Man-Made Oyster Reef Near Key Bridge is Thriving

A man-made oyster reef finished a year ago next to Fort Carroll in the middle of the Patapsco River is in excellent condition. Recent monitoring results found most of the three million young oysters surviving and growing rapidly. The results are another encouraging milestone in an effort to return oysters to Baltimore waters, and throughout the Chesapeake Bay.

“Oysters are resilient creatures. If we give them the habitat they need they will settle down and form a community, begin filtering our water, and provide a home for other marine life,” said Dr. Allison Colden, Maryland Senior Fisheries Scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF). “Baltimore is demonstrating it can be a flourishing home for underwater life.”

CBF is a member of the Chesapeake Oyster Alliance, a multi-year, collaborative effort to add 10 billion new oysters by 2025 in Virginia and Maryland waters. The Alliance is designed to spark governmental action, public attention, and funding to accelerate ongoing oyster recovery efforts in the Chesapeake Bay.

Photo credit: Michael Eversmier

To that end, the oyster reef was planted last spring next to Fort Carroll, the Civil War fort built on an island near the Key Bridge. Chunks of granite were used as a bed for the reef. Tons of old oyster shell were piled on top of the stone. On each shell was attached an average of 12 juvenile oyster “spat” barely visible to the eye. The spat were set on the oyster shells at CBF’s Oyster Restoration Center in Shady Side, and placed on the reef by the organization’s restoration vessel, the Patricia Campbell.

A year later, about 75 percent of those baby oysters have survived their first winter, and have grown to an average of more than an inch and a half in size, some to nearly three inches. Another encouraging sign, divers found the oysters thriving despite silt in the river. In fact, the reef was filled with large clumps of oysters growing vertically above the silt.

The construction, seeding, and monitoring of the 1.1 acre reef was supported by the Maryland Department of Transportation Port Administration, Maryland Environmental Service, and the Abell Foundation.

Baltimore was once a hub of the commercial oyster industry in Maryland. Oysters also were known to grow in the Patapsco, at least near the mouth. But the oyster population is now a fraction of its historic size, a victim of overfishing, disease, and pollution.

Knowing that history, what divers observed at the Fort Carroll reef and recorded with underwater photography was all the more exciting. Live oysters were feeding and growing. And the reef already was attracting other marine life, such as anemone, barnacles, mussels, mud crabs, and grass shrimp. In all, at least 13 different species were observed living on the new reef. This relative abundance of life demonstrates what scientists have known for years: oysters are a “keystone species” in the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem; their reefs act as primary building blocks of the food chain.

The new reef, a little more than an acre, is near to a companion reef started in 1995. That older reef has been gradually built over the years, with about 150,000 oysters being added each of the past few years through the Great Baltimore Oyster Partnership and the Living Classrooms Foundation. Business representatives, students, and other volunteers grow oysters in cages at various sites around the Inner Harbor, and then deploy the juvenile oysters at the companion reef. The Partnership aims to have at least 5 million oysters added total to both reefs by 2020. CBF and the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore’s Healthy Harbor Initiative are founding members of the group.

WC Environmental Science Students Embark on Collaborative Groundwater Study

Most people think of sea level rise as something visible, but in Rebecca Fox’s field methods in environmental science class at Washington College, students have begun long-term research into an invisible potential effect—saltwater intrusion into agricultural fields on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. And, they’re collaborating with students from the University of Maryland, learning what it’s like to work with fellow researchers who aren’t even in the same county, let alone on the same campus.

Fox, assistant professor of environmental science and studies, came up with the idea with her friend and collaborator Kate Tully, assistant professor of agroecology at UMD’s Department of Plant Science & Landscape Architecture. To jump-start the project, the pair applied for and received funding through MADE CLEAR, which is funded through the National Science Foundation’s Climate Change Education Project.

Fox used her portion ($5,000) to establish a permanent research station on a farm on the lower Chester River, where she and students installed eight groundwater wells equipped with instruments that can gather a variety of data about the groundwater.

