A Chesapeake Portrait, Painted by Almost a Thousand Words by Tom Horton

Photo by Dave Harp

Combing the beach, I stoop to pick up an essay for my upcoming college nature writing class. It’s a reddish, roundish pebble, tumbling in the clear lapping waves during a campout to the vanished community of Holland Island.

For a couple of centuries, before erosion forced Holland’s people to the mainland, my pebble was a brick, proud and sturdy and eminently useful in its uniform rectangularity for stacking when constructing a home’s foundation with precise edges and level tops.

Made by humans, who have the corner on corners as no other species, the brick has been reshaped by nature, which embraces the rounded, the curved and the meandering, from spiral galaxies and loopy marsh creeks to the shells of whelks.

The brick/pebble thus becomes distilled and refined to a rich essential — to an image — the straight versus the curved, the human versus the natural.

This gives my fledgling essayists a useful lens. Later in the semester we’ll look at farm drainage ditches versus swamps, the former doing one thing very well — whisking rainwater from cropland; the latter doing no one thing spectacularly — just nurturing life in diversity unknown to the ditch and the cornrow.

They may expand their view further, to the pavement and the curb, the gutter and the storm drain, versus the woody debris and leaf duff of the forest floor; they may ponder which of those landscapes, during a downpour, a trout in a stream would most like living next to.

A photograph may be worth a thousand words, but a good word image is worth a hard drive’s worth of photos. Word imagery is especially important when you are writing to explain a six-state, 64,000-square-mile, Atlantic-to-Susquehanna ecosystem like the Chesapeake Bay. Here are a few of the images I’ve found useful over the decades:

The Skinny Bay

From Havre de Grace, MD, to Virginia Beach, the Bay’s about a million feet long — and up to 100,000 feet wide. Yet the average depth is around 21 feet. So many implications flow from that.

Large as it looks, the estuary has scant water to dilute runoff from Cooperstown, NY, to Altoona, PA, to Lynchburg, VA, so how we use the land matters big time for water quality.
This essential shallowness also means that light penetrates to the bottom copiously, growing lush habitats of seagrasses, which support waterfowl and waterfowl hunting cultures and soft-crabbing.

It means that wind pushes water around so easily that it is often more important, ecologically, than the tides. It also also dictates the classic “deadrise” designs of skipjacks and other watermen’s crafts, evolved to make their living in skinny water.

Wet

The Chesapeake ecosystem for most of time is widely understood to have been green, with forests covering most of its watershed. But thanks to the scientific detective work of people like Grace Brush of Johns Hopkins University, we now comprehend how much of the landscape was also wet, dammed and ponded by millions of beavers.

Brush’s work, now in book form — Decoding the Deep Sediments, available from Maryland Sea Grant — shows how prevalent the pollens of aquatic plants are in sediment cores that allow us to look back through what was washing into the Bay in centuries past.

Green and wet. Why does it matter so much? Because that landscape fostered the healthiest Chesapeake, the landscapes we should most try to emulate and restore.

Ask yourself, WWBD — what would beavers do?

Edges

Edges are inherently interesting: the gradations of color and texture that artists employ to draw the eye to the glorious intersections of the seasons, adorned by the great migrations of fish and fowl they trigger.

Life loves an edge. Hunters who prowl the seams where forest meets field know this, as do fishermen who troll the dropoffs from shallows to channels, as do blue herons and egrets, nesting eagles and beachcombers (I prefer “proggers,” the waterman’s term for them).

The Bay, with around 11,000 miles of tidal edges, is at the heart of the heart of this phenomenon. That includes the overwhelming preference of humans to also locate along the edge, drawn by everything from places to discharge waste, cool their power plants and hoist drinks to the sunset.

The search for peaceful co-existence between humans and the rest of edge-loving nature is a fundamental tension that runs through much of my writing.

Ecosystem Services

If you would be popularly read, avoid such terms, but not what they include. Consider the oyster. The revelation in recent decades of their immense values in filtering and cleansing Bay waters has fundamentally changed the way we regard them — not only as a tasty food and commerce by the bushel, but also as sanctuaries for the health of the Bay.

Some scientists say it’s likely that the reefs, built by oysters to form undisturbed, undredged, untonged communities, are at least as valuable for habitat as for their filtration.

And One Last Favorite: Horseshoe Crabs

These marvelous animals are living fossils for whom the rise and fall of dinosaurs was just a short span in the species’ history. When they scrabble onto remote beaches in May and June, with nothing else in the scene but the full moon gleaming on their bronze-colored shells from above, sand and the lapping of saltwater below — that’s as close as you will ever get to traveling back in time half a billion years.

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

Op-Ed: How Much Woods Would a Woodpecker Need if It’s to Succeed? By Tom Horton

The piney woods stretching for miles around us smell springy, as warm winds melt the last of a big January snow. At the crest of a rise, Bobby Clontz stops his pickup: “Look back . . . that’s a hard view to beat.”

A tawny, sunlit sea of native grasses and low shrubs laps the dark columns of tall, widely spaced loblolly pines. Light streams through the green needles, which gleam as they toss in the breeze. It’s a classic pine savannah, often described as “parklike.” Psychologist John Falk has found humans associate strongly with such landscapes, which resemble the African savannahs where humanoids climbed down from the trees hundreds of thousands of years ago.

Bobby Clontz, left, and Bryan Watts walk through the Nature Conservancy’s Piney Grove Preserve, just south of the James River. (Dave Harp)

Such pine parks once covered much of the Atlantic Coastal Plain, from Virginia to Texas; nowadays, perhaps 1 percent remains. And this remnant, including the 3,200 acres that Clontz manages here at The Nature Conservancy’s Piney Grove Preserve just south of the James River, is now strongly linked with a tiny, endangered bird.

The red-cockaded woodpecker was listed as nationally endangered three years before the federal Endangered Species Act was passed in 1973. The cardinal-size bird depends on pines old enough to have become diseased with a fungus that rots their heartwood, a process of decay that can take up to a century or longer.

