Maryland Coastal Bays

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With seals' return, public asked to help tally

 

A seal is seen at the edge of the ocean waters on Assateague Island recently. 

A seal is seen at the edge of the ocean waters on Assateague Island recently. / Todd Chandler image

Staff Writer

SALISBURY — Seals have returned to the Lower Shore’s coastal waters after a mysterious one-year absence — just in time to be counted.

The Maryland Coastal Bays Program and the National Aquarium in Baltimore are asking people to report sightings in an effort to learn more about the seals’ behavior near the southernmost part of their range.

To that end, people should enjoy the experience but keep a safe distance and don’t harass them, said Sandi Smith, development and marketing coordinator for Maryland Coastal Bays.

“Everybody wants to bond with an appealing, fuzzy face,” she said. “But the seals are hauling out because they’re tired. They’ve come a long way and they just want to rest.”

The two organizations are using a $34,000 federal grant to create a sightings website and spread the word about how people and seals can co-exist comfortably. Since the site went live a few weeks ago, trackers have reported three sightings.

A harbor seal was spotted resting on the beach and playing in the surf at Assateague Island. Another seal was seen on the beach at Ocean City’s 23rd Street. And the third was recently seen frolicking in the bay between Wicomico and Sixth streets.

About 20 to 25 seal sightings are reported in Maryland coastal waters from December to May each year, said Jen Dittmar, stranding coordinator with the National Aquarium.

But their habits may be changing. Eight seals were found together on Drum Island two years ago — the first time they’ve been seen in a group in this area, Dittmar said.

Oddly, none were seen last winter. Some trackers have speculated that milder temperatures curtailed the seals’ journey southward, but the cause remains unknown.

Dittmar said she is curious to see whether their group behavior was a fluke or the start of a trend.

The two mostly commonly seen types in Maryland are gray and harbor seals, experts say.

Gray seals may be up to 880 pounds and 10 feet long; they are widely distributed along coastal waters from the mid-Atlantic to the Baltic Sea. Harbor seals may reach up to 245 pounds and 6 feet long, and can be found from the Carolinas to the Canadian Arctic and from Mexico to Alaska.

Many who have glimpsed a seal locally describe it as a welcome surprise.

Todd Chandler, an Ocean City real estate agent, found himself doing a double-take during a recent walk on Assateague with his dog. A seal was calmly lying on the beach; he snagged his iPhone and began taking pictures.

“It’s the neat thing about being here this time of year,” he said. “They’re just neat creatures.”

Smith cautioned that the seals are tired and usually in no mood to be ogled. She advised keeping at least 50 yards away and limiting viewing to 30 minutes.

To report a sighting, call 1-800-628-9944 or visit www.mdcoastalbays.org/ report-a-seal.

jcox6@dmg.gannett.com410-845-4630On Twitter @Jeremy_Cox


 

Wave of dead bugs appears in Ocean City 

Written by: Jon Bleiweis
 
Ocean City -- A few unwelcomed guests recently joined beachgoers in the ocean, and it's a sight many don't want to see.
Dead bugs -- mosquitoes, gnats and flies -- lined the surf this week, but it hasn't stopped swimmers from enjoying the ocean. "There's a lot of bugs in there whenever the waves come in," said Stacey Chaney, who was visiting the 140th Street beach from Johnstown, Pa., with her children. But the bugs didn't stop the Chaneys from enjoying their beach vacation. "You're on vacation," she said. "You want to go in there and relax." "And have fun," her son, Jon, 9, added. Tom Parham, director of tidewater ecosystem assessment at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, said bugs can be blown onto the beach or near shore areas when there are westerly winds. "They're land-based insects," he said. "There's only so far they can go." Roman Jesien, science coordinator at the Maryland Coastal Bays Program, said bugs typically lay their eggs in the marsh and the westerly winds carry them to the beach. According to Jesien, bugs in the ocean are typically in the water for just a few days.

"They just come and go very quickly," he said. "It shouldn't be much longer." Lt. Mike Stone of the Ocean City Beach Patrol said the rate at which the bugs show up depends on the weather. More often than not, he said, the bugs make their appearance after a storm front passes through, as do bigger waves. "Sometimes when the winds come out of the west and over the bay, we don't get as much wind because the buildings and dunes block the wind," he said. "We typically have a lot more bugs on those days."Stone said the bugs are typically removed naturally, either by fish or birds eating them, or they'll gradually break down and disappear.

Easton resident Brie Taylor said she wasn't scared about the extra company in the water -- she's seen the bugs in the ocean before -- but it might stop her from doing what she wanted to do. "I guess there's no bodysurfing today because you don't want to lay in all the bugs," she said. "I'll probably try digging out a spot that's clear so I can actually bodysurf. "Jon Chaney said he had a fun day at the beach, despite the bugs. "They don't look scary to me," he said. "I just pretend they're not there."


Sea grass disappears from Maryland's coastal bays

 

April Israel, left, and Bill Mahoney, both with the Maryland Coastal Bays Program, look at eel grass and snails as they work ground truthing submerged aquatic vegetation in the Sinepuxent Bay at Assateague Island. 

OCEAN CITY -- In the northern coastal bays of Worcester County, hot weather and poor water quality contribute to killing 95 percent of bay grasses. The data come from a May 7 survey showing an overall decrease of underwater sea grass by 35 percent. The changes came from July 2010 to May 2011, and include no official data from 2010. "We have lost nearly 20 years of sea grass recovery and the primary nursery for crabs and fish along with it," said Dave Wilson, executive director of the Maryland Coastal Bays Program. His group worked jointly on the annual survey with the National Park Service and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. The survey shows there were 13,863 acres of underwater grasses in summer 2010. The next spring, measured grasses came to 9,083 acres -- that's 4,780 acres gone in less than a year. Areas of Assawoman Bay and Isle of Wight Bay were "completely wiped out," Wilson said. "That's not a good thing, especially considering the value of those grasses." Chincoteague Bay took the greatest hit, losing more than 2,500 acres, or 27 percent. The northern coastal bays lost 95 percent of their acreage, comprising about 1,500 acres of grass. "You lose 95 percent, it would be like saying we're going to cut down 95 percent of the woods ... and expect all the woodland-dwelling creatures to survive; it just doesn't work," Wilson said. Bay grasses are important because they're a barometer of water quality. And there's a significant amount of marine life in the coastal bays, with a mix of southern and northern species here in the mid-Atlantic, Wilson said. Some of the surviving species will do their best to survive on algae. Juvenile flounder might survive, but it's not likely. Sea horses and pipe fish and others need sea grasses to live. Wilson said preliminary surveys this spring show some shoots of grass coming up, "but boy, it's nothing like it was. It's not like a thick, lush forest or anything. ... It doesn't come back all in one year." It leaves the coastal bays with even less sea grass than was lost during another particularly hot summer, in 2005. Wilson said it was a gradual buildup to where they were; recovery is a slow process. Wilson couldn't pinpoint any particular cause for such a grand die-off of sea grasses. Heat is the big factor, though, and the environment is its own worst enemy. When a big chunk of bay grasses die in a heat spell, they go from living organisms to pieces of floating, decaying nutrients. That, in turn, contributes to a more toxic environment, and even more grasses will die. Wilson said his biggest concern from an ecological standpoint is the trending warmer weather. And while water quality has pretty much held its own in the northern coastal bays, it's declined in the southern coastal bays. "The combination of warm weather and relatively high nutrient levels -- which also causes a lot of turbidity, or lack of water clarity -- is sort of a one-two punch for these grasses," he said. Brian Sturgis, an aquatic ecologist for Assateague Island National Seashore, is one of the people who are on the ground to see how much of the bay grasses, or submerged aquatic vegetation, have survived. He visits 100 fixed sites every year to check for grasses. "The survey's accurate," Sturgis said. "We went up and ground truthed in the northern bays, where there wasn't any showing up on the aerial photographs. We stuck our heads in the water and couldn't find anything." The impact to waterways is that habitat will be lost for lots of small fish and crabs. "There's less area for those guys to grow up in. ... With the grass areas, they can hide in there," he said. "Plus there's a bunch of other critters who do well in grass beds and really can't survive outside of those." The next annual aerial survey will happen sometime between May and August, depending on weather and water clarity, Wilson said.
 