“The data loggers collect information every 15 minutes to half an hour, data on groundwater temperature, how high the groundwater is, and the salinity of the groundwater,” Fox says. “We’re hoping we can use this data that will be collected over the next five to ten years to monitor whether saltwater is intruding into the farm fields. The goal is to bring our classes together every fall to the farm to do this research project and to look at the data… And we’ll have this long-term dataset so we can do some analyses, and there’s no reason we can’t use it for research and publish it.”

Ben Nelson ’18, an environmental science major and biology minor, was among the WC students who worked on the project last fall.

“We can look at the data and see what is going on over time, because that’s what is important,” he says. “Looking at things short-term is great, but we have to look at the bigger picture, and this research opportunity allows us to see what’s going to occur over time. We’re going to have to mitigate these issues or adapt to these changes.”

Last fall, the two groups of students met once at the site, where they spoke with the landowner about changes he has seen already, and examined how the groundwater wells work. Though looking at the same data, the classes are approaching the research from slightly different perspectives. The UMD agroecology students are focused on agriculture and food production, but also on soil health and the entire agricultural system, while the WC students, with their focus in environmental science, are thinking more broadly and about other aspects than just traditional agriculture.

“The intention is to get the students together, get them to talk, get them to look at this data, and then at the end of the class we have them come up with a plan to produce collaborative podcasts,” Fox says. “Half the podcast team was at College Park, half the team was here, and they had to figure out how to put a podcast together from different locations. So much science is collaborative, and you aren’t always in the same location as the people you’re working with. The hope was that the students would get this experience of remote collaboration and see how different it is when you have to cooperate remotely, and how clearly you have to communicate.”

Nelson says this real-world collaboration was one of the trickiest but most valuable parts of the project.

“These are people who are over an hour away, and this is when we rely on technology to communicate. And that was good practice,” he says. “It really made you plan and consider others… In the beginning when we first started communications with them we were a little bit hesitant on both ends…. But as we progressed through the project I think we realized the only way we were going to get this done is to learn and adapt.

“We could interact with people of different backgrounds and further expand our collaborative skills,” he says. “This will definitely be helpful in the workplace, because you don’t just work with the same five people every day.”

In the upcoming year, the WC students will also have the opportunity to travel to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, where Tully’s side of the research is examining how different cover crops can sequester carbon dioxide.

“For that lab, instead of coming here and looking at saltwater intrusion, we’re going to look at the ability of cover crops to mitigate climate change,” Fox says. “They have all of these long- term experimental plots where they’re trying different types of cover crops, and so it’s very much more an agricultural perspective, but it’s looking at how we can diversify our crops to maybe make a difference in terms of how much carbon dioxide we’re putting into the atmosphere.”

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.

Mid-Shore Authors: The Unexpected Environmentalist J.I. Rodale with Andrew Case

It’s pretty clear that J.I. Rodale did not set off in life to be what we now call an “environmentalist.” The godfather of the “natural food” lifestyle, founder of Prevention magazine, and advocate of organic farming, Rodale saw himself first and foremost as a publisher.

That’s one of the many takeaways from Washington College professor Andrew Case’s new book, “The Organic Profit:
Rodale and the Making of Marketplace Environmentalism,” (University of Washington Press) which chronicles Rodale’s unique role in building a marketplace for organic products and supplements.

Nonetheless, Rodale began a movement that eventually led to the popularity of organic products, the awareness of the dangers of pesticides, and the importance for taking care of one’s own body and what it consumes. All which encompass the fundamentals of our current environmental movement in this country.

All of this proved to be irresistible to Case whose scholarship has focused on the history of environmentalism and consumer culture. He began to document Rodale’s rise after World War II, the rapid success of the Rodale Press, and a family business that has left a permanent legacy in the annals of the American environmental history.

The Spy sat down with the author at Cromwell Hall on Washington College’s campus to talk about the overarching themes found in Organic Profit and the fascinating profile of one of America’s great entrepreneurs.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. Please go here for more information on “The Organic Profit:
Rodale and the Making of Marketplace Environmentalism.”