The heart-rot that would mean ruin to the logger is the salvation of the RCW, as it is commonly called by birders and conservationists. A red-cockaded woodpecker may spend a year or two of its five-year average lifespan excavating its nest, boring through several inches of tough, outer wood and creating a chamber in the softened heart of an old pine.

The red-cockaded woodpecker

Piney Grove Preserve is a “lifeline,” the last shot for the bird in the whole Chesapeake region, said Bryan Watts, director of the Center for Conservation Biology, who’s along today. Since the 1970s, as corporate logging took down the remaining great old pines, the center, part of the College of William and Mary and Virginia Commonwealth University, has been documenting the bird’s march toward extinction in Virginia and researching its habitat needs.

“Mitchell [Byrd, founder of the Center] would come back to check on a nesting area and find woodpeckers flying around, landing on stumps where their habitat used to be,” Watts recounted. By 2002, Virginia was down to two nesting pairs. The last RCWs in Maryland disappeared from Dorchester County, their northernmost range, between the 1950s and 1970s, as the last old-growth pines there were clear-cut.

Virginia state Sen. Garland Gray, whose timber company owned Piney Grove, was no friend of endangered birds, deliberately cutting and otherwise altering their nesting areas to avoid restrictions of the Endangered Species Act.

Ironically, Gray’s company cut pines on a long-term rotation — every 70–90 years — unusual in an industry that typically harvested trees at much earlier ages. So, when The Nature Conservancy acquired Piney Grove in the late 1990s, it was already potential RCW habitat.
Birds had to be trapped and transferred from North Carolina to jump-start breeding in the preserve. We hear proof today that it has worked: the woodpecker’s nasal, raspy calls and probing the bark platelets of pines for insects.

Sheets of whitish sap girdling some trees make it easy to spot nesting cavities. The woodpecker spends a good deal of its day chipping sapwood around its nest to encourage a flow of sticky resin that discourages snakes and other predators from entering.

Piney Grove, Watts and Clontz said, is nearly at “saturation,” with 13 nesting red-cockaded woodpecker pairs and 70 birds total. The additional birds are integral to the RCW’s unusual, cooperative nesting. They act as “helpers” by helping to feed the nesting pairs’ young. A nesting “cluster” can require up to 400 acres of territory, Clontz said.

Setting the woods on fire is one of Clontz’s most important duties. He’s burned as much as three square miles at a time. Fire is key to pine savannahs, keeping the understory open and free of hardwoods, which discourages predators and creates the habitat that the woodpecker needs.

Expansion plans, using adjoining state forests and pending private land deals by The Nature Conservancy, could soon enlarge the bird’s habitat here to as much as 30,000 acres.

This is critical, Watts said, because all of the other RCW restoration sites in this northernmost part of the bird’s range (North Carolina and Virginia) may vanish because of accelerating sea level rise in the next century. An attempt to get the woodpeckers nesting in the nearby Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge has not yet worked.

What’s good for the woodpecker also lends needed help to other species, like the brown-headed nuthatch, chuck-will’s-widow, bobwhite quail, coastal fox squirrel and Bachman’s sparrow. All but the sparrow are thriving at Piney Grove, and Watts wants to introduce that bird here as well. Nontidal wetlands throughout Piney Grove form a rich habitat for state-threatened fish and salamanders. Clontz is re-introducing longleaf pines, too. Longer lived than loblollies, they form the primary red-cockaded woodpecker habitat throughout most of its range and once covered an estimated one million acres in Virginia.

The red-cockaded woodpecker is up to 6,000 nesting clusters throughout its range, extending through coastal plain pines all the way to Texas. The core of its comeback involved U.S. military bases like Fort Bragg and Eglin Air Force Base. Their training missions required preserving large blocks of old forest, which military exercises frequently set afire—a perfect prescription for the bird, Clontz said.

The little bird has driven big changes. Research on its habitat needs by Watts’ center has changed forest management across millions of acres, far beyond Virginia.

And the military, in part from concerns it that would become the last refuge for the woodpecker, created a multi-billion-dollar program to protect natural lands outside of bases for a variety of purposes, a program that now extends throughout the Chesapeake watershed.

Tending to the woodpeckers’ survival, as with so many endangered species recovery efforts, brings science and conservation to bear on restoring whole ecosystems.

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. 

Op-Ed: Some Things We Know by William C. Baker

By William C. Baker, for the Bay Journal News Service

In case anyone is asking: Warmer temperatures do hurt the Chesapeake Bay, in many ways.

In a February interview on a Las Vegas television station, Scott Pruitt, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, suggested a warming climate might actually be a good thing. “We know that humans have flourished during times of warming trends. So, I think there’s assumptions made that because the climate is warming that that’s necessarily a bad thing. Do we really know what the ideal temperature should be during the year 2100, or the year 2018?” he asked.

Here in the Chesapeake, there is overwhelming documentation of the damage that climate change will wreak on this national treasure. And it’s not just about the future. The inconvenient truth is that we’re already witnessing the damaging effects of climate change.

Based on long-term records from the piers at the Chesapeake’s two historic marine laboratories — dating back to 1938 at the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory on Solomon’s Island, MD, and to 1948 at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science at Gloucester Point — the Bay is getting warmer.

Warmer water has less capacity to hold dissolved oxygen, and dissolved oxygen is critical for life in the Bay, its rivers and its streams. Higher temperatures exacerbate the Chesapeake’s dead zones, expanding both the size and the duration of oxygen-deprived areas in the Bay.

Scientific models agree that storms will become more intense in the future. Storm intensity and increased rainfall will adversely affect the Bay’s ecological health. Increased scouring and runoff from more intense rain events, regardless of the season, carries significantly more nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution to local rivers, streams and eventually, the Bay.

Increases in water temperature are known to affect the distribution and health of aquatic vegetation in the Chesapeake. For instance, species that are already stressed by high summer temperatures — such as the eelgrass, which provides important fish and crab habitats in the Lower Bay — may be greatly reduced or eliminated. Goodbye grasses. Goodbye crabs. Simply put, grasses equal crabs.