Annapolis, Md. (May 22, 2012) – The latest survey measuring the underwater seagrass abundance in Maryland’s coastal bays shows the plants have decreased by 35 percent in less than year. The sharp decline is believed to be the result of degraded water quality combined with an especially hot summer in 2010 - when large declines were also seen in the lower Chesapeake Bay.

“These losses are troubling to the recovery of the bays,” said Dave Wilson, executive director of the Maryland Coastal Bays Program. "We have lost nearly 20 years of seagrass recovery and the primary nursery for crabs and fish along with it. The Coastal Bays Program will continue to work with our partners to reduce nutrient and sediment pollution in order to improve water clarity and reach our seagrass goal in the bays behind Ocean City and Assateague Island."

The study, released by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Maryland Coastal Bays program, the Virginia Institute of Marine Scientists and the National Park Service, showed underwater grasses dropped from 13,863 acres in July 2010, to 9,083 acres in May 2011 - levels not seen since the early 1990s. Their acreage is even less than it was during the extreme decline caused by the hot summer of 2005. A total of 4,780 acres of critical seagrass habitat was lost in bays throughout the area.

Chincoteague Bay lost the greatest acreage, 27 percent of grasses or 2,756 acres (nearly equal losses in both Maryland and Virginia). The northern bays showed the greatest percent losses: Assawoman Bay saw a 96 percent decline, or 900 acres; the Isle of Wight, 93 percent or 483 acres; and St. Martin River lost its last 1.6 acres. Seagrasses are an important indicator of clean water and serve as food and shelter for many fish and shellfish, including flounder, blue crab and bay scallops. The plants are also a vital food source for Atlantic Brant and other waterfowl during migration and over-wintering.

Low water quality is the biggest threat to seagrass recovery. Nutrient pollution fuels algae and seaweed blooms in the water which can block light to seagrass beds. Sources of nutrient pollution include air deposition, farm fields, boating, development, septic fields, parking lots and wastewater treatment plants.

“The plants essentially succumb to the ‘one, two punch,’” said Thomas Parham, DNR Director of Tidewater Ecosystem Assessment Service. “The heat alone doesn’t kill them unless combined with the already stressful conditions the plants are living in.”

“Maryland is among the states most vulnerable to climate change. Hotter summers and rising sea levels, along with increased storm intensity, could have devastating and far-reaching environmental and economic impacts on the Coastal Bays ecosystem and the quality of life Marylanders currently enjoy,” said Zoe Johnson, DNR Program Manager for Climate Policy. “The seagrasses are a great barometer of the health of the coastal bays. We must continue to reduce nutrient and sediment pollution, collectively and individually, to benefit seagrass restoration and ultimately the health of the coastal bays.”

The losses of eelgrass in Maryland’s Coastal Bays as well as Chesapeake Bay contrast with the continued expansion of eelgrass in Virginia’s Coastal Bays.

“The clearer water of the Virginia coastal bays, as well as the proximity of the eelgrass meadows to cooler ocean waters makes the exposure to stressful high water temperature conditions more bearable, allowing these meadows to persist despite the high summertime temperatures,” said Dr. Bob Orth, who oversees the annual SAV monitoring surveys.

Long-term monitoring by Assateague Island National Seashore shows current trends in nutrient conditions continue to degrade in Chincoteague Bay. However, there are some promising signs of improvements shown by data collected by Maryland Department of Natural Resources, especially in Kitt’s Branch/Trappe Creek, as a result of removing wastewater discharge from Berlin.

“It’s difficult to imagine our bays without seagrasses, but that’s the direction we’re heading without a change in the status quo,” said Trish Kicklighter, superintendent of Assateague Island National Seashore. “The majority of seagrasses in Chincoteague and Sinepuxent Bays occur in the shallow waters adjacent to Assateague Island. If we want our children and grandchildren to enjoy the benefits of a healthy park and bay system, we all need to get involved.”

Seagrass acreage is estimated through an annual aerial survey, which is flown between late spring and early fall. Additional information about the aerial survey and survey results is available at www.vims.edu/bio/sav/.

To see current water quality conditions visit, mddnr.chesapeakebay.net/eyesonthebay/statustrends_coastalbays.cfm. More information on Maryland’s Coastal Bay’s is available at dnr.state.md.us/coastalbays.

 
 

 
 
 
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  • Marine Spatial Planning
    Posted 4/1/10

    By Monty Hawkins

    Marine Spatial Planning has been the cause of much controversy, but inaccurate recreational catch data is the real problem and managers’ use of poor catch data is causing serious trouble in the sport fishing world.

    Our Ocean Policy and Marine Spatial Planning is about ways to minimize conflict and to ensure that culturally important fishing grounds and fish habitat aren't needlessly lost as we press on with new energy for our nation. Ocean Policy, including Marine Spatial Planning, isn't about taking away fishing areas; it’s about preserving them as the US moves into a new era of energy development.

    As a party boat operator in Ocean City with 30 years experience, I am fighting for my business' very existence because of recreational catch-estimate data rotten enough to make a menhaden processing plant blush.

    As fishery rebuilding plans have advanced – often with great success – the effects of less than perfect marine science and data's complex illusions are creating havoc as we close in on some species' restoration. For example, in September and October 2007 shore fishers targeting flounder in Maryland are officially estimated to have caught what state party and charter boats will catch in 15 years.

    We are often falsely accused of going over-quota and have repeatedly fought the data and lost. We lost because we could not prove guys fishing on the bank weren't catching like an Alaskan factory trawler; lost because 36,017 flounder from shore in two months seemed to regulators a reasonable number even if Maryland's professional crews caught well under 3,000 in a year; lost because although the data is astonishingly poor it is considered the “best science available”, is inarguable and must be used. We suffer shortened seasons, emergency closures, size limit increases and creel limit reductions because of statistical analysis that, literally, couldn't survive the light of day.

    This bad data is building and is getting worse. Marine Spatial Planning is not the problem nor will it be. Fishermen would be foolish to allow big-energy in without some manner of safety-net. America does need to move forward with energy policy. Fishers need to look ahead as well.

    Windmills will actually contribute to marine production and will create reef communities. However, as the Chesapeake's fishers learned with the closing of the gas-docks by Homeland Security, sometimes what's good for fish doesn't remain good for fishermen.

    I'm proud to tell you Maryland's coastal anglers did not wait for the government. We had self imposed regulations on many species long before management--sometimes half a decade before regulations. We have privately funded much of our reef restoration and creation. We are staunch conservationists whose businesses are being destroyed by bad catch data, poor stock assessments and a general lack of flexibility. Even the skippers fishing after WWII never had ocean flounder fishing as we now do. We are still rebuilding' the summer flounder population though.

