce pollution from urban/suburban runoff are showing mixed success. The Commonwealth is significantly off track in reducing pollution from nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment. To help jumpstart reductions, the Commonwealth has implemented specific, numeric goals in permits for small municipalities.

“Pennsylvania’s pollution reduction strategy has shown some progress and the Commonwealth is in the process of developing a new watershed implementation plan to carry it toward the 2025 goals,” said CBF Pennsylvania Executive Director Harry Campbell. “But the Commonwealth is considering yet another budget that falls well short of providing the investments necessary for success. Pennsylvania will only be successful with sustained investments in the right places and on the right practices.

Maryland practices

Maryland is slightly off track reducing nitrogen pollution from agriculture, while on track to remove phosphorus and sediment pollution. Urban/suburban efforts have fallen far short for nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment. Maryland’s efforts to upgrade sewage treatment plants are on track. Thus, overall efforts to reduce nitrogen pollution are slightly off track, while pollution reduction efforts for phosphorus and sediment are on track.

Maryland programs

While seeing success in wastewater treatment plants, Maryland is significantly behind in reducing pollution from septic systems. Technologies exist to significantly reduce nitrogen pollution from septic systems, however the state has stopped requiring those technologies to be used for new systems more than 1,000 feet from tidal waters.

There are requirements in Maryland for large municipalities to develop plans and implement technologies to reduce urban/suburban runoff by replacing 20 percent of impervious surfaces with practices that absorb and filter rainwater. While the Maryland Department of the Environment has reviewed those plans, it has not taken action to correct deficiencies. In addition, draft permits for smaller municipalities fail to require any restoration actions in the next five years.

Maryland is implementing its agricultural phosphorus management tool, which will limit the application of phosphorus on land that already has excess phosphorus. Current programs to match excess manure with farms where it can be used safely may need to be expanded.

“We can feel proud that Maryland got off to a strong start in this epic project to restore the Chesapeake and that state leaders remain committed to the Blueprint. From streams in Western Maryland to tidal creeks on the Eastern Shore, we see evidence of cleaner water. But the job is far from done,” said CBF Maryland Executive Director Alison Prost. “We must work together to find solutions for polluted runoff in our cities and suburbs, for failing septic systems in rural areas, and for problems from sprawl development. Given the uncertainties around federal leadership on this effort, we urge the General Assembly and the Hogan Administration to tackle the challenges head-on for our benefit and for the benefit of future generations of Marylanders.”

Virginia practices

Virginia is on track to meet its phosphorus goal for agriculture, and slightly off track for nitrogen and sediment. The Commonwealth is significantly off track in meeting nitrogen and sediment goals for urban/suburban runoff, while only slightly off track for phosphorus. Due to its success with upgrading sewage treatment plants, overall, Virginia is on track for reducing nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, and slightly off track for sediment.

Virginia programs

Virginia’s efforts to reduce pollution from urban/suburban runoff are continuing to fall short of its goals. While new permits have been issued for both large municipalities and smaller jurisdictions, permit requirements are not sufficient to achieve the necessary pollution reduction by 2025.

Virginia’s agricultural programs have made steady progress, but there is room for improvement. A program funding 100 percent of the costs to fence cattle out of streams was so successful that there is a backlog of more than 400 farmers waiting for funding. And Virginia’s agricultural certainty program has resulted in the approval of 300 plans, covering more than 65,000 acres of cropland. However, implementation of these plans is lagging, Adoption of cover crops is below targets and implementation of forest buffers is also off track.

“It’s not often that we celebrate overachievements, but the incredible progress made in upgrading Virginia’s wastewater treatment plants allows the Commonwealth to remain largely on track for meeting goals to reduce pollution in our waterways,” said CBF Virginia Executive Director Rebecca LePrell. “However, the road doesn’t stop here. As we approach 2025, the success of wastewater treatment plants should serve as a model for addressing challenges in cutting polluted runoff from agriculture, cities, and suburbs. As state elections near, I hope Virginia’s next governor will work with legislators to ensure stable and adequate investment in farm conservation practices and support for local governments to reduce polluted runoff.”

Bay Ecosystem: Seventh Graders Explore Biodiversity at Pickering

There are over 3,600 species of plants and animals found in the Chesapeake Bay, from tiny grass shrimp to great blue herons, from cattails to towering tulip poplars. Many of these can be found easily in Talbot County, as seventh graders at Pickering Creek are discovering during a day of active exploration.