Warming waters caused by climate change also directly affect the distribution and range of animal species along the mid-Atlantic coast. Species at the southern end of their range, like soft-shell clams, are already retreating northward up the Atlantic Coast toward colder waters.

Atlantic menhaden, a critical forage fish in the Bay food web, haven’t produced strong year classes in the Bay in 20 years, possibly because climate-related shifts in ocean currents interfere with or interrupt their life cycles. The lack of strong menhaden reproduction in turn affects rockfish, which turn to blue crabs as a primary food source. That has negative nutritional consequences for the rockfish and obvious negative consequences for crabs.

And those same crabs may be facing new predators such as red drum, which have expanded their range northward into the Chesapeake.

There is no serious debate over the impact of climate change on the Bay. Climate change, and an EPA administrator continuing to ignore the science, are making all of our efforts to restore this national treasure much harder.

William C. Baker is president and CEO of the nonprofit Chesapeake Bay Foundation. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the Bay Journal.

Op-Ed: Talbot County Budget needs Moderate Growth by Laura Price

You may be wondering what all this talk is about our property tax revenue cap. What is it and why is this Council or anyone talking about asking our citizens to agree to an increase in property tax? Many years ago, Talbot County citizens voted to put in place a “revenue” cap (not a rate cap) of 2% or CPI-U (consumer price index), whichever is less to protect themselves from being taxed out of their homes due to property values rising so quickly. Talbot County did not have the Homestead Tax Credit which now provides protection and keeps our taxable assessment at a constant level for our primary residences.

Since then, times have changed, most notably, in 2010 when Talbot’s income tax revenues dropped from $31 million to $19 million, nearly a 40% drop in one year! That same year our property tax revenues were just under $28 million and the rate was 43 cents, the lowest in a decade. This was due to our revenue cap law that actually requires lowering the rates during times of increasing assessed values of real property in the County. It had been 55 cents in 2001 and is currently 57 cents in 2018.

I looked over my own property tax bills for the past 15 years. I was surprised by how much my total bill went down from 2003 (.553) to a low in 2010 (.432). My total payment decreased 18%! As a small government, fiscal conservative, I believe in low tax rates, but even I don’t think my property tax payment should go down. I’m happy if it stays the same. Today, in 2018, the rate and amount are almost exactly the same as 17 years ago. Think of all the additional resources that could have been put into our county had our rates simply remained the same. Then maybe we wouldn’t be talking today about this problem.

What else has changed? In 2012, the legislature in Annapolis passed a law that legally requires every county in the state to fund education each year in an amount that never decreases. No matter what happens in the economy or to county revenues or even if we found savings and efficiencies, we may NOT decrease the Board Of Education (BOE) budget ever.

I understand the principle. We all would like certainty in our budgets. We need to plan for the future and no one ever wants to have to live on less, but things change, economies change and tax revenues change. One assumes they will increase enough to meet our citizens’ needs. Sadly, this is not always the case.

So what else has changed? What is so dramatically different that a 1 or 2 percent revenue cap won’t be able to pay for? Education funding is always an issue. Each year the BOE asks for an increase, sometimes reasonable, sometimes staggering, and sometimes the state mandated escalator kicks in (up to 2.5%) but the 2012 Maintenance of Effort law does allow/mandate the county to break the tax cap solely to pay for increases in education funding. The county council has done just that 3 times in the past 5 years. The total property tax rate went up 5 cents per hundred, which is nearly a 10% increase in everyone’s property tax rate. This is not insignificant. This raised $3.7 million in additional property tax revenues, devoted solely to TCPS K-12 expenses. Total education funding is 52% of our budget or $43 million per year; this includes TCPS, Chesapeake College and debt service on county schools.

But these tax increases did nothing to help the other 48% of our county budget, which totals just over $40 million this year. So where does it all go? Public safety, including Sheriff, Emergency Services, Corrections and Volunteer Fire Departments are the largest at $17 million (20%). Even with this funding, Public Safety has significant unfunded, unmet needs to provide our citizens with the services they need and expect. Add in state mandated departments and our court system at $7.4 million (9%) and County functions which include Public Works, Planning & Permits at $5.8 million (7%), Health department at $2.4 million (3%), and our Roads department at $3.3 million (4%), which by the way used to be completely paid for by the state before funding was cut 90% about 9 years ago. That leaves about $4.8 million (6%) to pay for our Library, Parks & Recreation, Tourism & Economic Development and our Social Services and Aging programs. The grand total for FY18 is just over $83 million.

We have been able to provide all these county services within our property tax limits and only one small income tax rate increase in 2012 from 2.25% to 2.4%, after the economy plummeted. As the most fiscally conservative council member over the past 8 years, I have kept a keen eye on the budget and watched our expenditures, keeping them as efficient as possible, while meeting our essential needs.

The good news is our economy has recovered significantly. Our income tax revenues have come back to about $27 million per year, much improved over the $19m we dropped to, but still far from the high of over $31m. With a healthier economy does come an increase in costs, and the same services will cost more.

One of our main issues is keeping up with the costs of Public Safety and Emergency Services. As we have all seen recently, we must have a fully staffed and well equipped Sheriff’s Department to protect us. We need to have a more competitive salary scale because we are losing our most valuable and trained deputies to surrounding counties for better pay. The same thing is happening in our emergency services department. Our Paramedics and EMTs, who face intensive calls every day, are also lured away to nearby counties. With Talbot having the highest percentage of retirees of any county in the state, it is critical for us to continue this as our #1 priority. The request in this upcoming budget is approximately an additional $1 million and over the past decade, we have increased funding 60%; this need will continue to grow and outpace other county services.