    The challenges of rebuilding, fishing on rebuilt stocks, and finding those species left behind are not insurmountable, but bureaucratic rigidity is making it mighty difficult. All those fishermen, commercial and recreational, who recently rallied in DC, were there for the Flexibility in Rebuilding American Fisheries Act.

    Fishers need managers that can manage as we navigate and follow a compass course yes, but dodge a new sand-bar. Held rigidly to data sets of ill-found science, this math that would have made Madoff's staff envious, our regulators are running us hard-aground.

    There's no flexibility in the Great Recession. It’s destroying the fishers. What fishermen need now is truth and wisdom. Truth in stock assessments, truth in catch estimates, truth in news reporting and wisdom in our governance. Strikes me we could use some of that near everywhere.

    Monty Hawkins is Captain of the Morning Star Party Boat in Ocean City. He also writes a regular fishing report. He can be reached at mhawkins@siteone.net.

  • Berlin Spring Celebration Goes Green with GBG
    Posted 3/26/10

    Grow Berlin Green has taken its mission to establish Berlin as a model community for environmental protection, conservation and smart growth and put the concept into real projects that will have an a real and lasting on the community.

    On April 3, Grow Berlin Green, along with the Berlin Main Street Program, is sponsoring this year's Berlin Chamber of Commerce Spring Celebration.

    The event will include the same fun entertainment as previous years, including the pig races, Easter bonnet parade and egg hunt, but will also feature an environmental twist.

    This year the event will also celebrate flowers, plants and green ideas. Free seedlings will be given out by the town of Berlin and the Chamber of Commerce will be passing out free seed packets for vegetables and plants. Some of the vendors will feature natural products or green services and one booth will be sponsored by a local landscaper who hopes to decorate the town with beautiful native plants and flowers.

    Children who participate in the Easter Bonnet Contest and Parade can make theirs from home using recycled materials, which is a new category in the contest. It's a great way for children to learn that items once thought of as disposable can actually have other uses. For a detailed schedule of all the Spring Celebration festivities, click HERE.

    Additionally, after months of effort on the part of GBG and the town leaders, businesses in downtown Berlin will soon have access to a free recycling service for their glass, plastic, metal and paper waste.

    GBG and the Berlin Main Street Program have partnered to purchase a large multi-compartment container for recyclables, and the owners of the Globe have generously offered to site the container behind the restaurant.

    Earlier this month town officials reached an agreement with Worcester County on a pickup fee. Next up, GBG will now coordinate with the town, the Main Street Program and the Berlin Chamber of Commerce to educate businesses about the new service and encourage all businesses to participate. The container could be in place as early as May.

    This is a true breakthrough and GBG should be applauded for playing such an important role in making it happen.

    To highlight the importance of energy conservation, this spring GBG will be giving away free CFL light bulbs to students at Stephen Decatur High School and Middle School, and Berlin Intermediate School students. This giveaway will hopefully encourage the parents to purchase these energy saving light bulbs in the future. GBG purchased some of the bulbs, while others were donated by local businesses.

    In an effort to spread the word about the group's efforts, and to educate and mobilize citizen action, as well as promote various Berlin activities and events, last week GBG began a major public service announcement campaign on Public Radio Delmarva.

    This type of outreach, which reaches thousands, is invaluable to a small community such as Berlin and it's a very exciting initiative.

    Managed by a coalition of the Maryland Coastal Bays Program, the Lower Shore Land Trust and the Assateague Coastal Trust, Grow Berlin Green is driven by community education, empowerment and action.

    The success of this program depends on the commitment of Berlin citizens, businesses owners, educators, students and policy makers. It seems clear that GBG has worked with all of the above to make the town of Berlin a better place to live, work and visit.

  • Sustainable Communities Act of 2010
    Posted 3/11/10

    A three-year, $50 million program proposed by the O’Malley administration would award tax credits for transit-oriented development, the renovation of eligible Main Street districts such as Berlin, as well as other types of non-historic commercial revitalization to encourage communities to promote sustainable living.

    The Sustainable Communities Act of 2010 calls for the authorization of a tax credit, improvements to the Community Legacy and Designated Neighborhood programs, and changes to the governor’s Smart Growth cabinet. The act calls for broadening the 14-year-old Heritage Tax Credit program as the Sustainable Communities Tax Credit to help stimulate local economies, create construction jobs and support ecologically friendly development. The Maryland Historic Tax Credit Program is well established as a key element in downtown areas and older communities throughout the state.

    State officials say the upgraded program will attract and sustain private investment in revitalization areas and projects, preserve the authentic historic character of Maryland communities, advance green and sustainable development practices, and streamline and align government programs and resources. The previous program was restricted to historic properties. The proposal asks that up to 40 percent of the credits be made available to people where they live and work. Revitalized Main Streets and attractive storefronts are vital to the public health of any community and for the cash registers of small business owners.

    Although not traditionally thought of as a job stimulus, most work done for historic renovation is labor-intensive. According to a recent study, every dollar of rehabilitation tax credit generates $8.53 in economic activity and each million dollars in tax credits conservatively is estimated to put about 73 skilled trades people to work on labor-intensive projects in the construction industry.
    Based on previous successes with the old program, state planning officials say the new program can be expected to leverage more than 3,600 jobs over the next three years without impact to the 2011 and 2012 State operating budgets, adding that because eligible projects will be approved more quickly, developers and contractors will be able to expedite the hiring process.

    Credit certificates will be given to projects that are considered exceptional based on criteria developed with the governor’s Smart Growth subcabinet. Developers will receive a credit certificate to secure funding for their projects.

    The bill also calls for cooperation among state agencies, including Planning, Transportation, Housing and Community Development, and Business and Economic Development. The Energy Administration is involved to tie historic renovation to green building standards, making it one of the first programs in the country to do so. Bringing in experts on health, labor and energy will help us sharpen the focus on sustainable communities, says Richard Hall, Maryland’s Secretary of Planning.
    The proposed Sustainable Communities Act of 2010 would put Maryland in line with federal changes that focus on improved coordination of transportation, environmental protection and housing investments. A new partnership between the Department of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and the Environmental Protection Agency was announced by the Obama administration last year.

    A Sustainable Community is one that encourages good health and reflects the concept that economic, environmental, and social issues are interdependent and that regions, cities, towns and rural lands must continue into the future without harming the natural resources that support them. Housing, transportation and resource conservation are managed in ways that retain the economic, ecological and scenic values of the environment. These are also communities where the use of fossil fuels, emissions of greenhouse gases, water resources and pollution are lessened.

    Reinforcing sustainable communities and making existing towns and cities more attractive for future growth, rural, cultural and historic resources will be better preserved, local economies will be stronger and the state will gain more efficient and economical use of its investments in existing infrastructure such as roads and schools.