 

Horn Point’s Chesapeake Champion Jerry Harris Takes a Bow

For the 6th year in a row, the folks from Horn Point Laboratory gathered at Waterfowl Festival Headquarters on Harrison Street last Friday to once again celebrate the achievements of a special individual from the Mid-Shore who had made a substantial contribution to the environmental health of the Chesapeake Bay.

This year, Jerry Harris, former businessman and now farm owner in Dorchester, received the award for his work in working with Horn Point and Ducks Unlimited (where he serves on the national Board of Directors) to host educational programs for students wishing to become wildlife managers.

Harris joins an extraordinary list of conservation leaders as a Chesapeake Champion They include Amy Haines of Out of the Fire Restaurant; Chip Akridge, owner of Harleigh Farms; Albert Pritchett of the Waterfowl Festival and Waterfowl Chesapeake; Jordan and Alice Lloyd of the Bartlett Pear; and Jim Brighton of the Maryland Biodiversity Project.

The Spy was there to capture some of the evenings best moments as Horn Point Director Mike Roman hosted the gathering of two hundred guests.

This video is approximately four minutes in length. For more information about the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science Horn Point Laboratory please go here

New Solar Field and Sustainability Take Center Stage at Horn Point

This spring, the switch was flipped on a new solar field spanning 10 acres on the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s Horn Point Laboratory campus. The 11,000 solar panels are expected to generate the equivalent of 50% of the campus’ annual energy consumption.

“The solar field is another example of how we are using innovative ways to reduce our environmental footprint and engage with the community,” said Mike Roman, director of UMCES’ Horn Point Laboratory, where scientists engage in world-renowned research in oceanography, water quality, and restoration of seagrasses, marshes and shellfish. “This is a milestone in a long journey to carbon neutrality and non-dependence on fossil fuel.” 

The project is a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) in which Standard Solar installs and operates the solar panels in exchange for the use of land. UMCES agrees to purchase the equivalent energy being generated over the next 20 years from Standard Solar.

The campus also put the final touches on a new solar canopy over a 46-space, crushed stone parking lot that will offset the cost of four level-II electrical vehicle charging stations. This project is thanks to a grant from the Maryland Energy Administration.

The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science is a signatory to the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (Second Nature) and has launched a number programs aimed at reducing its environmental footprint, including setting goals for reducing Green House Gas (GHG) emissions at each of its four laboratories, upgrading aging infrastructure to newer, more energy-efficient alternatives, and building all new campus buildings to at least the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Silver standard or equivalent. UMCES was recently awarded a Mark of Distinction for meeting its 25% Carbon Reduction Goal.  

“Higher education has a key role in shaping a sustainable society. It’s extremely important that we lead by example,” said Peter Goodwin, president of the University of Maryland Center for

Environmental Science. He also serves Vice Chancellor for Sustainability for the 12-institution University System of Maryland. “We are committed as an institution to understanding and the protecting the environment, and we must be a leader finding ways to reduce energy consumption and increase sustainability.”

 

ShoreRivers Hosts “State of the Rivers” Series Across the Shore

ShoreRivers is pleased to invite the community to a series of five State of the Rivers presentations during April and May (offered at different locations for the convenience of our public). ShoreRivers will unveil its 2017 Report Cards for the Choptank, Chester, Miles, Wye, and Sassafras Rivers, as well as Eastern Bay, and lead informative discussions about the results. River Report Cards analyze the data from our extensive water quality monitoring during 2017. Admission to each event is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served.

Our Report Cards reflect data collected at hundreds of sites by our scientists, Riverkeepers, and dozens of trained volunteers. The presentations will provide an opportunity for the community to learn about the health, trends, and challenges of our local waterways and how the most recent grades compare to those from previous years.Distinguished keynote speakers will enhance the programs. Our Riverkeepers and staff will also discuss new initiatives being undertaken in 2018, including the new RiverWatch real-time water quality online platform.