At this point our biggest shortfall will be in capital expenses. Currently our annual debt service is about $3.9 million, but we have three big projects coming up quickly. The largest is Easton Elementary School which is currently in the design phase at a cost of $30 million. The debt service on that project alone will be approximately $2.4 million per year. The next project is a new Sheriff’s building. The county moved the Sheriff to our Talbot County Business Center temporarily to make room for a Central Booking facility that will allow law enforcement officers to get back on the road quickly. When that building comes down in the next 3-5 years for the airport, we will need to have a space ready for our Sheriff, at an approximate cost of $12 million, approximately $1 million per year for the debt service. Our Health department was identified many years ago as inadequate and should be replaced. The estimate is $8 million, about $650,000 per year in annual debt service. These three projects will add $4 million to our operating budget, doubling our annual debt service to $8 million. At this time, we have no revenue source to pay for them.

In coming up with a simple and reasonable way to solve our problem, my proposal (“The Price Penny Plan”) would be to do a penny increase per year + our 2% revenue cap and limit it to 4 years to keep the current cap in place. This would allow for some moderate growth in the budget to pay for these items specifically. It would cost the average $350k homeowner a modest $35 and a $1m homeowner about $100 per year. This could generate an additional $3 million plus the natural growth and get us closer to balancing our budget.

The citizens need to decide if they want the county to maintain or increase services and how much, if any, they are willing to pay. I, as your Councilmember, ask your help; to familiarize yourselves with our current budget and the future needs and revenue shortfalls. Let’s all try to figure out together how to move forward to keep Talbot County supported with the essential public services that you, the citizens deserve.

Laura Price is a member of the Talbot County Council

Op-Ed: The Explosive Cart before the Mental Health Horse by Fran White

It was not the firearms that killed those innocent seventeen Florida victims but the mentally disturbed individual who pulled the trigger! In addition to Nickolas Cruz and his automatic weapons, those who ignored all of the red flags of his disturbed behavior over many years enabled this tragedy to occur. The school administrators, who swept this boy under the rug by expelling him without community supervision and sent him into further solitude and isolation to fester his rage can be perceived as most responsible for the murders.

The most guilty accomplices of this crime are the so-called mental health clinicians who failed to provide this emotionally disturbed youth with the mandatory in-patient treatment that was so needed. His deceased, adoptive mother, due to her deep love of this boy, enabled his disturbed behavior by not facilitating hospitalization after over forty police visitations to the home before she died. Our government agencies, who are employed to protect citizens, are also most responsible for ignoring all of the social media postings and warnings from Nickolas and others due to profound incompetence.

Nickolas was a victim of bullies throughout his young life, and this form of behavioral cruelty provoked the rage and depression of this child. Indeed, he was not a personable and acceptable person amongst his peers but where was the compassion of others to notice the pain and suffering that Nickolas was experiencing especially last November when he lost his only parent who provided unconditional love? His fellow students chose to isolate and ridicule him and failed to actively and loudly alert their teachers and administrators of this dysfunctional peer. Indifference and Denial are the sins of those who failed to previously respond to this tragic event.

Are we only going to direct our political focus upon gun control laws, the believed explosive cart that the government and their constituents are targeting as the driven force that is responsible for these horrific deaths? Gun control laws alone will not eliminate any further school massacres, but the most relevant intervention that will prevent the loss of so many of our children is competent and well trained mental health professionals working in our schools and identifying troubled and disturbed children at an early age.

School personnel needs to be properly trained, not armed, in the identification and management of emotionally troubled students. Anti-bullying programs need to be part of and perfected in all school curriculums with a focus on incorporating character development programs such as Character Counts with a focus on teaching and reinforcing compassion and kindness to others by students, teachers, administrators and, of course, parents. Let’s not place the cart of gun control before the horse of mental health intervention! NOW is the time to act and not after we have another precious child die due to denial and indifference.

Dr. Fran White is a psychologist and marriage and family therapist who has been in private practice for over three decades. She was a columnist for her regional newspaper and has written about human behavior and problem-solving. Fran resides on the Eastern Shore with her husband, Tom, and is a grandmother of nine grandchildren. 

Op-Ed: There is a Straightforward Way to Deal with Mass Shootings by Carl Widell

To prevent mass murders, the United States needs to follow the lead of all other advanced industrial nations; while preserving the rights of hunters, we need to enact common sense laws limiting the sale of combat weapons. David Montgomery’s article on February 23rd, by straying into armchair psychoanalysis, irrelevant constitutional arguments and uninformed enforcement arguments confuse the debate and offers no solutions.

“Compared to 22 other high-income nations, the United States’ gun-related murder rate is 25 times higher,” states Carey Templeton, Associated Press. Gun deaths in the US are 50 times higher than in Britain, ten times higher than Australia, five times higher than France, and six times higher than Sweden. Australia, which has a hunting culture similar to our own, once had a gun death rate similar to ours. In 1996, it enacted strict laws forbidding the sale of automatic combat weapons. Australia’s gun death rate is now ten times lower than the United States. Maryland has enacted similar common-sense gun laws which limit the purchase of combat weapons but allow hunters to enjoy their sport. We need to expand these laws to the entire nation.

David Montgomery wanders off into armchair psychoanalysis and tries to link the mental disfunction of the killer at Stonemason Douglas High School with liberal philosophy, a common tactic of the National Rifle Association. This is ridiculous. The motives of Mr. Cruz are not and will not be known for some time. They are quite different from the motives of the murderers in San Bernardino, Las Vegas, and Orlando. The truth is that our mental health professionals are not at a point where they can reliably predict who will become a mass murderer and who will not. Tying prevention of mass murders to mental health prediction will not prevent more school children from dying.

Common sense gun laws are not a Constitutional issue, as Mr. Montgomery implies. Yes, Americans have the right to bear arms, but the Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld laws which limit this right. Thompson submachine guns, as used by Al Capone, were outlawed in 1934, and the law outlawing them was upheld by the Supreme Court in the United States v. Miller in 1939. Maryland’s own gun laws were challenged and upheld by the Supreme Court last November. Common sense laws limiting the purchase of combat weapons are not a Constitutional issue.