  • Let's Luau!!!
    Posted 3/3/10



    Get out your grass skirts and Hawaiian shirts and mark your calendars for Sunday, March 21 when the Maryland Coastal Bays Program and the Ocean City chapter of the Surfrider Foundation present the first ever Live Aloha – Taking Care of the Earth spring luau.
    The event is designed to serve two purposes. The first is to provide a fun and unique event to lift our spirits after a winter that was like no other in our area. Toward that end we are pulling out all the stops to make this Hawaiian feast a memorable and authentic luau. Second, and just as important, the luau will help us raise funds for the first the annual Earth Day community cleanup in Ocean City on April 17. (Details regarding the Earth Day cleanup will follow in the coming weeks.)
    Our Live Aloha Luau will be a big, fun, family-friendly party at Seacrets featuring traditional Hawaiian food. Polynesian entertainment, including dancing hula girls in grass skirts and flowered leis, and an exotic and amazing Samoan fire dancer, will make the day even more authentically Hawaiian.
    The Diamondheads – named after a volcano that cuts along a piece of Hawaiian coastline famous for its surfing – will bring their surf music style to the party. Ocean City’s own BARCODE will also perform. Both bands are waiving much or all of their performance fees for the occasion.
    Singer, guitarist and DJ Glen “Honu” Mihalik will serve as the event’s emcee. Mihalik has recently relocated to the area from Hawaii so he brings another layer of authenticity to the luau. Seacrets is graciously providing the perfect venue and many local businesses are donating goods and services that will be auctioned at the event.
    The Live Aloha theme is based on a movement in Hawaii that began in the early 1990s on the belief that a community is the sum of the attitudes and actions of its individuals. A cooperative spirit then flows from the individuals whose attitudes and actions are community-concerned, caring and responsible. The movement is guided by values that underlie the spirit of Aloha – respect for others and respect for the land. The Aloha Spirit calls on people to leave places better than they found them, to plant something, to enjoy nature, pick up litter, share with neighbors and create smiles.
    The Live Aloha movement encourages sharing and community building to form a common set of actions that all could accomplish regardless of power or income and this community bond would provide a source of togetherness and strength. The Coastal Bays Program and the Surfriders have collaborated for this event because we believe the people who live here truly embody the Live Aloha spirit. Our hope is that the luau will bring people, ideas and resources together for the benefit of our watershed that will carry through to our April 17 Earth Day cleanup.
    Much like the Coastal Bays Program, the Ocean City chapter of the Surfrider Foundation works to protect and improve coastal shores and water quality through hands-on projects, education programs, and outreach campaigns. We hope to see you at our first ever Live Aloha – Taking Care of the Earth Luau on Sunday, March 21 from 1 – 5 pm at Seacrets on 49th Street and the bay in Ocean City. Advance tickets cost $25 per couple or $12.50 for an individual and will be $15 each at the door. Children under 12 are free. To purchase advance tickets contact Sandi Smith at 410-213-2297 or sandis@mdcoastalbays.org.

  • Wetlands Reserve Program
    Posted 2/25/10

    Landowners in the Coastal Bays watershed may be interested in a program that provides technical and financial help toward protecting, restoring and enhancing forested wetlands, coastal marshes, and former wetlands on agricultural lands.

    The goal of the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) is to achieve the greatest wetland functions and values, along with optimum wildlife habitat and long-term conservation practices on every enrolled acre. This voluntary program is open to private property owners and is offered through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). NRCS has worked together with farmers and landowners for more than 70 years to conserve and restore natural resources on private lands.

    Land considered for the program must be considered restorable and suitable for wildlife habitat. Land types that are eligible include forest, woodland and other lands where hydrology has been significantly degraded, farmed wetlands, prior converted cropland, farmed wetland pasture, riparian areas and land that has been significantly changed by recent flooding. In 2008, nearly 6,000 acres were enrolled in the state’s program.

    There are three options for enrollment. The first is a permanent conservation easement in perpetuity. Easement payments are usually based on a cap, but the landowner cannot receive more than the land’s fair market value. All costs with this easement type are paid for by the USDA, which also pays 100 percent of the costs of restoring the land and required maintenance.

    The second option is a 30-year easement, in which payments are 75-percent of what would be paid for a permanent easement. USDA also pays for up to 75-percent of restoration costs. The third type is a cost sharing agreement. This is a 10-year agreement to re-establish wetland habitat and functions. USDA pays up to 75-percent of the cost. This option does not place an easement on the property and the landowner is responsible for maintenance.

    As an added bonus for permanent and 30-year easement holders, USDA pays all costs associated with recording the easement in the local land records office. These costs could include charges for abstracts, recording fees, appraisal and survey fees and title insurance.

    Although the land is protected from development and agricultural and timber production the landowner retains access control and can still utilize it for compatible uses, including hunting and fishing. These easements result in increasing fish and wildlife habitat, improving water quality, reducing flooding and protecting groundwater and biological diversity.

    Participants voluntarily limit future use of the land, but retain private ownership. Landowners benefit by receiving financial and technical assistance in return for restoring and protecting wetlands, reducing problems associated with farming potentially wet and difficult areas, and developing wildlife and recreational opportunities on their land. Wetlands benefit us all by providing fish and wildlife habitat; improving water quality by filtering sediments and chemicals out; reducing flooding; recharging groundwater; protecting biological diversity; as well as providing opportunities for educational, scientific, and recreational activities.

    Even after the completion of restoration the NRCS and its partners will continue to help, often through reviewing restoration measures, clarifying technical and administrative aspects of the easement and project management needs, and providing basic biological and engineering advice on how to achieve optimum results for wetland dependent species.

    The Wetland Reserve Program was established by Congress in the 1990 Farm Bill and reauthorized in 1996 and again in 2002. The 2002 bill raised the national aggregate cap to 2,275,000 acres nationwide, up significantly from the previous 1,075,000 maximum. The 2002 Farm Bill also authorized continuing the program by enabling the Secretary of Agriculture to enroll up to 250,000 additional acres each year.
    Maryland landowners can learn more about how to submit an application to the WRP by contacting NRCS Maryland through USDA Service Centers or by visiting the NRCS Maryland homepage at www.md.nrcs.usda.gov.

    WRP and similar programs will be presented at the March 6, 2010 Landowner Conference to be held in Snow Hill. For more information on this conference or to register contact Katherine Munson at kmunson@co.worcester.md.us or go to the county’s webpage at www.co.worcester.md.us.

  • Snow!
    Posted 2/16/10




    "Under the microscope, I found that snowflakes were miracles of beauty; and it seemed a shame that this beauty should not be seen and appreciated by others. Every crystal was a masterpiece of design and no one design was ever repeated. When a snowflake melted, that design was forever lost. Just that much beauty was gone, without leaving any record behind."

    Those eloquent words were written by Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley, who in 1885 became the first person to photograph a single snow crystal. He would go on to photograph more than 5000 snowflakes and make the discovery that no two snowflakes are alike.

    In the aftermath of a recent blizzard it’s difficult to think of snow in such a poetic manner. In reality, snow is a mineral, just like salt or even diamonds. At the center of a snowflake is a speck of dust that can contain anything from an outer space particle to volcanic ash. As the snowflake forms around that speck, its shape is altered by humidity, temperature and wind. A snow crystal can be 50 times as wide as it is thick. According to Guinness World Records, the largest snowflake ever recorded was a 15-incher that besieged Fort Keogh, Montana, in 1887.

    As Bentley documented with his photographs, individual snowflakes can be beautiful, but blizzard conditions make for dangerous roadways. Although snow and ice are bad for driving, these natural substances pose no threat to our environment. The methods we use to remove snow and ice, however, can be harmful to our natural resources.

    Because it is readily available, effective, and inexpensive, salt is typically the first line of defense to make our roadways safer. Yes, salt is a natural resource, but excess salt can saturate and destroy soil’s natural structure and result in erosion. High concentrations of salt can damage and kill vegetation - a vital buffer between land and water - and pose a serious threat to fresh water ecosystems and fish. Excess salt can also get into our groundwater and runoff into reservoirs affecting our drinking water.

    At home we can avoid using salt on our driveways, sidewalks and walkways. When possible, shoveling immediately after the snow stops falling is a good idea. If you’re unable to do so or prefer not to shovel, consider investing in an electric snow blower. True, electric models consume energy, but unlike gas blowers they don’t emit greenhouse gases.