STATE OF THE RIVERS SERIES . . .

MILES, WYE AND CHOPTANK RIVERS—Saint Michaels
Keynote Speaker: Senator Chris Van Hollen
April 20, 5:00pm
Sponsored by the Inn at Perry Cabin by Belmond
Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, Small Boat Shed
213 N. Talbot Street

CHOPTANK RIVER—Cambridge
Keynote Speaker: Jay Lazar, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
April 26, 5:30pm
Robbins Heritage Center, 1003 Greenway Drive

CHESTER RIVER—Chestertown
Keynote Speaker: John Seidel, Director of Center for Environment & Society
April 26, 5:15pm
Washington College, Hynson Lounge, 300 Washington Avenue

SASSAFRAS RIVER—Cecilton
Keynote Speaker: Nick DiPasquale, former EPA Director of Chesapeake Bay Program
May 3, 7:00pm
Cecilton Fire Department, 110 E. Main Street

WYE AND CHESTER RIVERS AND EASTERN BAY—Grasonville
Speakers: Miles-Wye Riverkeeper Elle Bassett and Chester Riverkeeper Tim Trumbauer
May 16, 5:30pm
Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center, 600 Discover Lane

For more information, visit shorerivers.org or contact Eleanor Nelson at 443.385.0511 or eleanor@shorerivers.org.

ShoreRivers protects and restores Eastern Shore waterways through science-based advocacy, restoration, and education. We work collaboratively with our community yet maintain an uncompromising and independent voice for clean rivers and the living resources they support.

Coastline Management Has Major Impact On Rising Seas – And Tides – In Our Bay

 

Global warming and sea-level rise are exacerbating coastal flooding, especially during high tides, but Professor Ming Li of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science says how we decide to protect our coasts against rising seas can make the difference between devastation and resilience.

“People think tides are driven by the moon and it never changes, but we found that when you raise the mean sea level, it’s also going to change the tides,” said Professor Ming Li of UMCES’ Horn Point Laboratory. “Coastline management has huge implications in how the coastal locations react to changes in tides.”

Sea levels that rose a foot or less during the past 100 years could rise by 6 feet or more in this century—2 or 3 feet in the next 30 to 40 years. Long and convoluted coastlines along Chesapeake and Delaware bays present significant challenges for developing effective strategies to mitigate coastal flooding risks.

What you do with coastline management has huge implications in terms of how the tides in Chesapeake Bay respond to sea level rise.

Coastal inundation, or flooding, occurs when sea levels are higher than the normal extent of the tide. Estimates of future flooding events due to sea-level rise have been made by simply adding the expected sea-level rise to present-day tides. However, tides themselves are affected by changes in water depth, so sea-level rise will change the position of high or low tide. Recurrent flooding due to high tides is already a problem for low-lying areas on the Eastern Shore.

“Climate change is real; sea-level rise is happening,” said Li. “We have to understand it and plan for it right now.”

Ming Li

Ming Li and his team developed a numerical model to investigate the effects of sea-level rise on the tidal range in Chesapeake Bay and Delaware Bay. The study calculated what would happen if seawalls were erected along the coastlines of Chesapeake and Delaware Bays to protect low-lying areas from flooding versus allowing the waters to take over the land. They found that hard shorelines, such as seawalls and levees, significantly exacerbate the height of the high tide, while more natural landscapes, such as marshland, minimized the tide height.

The yard around a home is flooded with standing water.

The researchers found that seawalls actually increased the tidal range, making high tide even higher than it would be without the wall. When vertical walls are added to coastline, the characteristics of tidal wave change due to the larger water depth. Allowing the water to flood existing land dissipated the water into new areas.

“Instead of going upstream, it’s going sideways,” says Li of tides against a natural shoreline. “The tidal wave energy is being dispersed.”

How governments respond to coastline management to defend communities from rising seas will have major implications. Li’s study shows different strategies have different consequences.