Montgomery asserts that better enforcement would lower gun deaths. He is correct on this point, yet he seems unaware that the National Rifle Association, whose views he echoes, has worked quietly to limit enforcement of existing gun laws. The NRA originally opposed national background checks, opposed adding terrorists to the National Criminal Background Check System and has consistently advocated limiting funding to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives which enforces the gun laws. Better enforcement of laws like Maryland’s gun laws would help reduce mass murder, but in Florida, the 19-year-old Cruz was legally able to purchase an AR-15 with no checks at all. In Florida, better enforcement will not stop the killing of school children.

Preventing mass murders from combat weapons is not a mystery. All other industrialized nations have lowered their murder rates by enacting common sense laws limiting the purchase of these weapons. These rifles belong in combat, not in our schools.

Carl Widell is a local businessman. His daughters, Svetlana and Katya, graduated from St. Michaels High School. As a lieutenant, Mr. Widell led Marines in combat who carried the military equivalent of the AR-15 combat rifle.

An Open Letter to Superintendent Griffith by Patrick Firth

Dear Dr. Griffith,

My name is Patrick Firth and I am a proud product of TCPS’ Class of 2013. Though I did not attend TCPS for elementary school, I don’t believe I could have received a better middle and high school education from anywhere else in Talbot County other than Easton Middle School and Easton High School. I am proud to call myself a Warrior but today, I am hurting and I am scared. I worry that one day I will wake up to learn a Talbot County school has fallen victim to gun violence much like Columbine, Sandy Hook, and, most recently, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, have. I truly hope that TCPS never joins the history books as yet another location of a horrific school shooting. Dr. Griffith, with the incredible amount of love and dedication that you put into making our school system the best in Maryland, I am confident that, especially in a county with a history and culture of gun ownership, this is a nightmare scenario that has also crossed your mind in recent times.

I am a gun owner myself. Personally, I think my family owns enough guns to field that militia our founding fathers were talking about in the Second Amendment! That said, it’s time to recognize the fact that enough is enough. There is no need for a person, and if we cannot agree to that term, at least a child, to have access to high-powered weapons, such as the AR-15. President Reagan once said in a cabinet meeting, “if not us, who? If not now, when?” I think that quote is more relevant today than it ever has been before. This should not be a politically divisive subject. Though my TCPS education drilled math into me, surely we don’t measure the value of our second amendment rights in units of dead schoolchildren? Neither I, nor any other political leader of either party is an advocate for fully banning all guns – the second amendment clearly endows that right to Americans. But the second amendment also clearly includes the phrase, “well-regulated.” How can this be so controversial?

Dr. Griffith, we need to do something. We need to do something now and we cannot just angrily post to Facebook about it until we forget. An ongoing Washington Post analysis has found that more than 150,000 students attending at least 170 primary or secondary schools have experienced a shooting on campus since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. That figure, which comes from a review of online archives, state and federal enrollment figures and news stories, is a conservative calculation and does not include dozens of suicides, accidents and after-school assaults that have also exposed youths to gunfire. In fact, I’m certain that number has gone up due to the fact that as I write this letter, schools in Stark County, Ohio are under lockdown as a 7th grader has just shot himself inside Jackson Memorial Middle School. Easton High School had a bomb scare just about a month ago and, though it may simply be a tangential event, it is a stark reminder that just because we are a small town, we are not immune to this nation-wide epidemic of gun violence.

I am writing to you, Dr. Griffith, because you are our county’s educational leader. Your voice, your knowledge, and your compassion for Talbot County’s future generations turns peoples’ heads and shapes children’s minds. I’m asking you and to support and encourage, should individual students and faculty desire, the 17-minute student and teacher walkout that is planned for March 14, 2018. In addition, on April 20, 2018, the anniversary of the Columbine shooting, there will be a day-long walkout that students and faculty should be encouraged, and excused from class, to participate in to protest congressional inaction – inaction that is literally killing our children. Most importantly, however, given Talbot County’s proximity to our nation’s capital, I strongly encourage you to publicize, excuse, and perhaps even facilitate, students’ and faculty’s voluntary participation in the March 24, 2018 planned protest in Washington, D.C. alongside survivors of the recent Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. I realize allowing students to skip three days of class may seem difficult from a logistical standpoint. However, not only could this action potentially save lives, consider what an incredible civics lesson it would be. Some of my greatest memories at Easton High School come from my membership in Junior State of America. One of the core lessons my experiences through that club taught me was that while the Constitution begins with, “We the People,” that only matters when we uphold our duty to, “Be the People.” It is my hope that, under your leadership, TCPS will continue teaching their students to ‘be the people’ and encourage students to use their voice and stand up for their rights.

Finally, to any student who may potentially be reading this, regardless of what action Talbot County Public Schools decides to take on this issue, I plead with you not to accept the explanations from people in power that a student’s upbringing or mental capacity is the core reason for mass shootings in our schools. Do not let individuals with a special interest in the sales of high-powered weaponry, like certain members of Congress, for example, convince you this is a cultural problem with our misguided or morally corrupt generation. Heavily-researched, evidence-based findings from the American Psychiatric Association state that mass shootings by people with a serious mental illness represent less than 1% of all yearly gun-related homicides. Additionally, only 3% of all violent crimes are committed by people with a serious mental illness and when those crimes are examined in detail, an even smaller percentage of them are found to have even involved firearms. From 2007 to 2013, less than 1% of all firearm purchase denials due to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System were based off mental health record submissions. The FBI’s study of active shooters during this time period, on the other hand, demonstrated an increasing trend of mass shootings. While mental illness is a legitimate public health issue, it is both illogical and dangerous to label it as the reason for gun violence in America and pursue that rationale legislatively. As the same report from the American Psychiatric Association notes, a law aimed at a population responsible for 3% of the issue will result in an extremely low yield and be ineffective.