    Alternatives to salt for traction include sand or even birdseed (which has the extra benefit of providing food for birds at a time when they really need it). Although these substances won’t melt snow or ice, they will provide a better grip on slick surfaces. Avoid products that contain nitrogen-based urea. Not only are such products more costly, they don’t work when temperatures fall below 20-degrees. Moreover, when urea is applied to the ground it eventually runs off into the street, into storm drains and ends up in our waterways.

    To help prevent surface water contamination, snow should be piled in an area that has an adequate depth of soil between the ground level and the water table. The soil and vegetation will act as a filter for pollutants in the melting snow. Always avoid plowing snow into surface waters or near storm drains

    We are unaccustomed to blizzard conditions in our area. Still, we should be informed on how best to handle such an abundance of snow and ice so we can protect our abundant natural resources all winter long.

  • Worcester County Landowner Conference to Provide Stewardship Guidance
    Posted 2/8/10

    By Katherine Munson

    Aldo Leopold, a crusader for land ethics, stated in A Sand County
    Almanac, published in 1949, "We abuse land because we regard it as a
    commodity belonging to us." While a sense of ownership may contribute
    to our abuse of land, enhanced knowledge is the best solution for
    restoring and conserving our soil, water, habitat-or collectively-the
    land, as Leopold defined it.

    As the watersheds of Maryland's Coastal Bays and the Chesapeake Bay
    become more populated and developed, successful long-term restoration
    will be ever more dependent on the collective actions taken by
    individuals, in particular, landowners. This is because the vast
    majority of Worcester County's shoreline, and 80% of forest in Worcester
    County, is privately owned.

    Landowners, whether they own a small residential lot or a 300-acre farm, have a vital role to play in restoration and protection of Worcester County's clean water for future generations. By enhancing or creating natural areas and woodland, landowners can also enhance recreation, aesthetics, and wildlife viewing opportunities on their own property for their own enjoyment and for the enjoyment of future generations.

    On March 6, 2010 tools and information landowners need for informed land
    stewardship will be provided during a day-long conference tailored to
    specific land restoration and conservation issues in Worcester County.
    The program will be held from 8:30 AM to 3:00 PM at the Worcester County
    Government Center in Snow Hill. This event is made possible by Worcester County and a grant from the Maryland Coastal Bays Program.


    The conference is open to all county residents and landowners interested
    in land stewardship and will offer information and inspiration relevant
    to both the small lot and the large farm. Invited experts and county
    staff will present information on shoreline restoration, forest and
    wildlife management, "greening" the residential yard, natural
    resource-related regulatory programs, and restoration and conservation
    opportunities.

    Two concurrent sessions will run throughout the day, one
    for the residential lot owner and another for the owner of larger
    property. There will be opportunity take home resource materials on a
    variety of related topics and get questions answered by professionals in
    forestry, shoreline restoration, natural landscaping, wetland
    restoration and related topics. Owners of smaller properties in
    particular, are rarely offered technical expertise more routinely
    offered to owners of larger parcels, and this is an opportunity for
    these landowners to tap the knowledge of experts in this field.

    Every household or individual attending will receive a book, published
    by the Natural Resource, Agriculture and Engineering Service (NRAES),
    relevant to his or her property or interests: The Woods in Your Backyard
    is an award-winning handbook for landowners of less than 10 acres.
    Forest Resource Management: A Landowner's Guide to Getting Started is a
    workbook to help landowners envision and achieve land stewardship goals
    on a larger property.

    To register for the program send a check made payable to Worcester
    County for $6 per registrant to Worcester County Department of
    Development Review and Permitting, Attn: Signe Dennis, 1 W. Market St.
    Room 1201, Snow Hill, MD 21863. First preference will be given to
    Worcester County residents and landowners. Others interested in
    attending will be admitted as space allows.

    Katherine Munson is a Planner with the Worcester County Department of Development Review and Permitting. For more information about the conference contact Munson at 410-632-1200 ext 1302 or kmunson@co.worcester.md.us.

  • Tom Patton Honored with Golden Osprey Award
    Posted 2/4/10


    The Maryland Coastal Bays Program is pleased and proud to announce that Berlin resident Tom Patton has been named the winner of our prestigious Golden Osprey Award.
    The program gives the award for outstanding and life-long achievement toward protecting the coastal bays, and Patton fits the criteria perfectly.

    Patton is truly in tune with our natural resources, progging for clams, dipping soft shell crabs, hunting and fervently preserving our natural and cultural heritage through action, advocacy and commitment for decades. The Golden Osprey has only been awarded three times before in the history of the Coastal Bays Program.

    Patton has helped the Coastal Bays Program a great deal over the years, serving on the Coastal Bays Fisheries Advisory Committee, and assisting with blue crab issues and development and growth-related concerns. He was one of the driving forces behind the original and two subsequent conferences on the Coastal Bays. It was the first conference that directly led to the state and Worcester County seeking our acceptance into the National Estuary Program.

    His volunteer experience also includes work with the Maryland Historical Society, the Lower Eastern Shore Heritage Committee, St. Martin's Church Preservation Foundation, and with political advocacy and community association issues. He serves on the board of the Assateauge Coastal Trust (ACT).

    His commitment to our natural environment dates back to the 1960s, when he was instrumental in lobbying Congress to create the Assateague Island National Seashore. He was an early participant in the Committee to Preserve Assateague Island – now ACT - and was the driving force behind moving that group from Baltimore to Berlin. He was instrumental in changing the focus of ACT to include the entire coastal bays watershed. Patton played an integral role in the revitalization of downtown Berlin and the formation of the Berlin Farmer’s Market.

    In 2005 Patton published the book Listen to the Voices, Follow the Trails - Discovering Maryland's Seaside Heritage, an insightful account of the unique natural and cultural history of Maryland's seacoast. The book captures the rapidly-disappearing oral traditions past generations, urging readers to explore Worcester County's many wonderful rural byways, historical sites, and its abundant natural heritage.

    Patton created the nonprofit Rackliffe House Trust in 2004 with the goal to restore the former plantation house once owned by his ancestors. That same year he leased the house and three acres of the 100-acre parcel for 50 years from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. The house is located adjacent to the Sinepuxent Bay, near the National Seashore's visitor center. He has devoted himself to the proper restoration of Rackliffe House with the goal to transform it into a coastal heritage museum.

    Patton has made a significant difference in the health of our watershed through his dedication and volunteer service. Such involvement is vital to our success as outlined in our Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan, which states that the program works by recognizing the mutual dependence of good estuary management practices and citizen-based efforts to sustain the community’s culture and economy. As previous Osprey winner and MCBP Foundation Board member Carolyn Cummins puts it, Patton embodies the role of citizen involvement and all that is vital to the success of the with the Coastal Bays Program. Patton also joins Ilia and Joe Fehrer Sr. and Jeanne Lynch in receiving the honor.

    Please join us as we celebrate Patton’s Osprey Award on Feb. 18 at 6 pm at the Globe restaurant in Berlin – a fitting location since it is one of the Berlin properties that Patton restored. Tickets are $20 for MCBP members and $25 for non members, and includes hors d'oeuvres and a signature Osprey drink specially created for the occasion.

    To purchase tickets contact Anita Ferguson by Feb. 10 at aferguson@mdcoastalbays.org or 410-213-2297, ext. 109. Ferguson is the Public Outreach Coordinator for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program.

  • Attention Worcester County Landowners!
    Posted 2/1/10

    Would you like to restore natural function to your shoreline?
    Enhance wildlife habitat on your forested property?
    Replace lawn with a more natural landscape?
    Learn about the current restoration and conservation programs available to large properties?