A St. Michaels Middle School student holds up the pumpkinseed fish he caught while fishing in Pickering Creek.

This May and June Pickering Creek Audubon Center hosted Talbot County seventh graders as they explored local biodiversity. Described by one student as “the study of the complexity and diversity of living things,” biodiversity is a theme students have focused on in school. An in-school lesson led by Pickering educators earlier in the year included explorations on taxonomy, or how organisms are classified. Students made observations on different physical features and adaptations of plants and animals, thinking about how a biodiverse ecosystem includes species with hundreds of different adaptations.

During their field experience at Pickering Creek students get a taste of biodiversity “in action,” and discover for themselves which species are found locally. Each activity students complete—fishing on the dock, hiking the trails with binoculars, pulling seine nets through the creek—is designed to bring them into contact with a new group of organisms. The species list—student generated proof of local biodiversity—grows as each group adds their new finds to it.

Biodiversity is an important concept in the Bay, as in all ecosystems. During their field trip students consider the advantages of high species diversity, such as a greater number of natural resources (like food) being available for humans and other animals. Students learn that the more biodiversity in an ecosystem, the better that ecosystem can withstand change or disaster.

Leading seventh grade trips focused on biodiversity has multiple benefits: students build significantly on their knowledge of ecology, but also get the chance to explore and experience nature in an active way. Activities such as searching the forest for insects and seining in the creek are loved by students for this reason. In the forest students spread out to hunt for worms, insects, toads, and other small critters. The experience is new for many of them, and they find the freedom to explore and catch things exciting. “I can catch that toad? Really?” asks one student. Similarly, seining in the creek is a chance for students to find something new, unexpected, or often unnoticed. “That was really fun,” another student added after reluctantly leaving the creek and pulling off waders.

“I just like any kind of hands-on activity,” said Easton Middle School teacher Anna Brohawn of the field trip. “Any kind of hands-on activity to make a connection, the students love. Some kids need to go to their laptops. But I want them to make connections outside the box, on their own.”

At the conclusion of each field trip students review their species totals. Students have found as many as 51 animal species in a single afternoon—proof of not only local biodiversity, but of the students’ engagement and persistence in finding that biodiversity.

Pickering Creek Audubon Center sees Eastern Shore students of all grade levels for hands on, standards-aligned environmental education programs in both classroom and field-based experiences. Educators and schools interested in developing a program for their students should contact the Center at 410-822-4903 to begin planning for the 2017-18 school year.

For more information: Mark Scallion 410-822-4903 mscallion@audubon.org

CBF Notes: Catch the Last Two Clean Water Concerts by Erika Koontz

As the first official day of summer arrives, so do the final two Clean Water Concert Series performances here.

Photo by Erika Koontz

Sponsored by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and the Avalon Foundation, Harrison Street between Dover and Goldsborough will be blocked off again on June 24 and July 8 from 6-8:30 p.m. for this free summertime tradition on the Shore. You won’t want to miss this year’s line-up:

Saturday, June 24: U.S. Navy Band Sea Chanters

The Navy’s official chorus performs pieces ranging from Broadway tunes to sea chanteys and everything in between.

Saturday, July 8: The XPD’s

A D.C. area favorite, the XPD’s groove to Motown, R&B, and funk tunes that get people dancing.

Now in its fifth year, the Clean Water Concert Series has gotten off to a fantastic start. People from around the Shore came out on June 3 to enjoy the first show! The Spanish and Portuguese songs of Cantaré, a Latin American group from Washington, D.C., drew in people from a variety of cultures and backgrounds. An estimated 1,500 attendees danced, enjoyed the music from a comfortable lawn chair, or caught the up-beat melodies while visiting the exhibitor tables.

More than a dozen community organizations staffed the family-friendly exhibits to educate people about the environment, and to celebrate the progress being made toward clean and healthy waterways on the Shore. Each organization offered an interactive and family-friendly activity that had something for everyone. Side-walk chalk drawings of Chesapeake Bay critters and drips of delicious Nice Farms Creamery ice cream covered the street by the end of the night.

All concerts are free and open to the public. The wide variety of environmental and community exhibits staffed by experts will be on display for children and adults to enjoy. CBF and the Avalon Foundation are pleased to host this opportunity to learn more about the Bay and how you can be a part of the movement to restore it.

The concert series promotes community awareness about the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, a multi-state, science-based plan to restore the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams.

Visit cbf.org to learn more.