Assigning blame to people who suffer from mental illnesses, whom by the way, as it isn’t discussed enough, are often high-functioning, active, and productive members of society, will only perpetuate myths of a correlation between gun violence and mental illness, further stigmatize an already taboo societal issue, and push individuals who would otherwise feel confident finally seeking help back into the shadows. As intelligent, hardworking, and passionate TCPS students and graduates, our incredible educators taught us to respect and accept fact-based research when presented with it and disregard meritless, unsubstantiated anecdotal evidence or heresay. Just as we no longer accept that the Sun orbits the Earth, we can no longer accept that mental illness or a student’s upbringing is the core reason for gun violence – it is clearly the access to high-powered guns.

Dr. Griffith, thank you for the opportunity to raise this important issue with you. I believe you are and always have been a fantastic educator, principal, superintendent, and community leader. You have consistently stood up and advocated for what is best for your students and I hope that you will do the same here. Please use your position of power and influence within the Talbot County Public School system to encourage and help facilitate student and faculty participation in the upcoming, nation-wide demonstrations of our first amendment rights. Fellow TCPS students, I likewise encourage you to stand up, walk out, and be heard. Consider this crucial moment in your lives as a civics test in school. Make your educators, friends, and family proud by doing due academic diligence through researching and learning about this issue and then taking the test: “if not us, then who and if not now, then when?” It may only be a two-question test, but your answers could save lives.

Patrick Firth graduated from Easton High School and now a legislative assistant at Michael Best Strategies in Washington, D.C. 

Op-Ed: A Disease of the Soul by George Merrill

“I’ll give you the gun when you pry it from my cold dead hands.” This statement has appeared variously over the years. It’s been canonized (no pun intended) in America recently when then president of the NRA, Charlton Heston concluded a fiery speech with this same phrase while he triumphantly raised an old flintlock in his hand high in the air.

The message is clear, but the deeper meaning of it is more hidden and insidious. I have not read or seen any media coverage of conversations about where the passion originates for owning firearms, especially the kind designed exclusively to kill other human beings. They are not for target practice, skeet shooting or for hunting deer or rabbits. The assault weapons are for war and conquest, not for a for a day’s shoot at the gun club. Their primary purpose is to kill an enemy efficiently and quickly.

If you’re not in combat where the passion for having the gun makes sense, in a civilized society this passion seems odd, out of place, as if it’s addressing an unacknowledged need that has been kept hidden and only expressed obliquely.

Is there some driving force about this disturbing trend in gun violence – so far perpetrated exclusively by men or boys – that has not reached the light of day? I suspect there’s a strong possibility that some of the same priapic obsessions that have recently come to light as the sexual abuse epidemic has exposed wealthy and powerful men, also relates to the sense of power and dominance that owning and shooting guns may produce in some gun enthusiasts. Men are three times as likely to possess guns than women, and from all appearances, the ones mostly inclined to use them in mass shootings.

As vigorously as the NRA tries to recruit gun ownership among women, guns remain a guy thing.

Human sexuality has always been a delicate matter to examine openly. Historically women have been more candid than men have and Freud’s revelations, while informing us, rocked society for generations. If human sexuality was a tidy matter, it would not be coming up today in ways that expose how little we have known about it and how our sexuality insinuates itself into all aspects of our lives, not infrequently through violence. In common banter, a man accused of shooting blanks is an insult to his virility. All of the variations in the themes of our sexuality are slowly being recognized and discussed but not all are comfortable in recognizing our discoveries or even talking about them.

What has characterized all the mass shootings is the powerful exercising their power over the powerless. The shooters are all male and each seems seem driven by dark forces of the soul of which they remain unaware. Essentially, having the weapon empowers the shooter. The victims have little if any means of protection. They’re sitting ducks. I suspect such power can be the ultimate aphrodisiac. Although not lethal, the sexual predator demonstrates a similar power by exercising his will over those who, who for a variety of social or professional reasons, cannot resist or fight back.

The mass killer and the sexual predator have this much in common: in addition to being male, a dread of psychological and social impotence and very likely other kinds as well.

I think we are talking here about a disease of the soul that is becoming a national epidemic.

Montaigne, the wise observer of our human condition wrote this four hundred years ago.

“ . . . the diseases of the soul, the greater they are keep themselves more obscure: the most sick are the least sensible of them . . . they must often be dragged into light by an unrelenting and pitiless hand. . . from the caverns and secret recesses of the heart.”

In order to treat diseases, they first have to be identified and then the public alerted and remedial action taken. Our congress may be our best hope right now. Congress has a majority of men with extraordinary social and economic capital who can exercise significant power on behalf of the powerless . . . like our children.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist.  A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

Clam Dredging: A Rebuttal to ShoreRivers by Marc Castelli

I am responding to the op-ed on clam dredging by Mr. Horstman. A reply is necessary because there were many missing and mishandled facts, to the point that it was beyond opinion and became erroneously misleading, which is a concern.

Beginning with some broad concepts, it is easy to take pot shots at an industry that few have ever taken the time to study and physically witness. Criticism outside the realm of actual knowledge becomes noise. But the public often responds quite well to noise, marching to it and cheering. So, while you have the freedom of speech to say what you want, there is a responsibility when speaking as an executive director to have facts for the public you are addressing. The reader likely looks to you, in your position, as an authority on the subject, but in fact, you are not sharing the whole story about clamming.

This is common in op-ed pieces: people set themselves up as an expert, but they aren’t. More often than not you end up misleading your membership with hysterical hyperbole. Why are simple facts about how the clam fishery interacts with the environment and natural resources so hard to find in the media? Is it because you, one of the Bay’s environmental “guardians” offer misinformed comments that will try to sway public opinion against clamming? Many of that industry’s best speakers are busy trying to make a living on the water and keep up with the pace of changes forced on it by outside pressures. Simply put they just do not have the time to respond to misleading op-ed pieces. I do.

I’m concerned that Mr. Horstman has never spent the day on a clam dredge asking questions of the very people he apparently wants to do away with. There is much to learn about clamming yet he hasn’t done the needed homework. Confirmation bias is not a healthy lifestyle. I will address the many issues in his latest op-ed on clamming. The quotes will be in their entirety. The italics are my words.