    The Worcester County Department of Development Review and Permitting invites you to a day-long LANDOWNER CONFERENCE. Experts will teach sound shoreline, forest and wildlife management practices that landowners can implement.

    Location: Worcester County Government Center, 3rd Floor; 1 West Market Street,
    Snow Hill, MD 21811
    Cost: $6.00 per registrant (to cover food costs)
    Saturday, March 6, 2010

    Whether you own a 1-acre lot or a 200-acre farm, this conference will provide valuable information to help you achieve your land stewardship goals. Every household/individual attending will receive a copy of The Woods in Your Backyard, or Forest Resource Management, an $18 value.

    Click HERE for information on how to register for this valuable learning experience! This workshop is made possible by Worcester County and a grant from the Maryland Coastal Bays Program.

  • MCBP Not Involved with Pending Lawsuit
    Posted 1/29/10

    A recent suit filed by a local environmental organization against a Berlin poultry grower, make it again fitting to note the differences between advocacy organizations and the Maryland Coastal Bays Program.

    It should be made clear that the Maryland Coastal Bays Program works through consensus, does not get involved in lawsuits, and works closely with landowners to help them do conservation work or solve pollution problems. We are not part of this or any other lawsuit.

    As part of the National Estuary Program, we work with local farmers, developers, scientists, recreational and commercial fishermen, tourism professionals and local business owners to find practical solutions to issues related to conservation in the bays behind Ocean City and Assateague. In addition to these constituency groups, Ocean City, Berlin, Worcester County, the state of Maryland and the US Environmental Protection agency are all partners.

    Since 1996 our focus has been to protect and enhance the health of the bays behind Assateague and Ocean City, and our method to accomplish these goals has always been to reach common ground through listening and learning.

    A group that does engage in advocacy and lawsuits is the Waterkeeper Alliance, a global coalition of water-quality watchdog groups. In Worcester County, the local Assateague Coastkeeper (Kathy Phillips) is also the director of Assateague Coastal Trust (ACT). In her position she does what she is supposed to do – be an advocate and watchdog for water quality. ACT has a long history of environmental advocacy in the coastal bays, beginning with efforts in the early 1970s to preserve Assateague Island, which is now protected as a National Seashore.

    The director of the Coastal Bays Program is Dave Wilson. His role is to provide oversight and direction to implement the Coastal Bays Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP). The CCMP represents a consensus of the best means needed to preserve the economic and ecological prosperity of the coastal bays in the next century. The plan includes reachable scientific goals and the most effective means for implementing them. To be sure, when our partners eschew their commitments or when they act in a manner that gives priority to special interests rather than the community as a whole, we work to hold them to their commitment. However, this is far different from being an advocacy organization.

    Still we have worked with ACT in the past on projects like the Worcester County Comprehensive Plan and the Grow Berlin Green Initiative, and there is no doubt that we share a common goal with ACT to preserve and protect the watershed. But our methods to accomplish these goals remain quite different.

    In making the distinction between the methods of the Coastal Bays Program and those of the Coastkeeper, ACT and other advocacy groups, we do not intend to disparage. Watchdog groups are vital to ensuring that protocols are being followed and laws are being abided. Sometimes this results in legal action, which can lead to frustration and anger within the community regardless of the merits of the accusations.

    There will always be some who confuse the Coastal Bays Program with other environmental groups, and we will have to work to dispel that misconception. Along the way we will continue our mission to care for our natural resources.

  • Coastal Stewards Wins Award for Best New Heritage Initiative
    Posted 1/20/10


    The Lower Eastern Shore Heritage Council (LESHC) today awarded the Coastal Stewards as Best New Heritage Initiative of 2009. During the LESHC Annual Meeting, held at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore in Princess Anne, MD, representatives of the program gratefully accepted the award in front of an audience of over 100 attendees.

    The award recognizes programs, events, or products that represent new initiatives achieved in the last year by an individual or organization that educate the public by expanding understanding of, or access to, the area's rich heritage.

    Coastal Stewards is a Summer Youth Employment Program partnership which, in 2009, was funded by President Obama's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), the National Park Service, and the Ocean City-Berlin Optimist Club.

    During the summer of 2009, 11 local students were hired – for green jobs – and trained to work as interpreters at Assateague and other local parks and museums. Throughout the summer, these 11 Coastal Stewards engaged over 6,000 visitors to and residents of the Eastern Shore, providing powerful connections to local nature and heritage. Jay Parker, Executive Director of the Heritage Council, thanked Maryland Coastal Bays Education Coordinator Carrie Samis and Delmarva Low-Impact Tourism Experiences Director Jim Rapp for their efforts to inspire and lead this next generation of stewards.

    Throughout the summer of 2009, Coastal Stewards shared information about coastal nature and heritage, and encouraged tourists to visit our parks and museums. Coastal Stewards were educating and involving the community through public outreach and education efforts at parks, local festivals, and official meetings of local and state elected leaders.

    Teams were outfitted with mobile exhibits featuring information, literature, games, and live animal displays, designed to highlight efforts that local citizens and tourists can make to conserve and restore our land and water. Coastal Stewards assisted interpretation staff at Assateague with conducting public programs. During programs and events, Coastal Stewards promoted the variety of nature-based and heritage tourism experiences that exist in the region. Public outreach programs were conducted at several locations at Assateague Island National Seashore, Assateague State Park, Berlin, and Ocean City.

    Joriee’ Dorman said, “being a Coastal Steward opened my eyes to the diversity of the Lower Eastern Shore, my home. I grasped so much and learned about my own heritage, in a way that no classroom or lecture could teach me.”

    Coastal Stewards is managed by the Maryland Coastal Bays Program and Delmarva Low-Impact Tourism Experiences. Partner organizations include the Lower Shore Workforce Alliance, Assateague Island National Seashore, Assateague State Park, the Maryland Conservation Corps, and Worcester County Tourism.

    Thanks to an expanded partnership with the Maryland Park Service’s Civic Justice Corps program, 24 Coastal Stewards will be hired in 2010! Summer job openings will be advertised through the MD Department of Natural Resources.

    Pictured Aabove (left to right): Carrie Samis, Maryland Coastal Bays Program, Joiree’ Dorman, Nick Clemons, Assateague Island National Seashore, Janae Dorman, Angela Baldwin, Assateague State Park, Joe Dorman, Hoa Nguyen, Jim Rapp, Delmarva Low-Impact Tourism Experiences

  • We Need You for our Citizens Advisory Committee
    Posted 1/18/10

    Citizen involvement is a vital component to a successful non-profit organization, and the Maryland Coastal Bays Program has certainly been blessed to have so many people step up to the plate and volunteer their time to help protect and preserve our watershed.

    The Coastal Bays Citizen’s Advisory Committee was formed when the MCBP came into being more than a decade ago. The committee included representation from the farming, business, recreational and commercial fishing interests. This diverse group of people brought together to solicit opinions from a broad spectrum of resource groups for the purpose of participating in the development and review of the Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP) for the bays behind Ocean City and Assateague. This plan, aimed at preserving this precious coastal resource, represents a consensus of the best means needed to preserve the economic and ecological prosperity of the coastal bays in the next century.

    The Coastal Bays Program is part of the National Estuary Program, which is administered by the Environmental Protection Agency. However, program decisions and activities are carried out by committees made up of relevant stakeholders to identify and prioritize the problems in the estuary. Most NEPs choose a management framework that includes a Citizens Advisory Committee to represent the interests of estuary user-groups and the public.