“What you do with coastline management has huge implications in terms of how the tides in Chesapeake Bay respond to sea-level rise,” said Li. “Allow them to flood low-lying areas, then the tidal range in the upper reaches of the estuary will decrease about 15%. If you try to build hard shorelines you’re going to amplify by 15%.”

For example, in big cities in the region, when high tide hit during peak sea level, the difference in flood waters between the hard and soft shorelines would be 18% in Baltimore, 11% in Washington, D.C., and 21% in Philadelphia.

“If we have a storm like Isabelle in 2100, when the sea level is higher, and have hard shore everywhere, the surge height will increase 4 feet, in addition to the 3-feet increase in the mean sea level due to sea-level rise” he said. “This is a very significant problem that has practical implications for those lying in low areas. It’s important for local people to pay attention and figure out how can we help each other.”

Amy Pelsinsky is Director of Communications for University Of Maryland Center For Environmental Science in Baltimore

Washington College Students work with Eastern Shore Towns to Identify Energy Savings

Higher education can have real world greening impacts. Case in point: The Shore Power Project, launched several years ago at Washington College, has helped local governments on Maryland’s Eastern Shore find ways to reduce energy costs while also shrinking their carbon footprint.

For students and staff at the private liberal arts college in Chestertown, the project offered a chance to help Shore communities address climate change by adapting to the shifting energy landscape.

“The energy sector is an important force for change for the future,” explained Mike Hardesty, the associate director for the college’s Center for Environment and Society. “We’ve always wanted to get involved to assist the community to become more energy efficient.”

With funding from the Town Creek Foundation, the project’s student interns and staff pored over power bills and recommended cost-saving alternatives to nine Shore towns, two school districts and one county.

Grant Samms, an environmental sociologist who oversees the student interns’ work, said they contacted local government offices around the Shore to connect with town managers, public works directors or other staffers who dealt with energy. They initially pitched that they could identify opportunities for cost savings by analyzing where the locality’s energy dollars were going. But they also pointed out the environmental benefits, Samms noted, of reducing power consumption and switching to renewable energy.

“There’s a general assumption when it comes to rural communities, [that] they’re conservative and don’t care about climate change,” Samms said. “That may in part be true, but when you have a resource constraint, there’s always interest in saving money.”

The project started out working with Chestertown, home of the small liberal arts school. The municipality had already taken some steps to reduce energy costs, including the bidding out of electric supply contracts for all town meters and the installation of a 3-megawatt solar facility at its wastewater treatment plant.

Town Manager Bill Ingersoll said he’s constantly thinking about how to save money. The Shore Power project’s initial contribution to the town in that regard was more conceptual than detailed practical advice, he said.

“What they do is they may create a climate where you may want to think more about what you’re doing,” Ingersoll said. As a follow-up to the project’s initial study, he has since asked it to examine what the town’s paying for electricity generated by the solar facility, to see if the savings promised by the provider have panned out.

In Easton, the Washington College group assisted the town in going forward with a plan to install new cost-saving LED streetlights.

“What was really helpful was having the Shore Power Project look at this and say, ‘If you did this, this could be your savings,’” said Kelly Simonsen, spokesperson for Easton Utilities. Within three years, with grants from the Maryland Energy Administration to help pay for the replacements, the new lights reduced the town’s electricity consumption by 30 percent, Simonsen said.

That LED streetlight replacement, which is continuing, has contributed to the town’s successful bid to become a Maryland Sustainable Certified community, she said.

“We needed someone to kind of look at our overall energy usage and things we could change and implement, so we could get that credential,” Simonsen explained. “[The certification] puts Easton in a place on the map to show we’re forward thinking and we’re doing things for our community to be more sustainable and (to) consider our environmental impact.”

The college has offered internships to seven students over the project’s five-semester lifespan, according to Hardesty. Three students have stuck with it and done repeat stints. And for at least one, it’s opened up a career path.

Tori Alpaugh said that working on energy usage data for the Shore communities while an undergraduate at Washington College piqued her interest. So, when the New Jersey native graduated in May 2016, she started looking for energy-related jobs.