Photo by Marc Castelli

Hydraulic dredging for clams in our rivers is on the rise. This is accurate but carries the tone in his op-ed of a “problem,” as if clamming has increased upon a depressed population. Yet, dredging is on the rise because clam populations have risen significantly. A healthy harvest is supported by a healthy population. Many of us have witnessed the damage this practice causes. What damage? There are no specific details, only opinion. Who witnessed it? Where? This is noise. I hear the cheers and footsteps.

Clamming licenses in Maryland sharply increased over the past few years from just 8 in 2013 to over 30 in 2016, perhaps signifying a modest comeback of the softshell clam and reflecting the increasing popularity of clams as crabbing bait. There are numerous problems with Mr. Horstman’s “expertise” here. It is true that licenses have increased and this is due to an increase in clams. But he mentions a modest comeback. In fact, it is significant. He mentions soft shell clams, but in fact, razor clams have also increased. He links the increase in licenses to soft shell clams, but it is also due to razor clams. He mentions an increasing popularity of razor clams as crab bait, but in fact, they have been popular as crab bait for years.

Similar to oysters, clams are a vital filter feeder and a key component in the ecological food chain. While it is true that soft clams are filter feeders it is not correct about razor clams which are deposit feeders. Unlike oysters that live many years, even over 10, clams are short-lived and are difficult to “save” over time.

Historically the clam population has been decimated by overharvesting and disease. Not quite correct as the softshell clam industry was booming for many years since the 1950’s. Harvest was vigorous and the population didn’t decline from that. The steep decline in the late 1900’s to early 2000’s was due to the widespread and virulent disease, clam neoplasia, not overharvesting. High water temperatures have also depressed the softshell clam populations and caused die-offs at times, as the clam in Maryland is at the southern limit of its range.

Without a DNR management plan, the clam population is now at risk of another serious population downturn. Mr. Horstman offers no meaningful information for this claim, no evidence on the linkage between the clam stocks and the lack of a clam management plan, and no data about the imminent loss of clams. He states the population is NOW at risk. Data, please? In fact, the populations naturally vary, decreasing and increasing over time. Harvest numbers will reflect that. But to link a natural decrease to a lack of a clam management plan is nothing more than biased overreaching to sway the public. A discussion of the current clam management plan can be found further on in this piece. Downturns are related to many natural conditions already mentioned, including predation that can wipe clean many clam areas.

Clams are not like oysters – they do not live long. The soft shell clam reproduces twice a year.

Today’s clam population mirror those of oysters, resting at about 1% of historic levels. This is just hype. No one knows for certain what the clam population was or is. The oft-repeated 1% claim for oysters is not a set-in-stone statistic either. It is based on many unsupported assumptions. Linking clams with the oyster plight is a ploy. The marching continues.

The practice of harvesting clams with a hydraulic dredge is akin to underwater strip mining. While it is an aggressive form of harvesting it is not strip mining. Mr. Horstman’s linking the two just serves to heighten the hysteria he is trying to create.

He goes on further to claim that, high-velocity jets of water strip away the river bottom. No, they don’t. To strip away means that the river bottom no longer exists. High-velocity jets of water will actually crush the shells of clams. What right minded clammer would be so destructive? Clam rigs fluidize the bottom dislodging clams which will float and then be carried onto the conveyor belt. Much of the larger grain sediment (sand, grit, pebbles, for example) that is stirred up actually falls through the chain of the belt back to the bottom within seconds. Clamming is not a high-speed process. The boat and dredge move very slowly ahead. Pump and boat engines usually run a little more than idle. Too much power to either will destroy the rig’s pump and crush the clams. If Mr. Horstman knew better he could say that as the boat moves, large amounts of sediment dislodged by the dredge can actually settle back onto the river bottom, leaving a shallow depression. But then I doubt that he has ever actually been on a clam dredge. I have and have spent many an hour nursing a backache from picking clams from the conveyor. It is long, repetitive back-breaking work with few if any breaks. Reading, asking questions of everyone concerned and hands-on experience with first-hand observations is how I have learned the little I do know about clams.

He goes on to claim that a clam dredge will leave a trench that can be two feet deep and three feet wide. It is obvious he did not talk with a clammer. First off, he describes the path of a clam dredge that will dig down two feet and be three feet wide as a trench. He leaves the reader with the notion that a dredge digs a trench and does not replace sediment along the dredge’s path. But as stated above, sediment partially refills the affected area. Most clam bottom is not suitable for dredges that are three feet wide, some dredge heads are 18 inches in width. While there are 36-inch dredges, such pieces of equipment are suitable for sandy bottom only. Not all clam bottom is sandy.

He claims, the action of the dredge causes major damage to the river floor. That is an exaggeration and is not accurate. The bottom does not sustain major damage. Instead, it is emulsified, but then the sediment quickly resettles. Benthic organisms then recolonize the bottom. The river floor is not “gone” or “dead” after clamming. Clams can even come back and in some instances are thicker. Who would know this? A clammer would be able to see this. The first-hand empirical knowledge of a waterman is vast.

He asserts that dredging causes irreversible damage to submerged aquatic vegetation(SAV). Yes, grasses will be uprooted, but this is why clamming is prohibited in SAV beds. Safeguards are in place. Additionally, clam rigs don’t work well in grass beds. The grass not only clogs the belt but the intake as well and takes too much time to clear away the grasses in order to pick the clams from the belt. Officials in his position should not use op-ed opportunities to misinform the public. Executive directors should value opportunities to factually inform the public, not raise the temperature on these issues. Facts are stubborn creatures. They do not go away.

He does state factually, that sediment plumes are visible from clammers. Yes, there are sediment plumes. Depending on the type of bottom, the plumes will not stay suspended for any great length of time. But, has he ever spent the time to watch just how long such a plume remains suspended in the water column?