    The CAC membership should be broad-based and provide a non-governmental perspective on how policies affect citizens who live and work in the coastal bays watershed. The CAC should address a whole range of environmental problems facing the estuary.

    Over the years, the Coastal Bays Program CAC has evolved to include a speaker series, in which experts from a variety of subjects regarding watershed issues present information at a public meeting. This has been well-received, but the committee’s work to help guide management in the coastal bays is far from over. It is our hope to again form a CAC that meets on a quarterly basis with the goal to provide ongoing advice to the Program on implementing the CCMP for the restoration and protection of the coastal bays.

    Community support created the CCMP and will drive it in the future and ultimately it is the residents of this estuary who will benefit. Balancing growth with natural resource protection is the ultimate challenge this estuary faces in the next millennium. When citizen involvement is strong issues remain on the radar screen, raising awareness levels and changing attitudes.

    The Coastal Bays Program is a partnership among the towns of Ocean City and Berlin, National Park Service, Worcester County, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Maryland Departments of Natural Resources, Agriculture, Environment, and Planning. This coalition is strong, but there is no substitute for broader public involvement.

    With the goal of broader public involvement, we hope to reinvigorate the original concept of the CAC and will be holding a public meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 27 at 7 pm at the Ocean Pines Library, with the goal to form a committee of stakeholders that will meet quarterly for the longer betterment of our bays.

    Ultimately, the responsibility to protect the Maryland Coastal Bays rests with those who live in the watershed. Only by becoming stewards of the Maryland Coastal Bays, caring for them consistently and managing their resources responsibly, can we preserve them for generations to come.

  • Shifting Sands Authors at the Ocean City Library Jan. 26
    Posted 1/11/10


    In June the staff of the Maryland Coastal Bays Program was proud to release one of our most important accomplishments – a book focusing on the environmental and cultural changes in the watershed. This month we are just as pleased to have the opportunity to discuss the book directly with the community.

    Shifting Sands - Environmental and Cultural Change in Maryland’s Coastal Bays was a collaborative effort from the Coastal Bays Program, the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Coastal Bays Executive Director David Wilson Jr. and staff scientists Dr. Roman Jesien and Carol Cain are among the 80 authors from 24 different organizations and agencies who contributed to the book.

    Copies of the book are available at each of Worcester County’s public libraries, and on Tuesday, Jan. 26 at 1 pm, the public will have the unique opportunity to talk directly to authors Wilson, Jesien and Cain at the Ocean City branch on 100th Street. Through their unique approach of weaving together the region’s scientific exploration and history, cutting-edge science and peer-reviewed analysis synthesizing decades of work, the authors will give a holistic view of the bays behind Assateague and Ocean City.

    Shifting Sands is a unique effort that provides a comprehensive look at the coastal lagoons and barrier islands making up Maryland’s Atlantic coastline. The book leads the reader through the history, setting, context and ecology of these waterways, their islands and mainland watershed, as well as management activities, history, setting, context and ecology of these fragile lagoons.

    Shifting Sands is appropriately named considering the dynamic nature of the watershed. The name also refers to the changing perceptions regarding Maryland’s Coastal Bays, which differ among groups and individuals and have transformed over the years. The ongoing ecological transitions and rediscovery of the watershed inspired the book’s subtitle.

    The book provides vital information relevant to our six sub watersheds – the St. Martin’s River and Assawoman, Chincoteague, Newport, Isle of Wight and Sinepuxent bays – with discussions on overall management issues, geologic and hydrologic information, and water quality and habitats concerns. Also contained in Shifting Sands is a rich history of the area, as well as insight on the watershed in a national and international context.

    Our coastal bays are a unique and dynamic ecosystem, with a variety of wildlife and habitats. These factors are the very foundation for the success of our agriculture, recreation and tourism industries that support the local and state economies. Moreover, the very legacy we will leave future generations depends on the health of our watershed, but nutrient pollution and habitat destruction have put more pressure on this already vulnerable ecosystem.

    As Sen. Paul Sarbanes wrote in the preface of Shifting Sands, “the continued economic prosperity and the quality of life that the citizens of Worcester County, and indeed, citizens throughout the region, enjoy will depend in large part on our ability to manage the Coastal Bays in a sustainable manner.”

    We are grateful to Worcester County Public Libraries for providing the perfect venue to discuss this book. We hope the public will take this opportunity to learn directly from the authors just how relevant the Senator’s words are when it comes to the health of the watershed and economic vitality of our community.

  • Our Accomplishments in 2009
    Posted 1/4/10

    As we embark on the first week of a new year, it’s a good time to review a few of our accomplishments from last year.

    In 2009 we continued to study horseshoe crabs, which thanks in large part to our efforts now have the highest population numbers to date in Maryland, according to a 2002-2009 report recently completed by MCBP staffer Carol Cain and Steve Doctor of the Maryland Fisheries Service. Data from this survey will be used to develop estimates of relative abundance, determine timing of spawning activity used to direct regulations, and make comparisons with horseshoe crab spawning behavior in the Delaware Bay.

    In June we released the first Coastal Bays Report Card, revealing an overall grade C+ grade for our bays in 2008. Each of the six sub-watersheds received individual grades, with marks ranging from a B for the Sinepuxent Bay to a D+ for the St. Martin River and the Newport Bay. The grades were determined based on the current water quality and its relation to the quality needed for aquatic life to grow and thrive. The report provided a clear, concise and timely assessment of the health of our bays to help guide future efforts.

    Also in June we released the book, Shifting Sand-Environmental and Cultural Change in Maryland’s Coastal Bays, a collaborative effort with the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. This was a major undertaking with MCBP Executive Director David Wilson Jr. and staff scientists Dr. Roman Jesien and Carol Cain among the 80 authors from 24 different organizations and agencies who contributed to the book. This team assessed the condition of the Coastal Bays ecosystem, reviewed the history of the area, current management strategies and upcoming concerns for the watershed.

    In October, Dr. Roman Jesien oversaw the completion of a wetland habitat restoration at an 89-acre conservation easement in Showell that showcases some of the techniques that can be used to restore streams and wetlands. This once damaged and neglected property now provides habitat for forest dwelling birds, and serves as a site to teach youngsters about trees, wetlands, vegetation and wildlife.

    Last summer 11 area high school and college students learned how to be Coastal Stewards as part of a new program that trains youth to conduct education, outreach, and stewardship activities. Managed by the Maryland Coastal Bays Program and Delmarva Low-Impact Tourism Experiences, partnered with the Lower Shore Workforce Alliance, Assateague Island National Seashore, and Assateague State Park, the Coastal Stewards program was funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The program is expected to expand in 2010.

    Also in 2009 we completely revised and updated our website, helped launch Grow Berlin Green, raised a record amount of money from our Osprey Triathlon and continued work on conservation projects totaling 547 acres.

    Part of the National Estuary Program, the Maryland Coastal Bays Program is a partnership with the towns of Ocean City and Berlin, National Park Service, Worcester County, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Maryland Departments of Natural Resources, Agriculture, Environment, and Planning.

    Through education and outreach programs, restoration projects and involvement with the business community, builders, residents, visitors and government leaders, the Maryland Coastal Bays Program works to improve water quality, protect habitat and enhance forests and wetlands. With the help of our partners and the community, we vow to continue this important work in 2010.

  • New Year's Resolutions for 2010
    Posted 12/28/09

    As we begin a new decade, we can all resolve to make our planet a healthier place. Below are a few small changes that can result in big dividends for the earth – as well as our checking accounts – in 2010 and beyond:

    • Reduce phantom energy loss – Many of us don’t know that energy is wasted by electronics and power chargers that are plugged in but not in use. That cell phone charger and laptop suck energy from the outlet continuously, so try to use a power strip and flip the switch to off when the items are not in use.