Her search led to AWS Truepower, a renewable energy services provider based in Albany, NY, where she pitched her Shore Power experience.

“That was the No. 1 thing on my resume,” she said, “and the No. 1 thing we talked about on my interview.” Hired in August, she’s now a project coordinator, working with meteorologists, engineers and GIS specialists on large-scale renewable energy projects.

“I think it’s safe to say it’s the reason I got my job here,” Alpaugh said of the Shore Power project.

The foundation’s funding for the project ended last year; now, the college aims to continue the project as a fee-for-service consulting business. Even though communities are almost certain to realize long-term savings from taking steps to conserve energy and build in climate resiliency, Samms acknowledged that the upfront costs pose a “perennial challenge” for small towns with competing short-term priorities.

“So,” he said, “we are putting forward a hybrid system that is partially underwritten by support from our center and continued support from foundations, as they are realized. This will save towns money and lower the impediment to energy conservation measures.”

The center also wants to address another, non-financial barrier. The recent flurry of solar energy arrays cropping up on farmland across the Shore has generated a backlash in affected communities. Samms said he hopes the project can conduct research and community outreach “to identify ways to truly lower the barriers to this type of development while ensuring it goes forward in a democratized manner.” The center hopes to get foundation support for that effort as well.

“We’ve proven it over and over again that there’s cost savings here,” Hardesty said. “Now that we’ve got a proven model in hand, we’re looking to expand on it.”

by Tim Wheeler

Timothy B. Wheeler is associate editor and senior writer for the Bay Journal. He has more than two decades of experience covering the environment for The Baltimore Sun and other media outlets.

Bills would Update Maryland’s Forest Conservation Law

Maryland’s forest conservation law has failed to protect some of the state’s best forests, scientists and environmentalists say.

Enacted in 1991, the state’s Forest Conservation Act was intended to protect Maryland’s forested areas from development. The law outlined a formula for builders to follow when clearing land for development.

For each tract of forest cleared, developers of certain parcels were required to mitigate forest lost by replanting trees, or pay a fee-in-lieu.

Under current law, developers in some circumstances can replant at a ratio of one-fourth of an acre planted for every acre cleared.

The new bill would increase the ratio to one-for-one.

It would also clearly define “priority retention areas” — considered to be the state’s best forests — and lay out a framework that determines when state and local authorities can approve the clearing of these forests.

Developers say the bill is too onerous and could jeopardize local planning goals.

Some of the disagreement among developers, the state and environmentalists comes down to how trees are counted.

Developers and the state have cited tree canopy cover as a way to measure the state’s forested lands.

But canopy cover includes all trees — including suburban and streetside plantings — and does not accurately count forests, which environmentalists say offer superior health, economic and ecological benefits.

The current conservation formula worked for areas that originally had little forested land, Elaine Lutz, Maryland staff attorney for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, told Capital News Service. But the same formula has enabled the clearing of some of the state’s most dense and ecologically beneficial forest.

According to the current law, priority forests are “trees, shrubs, and plants located in sensitive areas,” including 100-year flood plains, riparian buffers to streams and coastal bays, steep slopes, critical habitats and contiguous forest “that connects the largest undeveloped or most vegetated tracts of land within and adjacent to the site,” a state analysis shows.

But the language is too ambiguous, Lutz said, and has resulted in the varying interpretations of replanting requirements and, in some cases, failure to protect the best forests.

Maryland has lost over 19,000 acres of forests between fiscal year 2009 and fiscal year 2016, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation told lawmakers in the fall. More than 7,000 acres were cleared in Prince George’s County alone, the report showed.

Disproportionate forest loss in her county prompted Delegate Anne Healey, D-Prince George’s, this year to introduce House bill 766, which modifies the Forest Conservation Act to better define “priority forest” and to increase the replanting requirement. Sen. Ron Young, D-Frederick, introduced an identical bill, Senate bill 610.

The Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs and House Environment and Transportation Committees addressed Young and Healey’s bills last week.

Testimony from proponents — primarily environmentalists — and opponents — land development and real estate industries — dragged on for hours in the hearings, with the sides producing conflicting statistics and accounts of the Forest Conservation Act’s success.

Environmentalists argued that too much important forest has been cleared. The ecological and health benefits of mature forests, they said, outweigh additional costs to developers.

Beyond providing critical habitat for many forest-dwelling creatures, “forests are the No. 1 most protective land cover for water quality,” Lutz said.

States surrounding the Chesapeake Bay and federal authorities continue efforts to clean up the nation’s largest estuary, but President Donald Trump’s proposed budget would slash 90 percent of Chesapeake Bay cleanup funding.

One-third of nitrogen pollution in the bay comes from the air, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Forests are efficient air filters that could help reduce air pollutants, Lutz said.

Those representing the development community staunchly opposed the bill, arguing that the Forest Conservation Act is already working and there is no need to change it.

Lori Graf, CEO of the Maryland Building Industry Association, which represents some 100,000 Marylanders, submitted in written testimony that, “Maryland’s forest canopy cover” increased to 51 percent in 2017, citing a Department of Natural Resources report.

The state’s Department of Natural Resources submitted a letter of concern, and Allison Cordell, the department’s legislative director, also told lawmakers this week that Maryland has a “51 percent statewide tree canopy cover,” according to the letter.

But tree cover is not the same as mature forest, environmentalists say. Individual trees, or patches of them, simply cannot replicate the ecological benefits of mature forests.

“I planted thousands of street trees and other communities are doing that, and they create cover, but they don’t do the same thing that forest stands do,” Young said. Trees “do a lot and they’re good, but this is directed at trying to protect forested areas.”

Healey and Young’s bills are “narrowly tailored to address the most critical need of our most pressured forest land,” Healey said. “We’re not against development.”

Developers aren’t convinced, though.

“We’re very concerned that this bill contradicts a generation of land use planning,” said Tom Ballentine, vice president for policy and government affairs for the Maryland chapter of NAIOP — a commercial real estate development association — in his testimony before the Senate committee Feb. 20.

“It makes the existence of priority forest the single most important factor in determining the location and density of future development,” Ballentine added.

The amended Forest Conservation Act would also change the standard by which state and local authorities can approve the clearing of priority forest areas. Existing law “requires ‘sufficient justification’ to remove priority forest areas,” but doesn’t provide detailed guidance and has been varyingly interpreted across jurisdictions, according to Lutz’s written testimony.

Developers said the process for clearing priority forest is already arduous. It’s expensive and time-consuming, they say.

The new restrictions, Ballentine said, will “make it nearly impossible for local governments to approve clearing of priority forest.”

Bill Castelli, who represented Maryland REALTORS at at the Senate committee hearing Feb. 20, said this bill would increase the cost of development, and “the more development cost that occurs when you’re developing property… the more difficult it is for developers to create” affordable housing.

Former International Monetary Fund economist John Wakeman-Linn, a Shady Side, Maryland, resident, testified in favor of the bill at both hearings. He argued that the cost developers accrue for having to mitigate forest clearing pales in comparison to the value of services all Maryland citizens are deprived of when forest is cleared.

“A 2015 study in Prince George’s County found the benefits received from trees there are worth around $13 billion annually, or roughly $80,000 per year per acre of trees,” Wakeman-Linn said in his testimony.

“Compare this to the one-time cost developers would face in adhering to the regulations in this act,” which, based on one developer’s written testimony, Wakeman-Linn estimated to be about $33,000 per acre of trees cleared, he said. “In Prince George’s County, this one-time fee would be less than the benefits (of trees) lost every six months.”

And protecting forests is about more than the health, environmental and economic benefits, Healey said.

“(The forest) is a place to refresh yourself spiritually and mentally from the stresses of city life,” she said. “It makes life more livable.”

By Alex Mann

 

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

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

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

Larry Walton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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