Mr. Horstman states that according to multiple studies, hydraulic dredging is catastrophic to SAV beds and that the sediment plumes kill oyster spat in surrounding areas. SAV beds are seriously impacted IF a dredge goes in them, but designated SAV beds are legally off limits to clamming and as stated above clammers avoid clogging their rigs with grass. Additionally, note that SAV has increased over the past few years during which clamming has also increased, significantly. The two can co-exist. In fact, long-term trends in SAV (available online) show no linkage with clam harvest levels. As for oyster spat mortality, there is no definition of “surrounding areas”, leading the reader to think that spat in a large area is killed by clamming. In fact, a study was done to determine limits on clamming found that impacts on oysters occurred up to 75 feet away from the dredge. Maryland decided to create 150 ft. setbacks from oyster beds. That is actually twice the distance noted in the study. But, in reality, there is even a greater safeguard. The boundary line of an oyster bar is from where the 150 ft. is measured. The actual oyster bar population is within the boundary of the bar such that the oyster population is likely hundreds of feet more away. If a clammer is found to have an oyster on his boat, he is ticketed and faces a huge fine. Very crafty writing Mr. Horstman: sparse on facts, but a lot of noise.

He further claims that while there are regulations aimed at prohibiting hydraulic dredging in SAV beds, some dredging is allowed in and near oyster sanctuaries. He obviously chooses to be ignorant and to keep his readers ignorant of the setback distances and regulations mentioned above that protect oysters and oyster bars, including those in sanctuaries. Why?

He goes on to say, additionally, it is getting more and more difficult to determine where SAV beds are located as they continually change and many large SAV beds are not mapped at all, leaving them vulnerable to this destructive practice. Hidden in his message is actually the need to better manage SAV beds. Nothing wrong with that. Maybe his association could let go of some of the many thousands of dollars they have and fund a state survey of SAV beds. What he barely conceals is that he wants clamming prohibited.

Horstman states that hydraulic harvesting is currently 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. What a picture he has painted with these adjectives. He is sadly mistaken in portraying the clam industry as being in operation day after day. It is only for 6 days a week (Mon.-Sat.), weather and market permitting, from May 14 to Nov. 1 they get to start at sunrise and have to put the clams out by no later than 3 in the afternoon to avoid unhealthy spoilage and no later than 1 hour after sunset from Nov. 1 to May 14. This is a market-driven industry and the winter months do not see a consistent market for soft shells. I have already discussed the fact that while there is a plume, much of the dislodged sediment actually settles back to the affected areas. Does Mr. Horstman know that a strong blow, lasting for days will suspend silt over huge areas of rivers, far more than clamming will? That resuspended silt came from the land (not clamming). Most associations such as the newly formed one he is the executive officer of, have projects already in place to investigate and mitigate land sources of silt. Perhaps a more vigorous pursuit of those would be more productive than these op-eds.

We think, he states, 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. What damage? He doesn’t cite details. SAV damage is regulated already by the closing of SAV areas where no hydraulic harvesting is allowed, and oyster bars are separated from clamming. There has been a successful clam management plan in existence for many decades. There is a boogeyman under the bed. Noise, cheers, and marching.

Clams today, he says, represents a tiny portion of the Bay’s seafood harvest. He doesn’t even speak to the immense value of clams for crab bait. He missed discussing a major importance of clamming. I’m sure he is an excellently skilled director, but he has much to learn about clamming. As the demand for clams increases, we should answer some important questions before clam dredging grows into an even larger problem. I have to wonder if he knows the differences between soft clams, piss clams, hard clams, white clams, mannose and razor clams? Warning – it is partly a trick question. These are just the market clams that live in the Bay and the tributaries. All together clams represent a huge economic value chain that runs from many of Maryland’s fishing communities out through the state. Instead of recognizing this value, and the safeguards that lessen various issues, clamming is by definition, according to Mr. Horstman, a “problem” from the get-go. I think the problem is unsubstantiated comments and open bias when good judgment, data, and reason should prevail.

Our rivers are virtually choking from sediment. How is that possible when we have been reading for the past year or so that water quality is the best it has been in years? Watermen can see it firsthand. I guess it is hard to see such things from behind a computer in an office.

Our rivers are already listed by the EPA as impaired for sediment pollution, among other pollutants. Is he claiming clam dredging is responsible for the sediment overload and other pollutants? Try checking land-based sources of sediment.

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 our natural resources, to benefit all stakeholders while ensuring a healthy and sustainable clam population? When these policy and executive directors have doubts about the issues they always trot out the same old tired arguments and go over the top with their hyperbole. Where are the factual components of their arguments? You can’t have a discussion with someone who just wants to set the world on fire all the time. He talks about a sustainable clam population but he never even hints at a sustainable fishery. By all appearances, his goal is to put an end to clamming. Also, where is “all” the underwater life that gets choked out? All? That’s total. There is no data in his piece that any gets choked out.

The most confusing statement is his conclusion. Our rivers belong to all of us. The current hydraulic practices hurt more of us than they help. Bizarre to say the least. Who is “us” in his mind? Sounds like it is people opposed to clamming. His piece clearly casts clammers as the enemy and not part of “us”, but in fact, the Bay belongs to them too. They are part of us.

He encourages action for the benefit of all of the stakeholders. What action does he want his readers to consider? I would hope that self-educating from many different angles would be part of that process. But here he is minimizing and marginalizing the incredible economic benefits that are woven all through the value chain that is Maryland’s commercial fishery. The word resource has never in my years of researching Bay resources been used to describe sea nettles. Yes, they have a part in the ecosystem but no one wants to interact with or protect them. That fact alone tells you that the words, natural resource, implies human need and interaction. I can only assume that Mr. Horstman does not eat crab or clams and would like for others to follow his example.

Make your own mind up after doing the research. Do not just got to websites that confirm your bias. Question your assumptions, try to find the facts for the larger picture. It is never as simple as Mr. Horstman would have you believe.

Marc Castelli is an award winning painter and photographer of the Chesapeake Bay and those who work on the water.

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.