    • Use reusable shopping bags – Twelve million barrels of oil were used to make the 88.5 billion plastic bags consumed in the United States last year. These petroleum-based plastic bags never biodegrade and often end up in our oceans. Keep reusable shopping bags in your car and try to remember to use them.

    • Buy local foods when possible – Support local agriculture and purchase foods from sources as close to home as possible. Consider how many miles your food has traveled, how many chemicals are used, and how much pollution and waste have been generated in the production of the food you buy and your family consumes.

    • Drink tap water instead of bottled water – Instead of buying bottled H2o, pour tap water into reusable water bottles made from stainless steel or aluminum. Tap water is just as safe as bottled water, and no plastic is needed.

    • Wash laundry in cold water –Ninety percent of the energy used to wash a load of clothing comes from heating the water, but most clothes will get just as clean in cooler temperatures. For heavily soiled clothing, use warm instead of hot water.

    • Use the dryer more efficiently – This appliance is second only to the refrigerator in terms of energy usage. To help it do its job more efficiently, clean the lint filter after each load and dry only full loads, drying heavy fabrics separately. Of course, hanging clothes outside in the sun or inside on a drying rack whenever possible is always a good option.

    • Check toilets for leaks – A leaky toilet can waste between 30 and 500 gallons of water every day, but often such leaks go unnoticed. To find a leak, put a few drops of food coloring in the toilet tank and wait about 15 minutes to see if the dye ends up in the bowl. Leaking is usually caused by an old or poorly fitting flapper valve, which can inexpensively and easily be replaced without a plumber.

    • Use the dishwasher – Forego pre-rinsing and simply scrape off large pieces of food from plates before putting them in the dishwasher. Running a fully loaded dishwasher (without pre-rinsing) can use a third less water than washing the dishes by hand, saving up to 10 to 20 gallons of water a day. Save even more by using the air dry setting, which consumes half the amount of electricity than the heated dry.

    • Adjust the thermostat – In the winter months set your thermostat to 68 degrees or less during the day, and lower it even more at bedtime or while out of the house. In the summer set thermostat to 78 degrees or higher. For a small investment, a programmable thermostat will change the settings automatically.

    • Maintain the correct tire pressure – According the U.S. Department of Transportation, more than a quarter of all cars and nearly one-third of all SUVs, vans and pickups have underinflated tires, which leads to lower gas mileage. Keeping tires properly inflated can save 2.8 billion gallons of gasoline a year in the U. S alone.

  • Christmas Bird Count Dec. 28
    Posted 12/23/09




    The Christmas Bird Count is now underway. A yearly tradition in which groups of North American bird-lovers pick a day around the winter solstice and search their designated areas to count every bird they see is more popular than ever.

    Sponsored by the National Audubon Society, this is held every year between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5. This year the coastal bays watershed count is scheduled for Dec. 28. Volunteers armed with binoculars, bird guides and checklists brave the cold weather on a mission to assess the health and record changes in resident populations and ranges, before spring migrants return.

    The data collected is used to help guide conservation action, and when combined with other surveys, provides a vital look at how the continent's bird populations have been altered in the past hundred years. This long term perspective makes it possible to develop strategies to protect birds and their habitat and help identify environmental issues that can affect humans as well. Local trends can reveal habitat fragmentation or provide a warning of an immediate environmental threat, such as groundwater contamination.

    As Audubon president John Flicker put it, birds are “the canary in the coal mine — a sign that something is going on” in terms of environmental issues. The Christmas Bird Count not only helps identify birds in need of conservation action but also reveals conservation success stories, documenting the resurgence of the once endangered Bald Eagle and Brown Pelican, as well as significant increases in waterfowl populations.

    The Christmas Bird Count started in 1900 when the National Audubon Society proposed it as an alternative to the then popular holiday activity called the Side Hunt, a yuletide bird shooting competition. Conservation was a budding concept at the time, and many scientists and naturalists were becoming concerned about declining bird populations.

    Ornithologist Frank Chapman, an early officer in the Audubon Society, proposed a new a Christmas Bird Census idea that would count birds in the holidays rather than hunt and kill them. The first count was held on Christmas day in 1900 with just 27 participants finding 90 species of birds.

    Flicker calls the inception of the Christmas Bird Count a “visionary act” because no one could have predicted how important it would become as a resource and tool for conservation. Flicker says it allows birds to “send us a wake-up call about the importance of addressing the warming of our climate and the loss of vital habitat through action at every level.”

    Today the count is the longest-running “citizen science” project in the world, with tens of thousands of Americans participating in the Christmas Bird Count, spotting more than 2,000 species last year. Volunteer birders participate for conservation efforts, but it’s also a good way to connect with nature, despite the cold temperatures, and has become an annual holiday tradition for many families.

    In April the MD-DC Audubon designated the Coastal Bays as an Important Bird Area – a global effort to identify and conserve areas that are vital to birds and other biodiversity. The Coastal Bays geographical area has the highest species total of any Maryland Christmas Bird Count and is also typically the highest species total for any Christmas Bird Count at this latitude in the United States, averaging 150 each year.

    For more information about the Christmas Bird Count, go to www.audubon.org.

  • The Lorax
    Posted 12/16/09


    This holiday season when shopping for the little ones in your life consider a classic book with creative illustrations, unique characters and clever rhymes that also includes a strong message about the importance of being good environmental stewards.

    The book is the Lorax written by classic children’s author Dr. Seuss. Although it was released in 1971, the point of the tale is even more valid today.

    The story is narrated is classic Seuss fashion by a character called the Once-ler, a businessman whose quest for profits literally kept him from seeing the forest for the trees. It begins with the Once-ler telling a young boy how many years ago he came upon a beautiful forest of Truffula Trees at a time when “the grass was still green and the pond was still wet and the clouds were still clean”.

    The Once-ler is awed by the colorful and beautiful Truffula Trees, which have tufts softer than silk, and decides to chop down a tree to make a “Thneed”, a frivolous item that he believes “everyone needs.”

    Emerging from within the stump of the first chopped down tree is a mossy creature called the Lorax. “I speak for the trees for the trees have no tongues,” the Lorax tells the Once-ler. But with profits growing, the Once-ler is unmoved by the Lorax’s repeated warnings.

    “I meant no harm. I most truly did not,” the Once-ler says.” But I had to grow bigger. So bigger I got. I went right on biggering, selling more Thneeds. And I biggered my money, which everyone needs.”

    As the trees disappeared, the creatures that depended on the forest for food, shelter, and fresh air were forced to leave in order to survive. After the last tree is chopped down the Lorax himself also abandons the now desolate landscape, leaving behind a rock engraved with one word – ”UNLESS.”

    With all the trees gone, the Once-ler goes out of business. For years afterwards he sat atop his abandoned factory and pondered what he had done. “That was long, long ago. But each day since that day I’ve sat here and worried and worried away. Through they years, while my buildings have fallen apart, I’ve worried about it with all of my heart.”

    He tells the boy that he finally understands the meaning the word that the Lorax left behind on the rocks, and gives the boy the very last Truffula Tree seed. “You are in charge of the last Truffula seeds. And Truffula Trees are what everyone needs. Plant a new Truffula. Treat it with care. Give it clean water. And feed it fresh air. Grow a forest. Protect it from axes that hack. Then the Lorax and all of his friends may come back.”

    The Lorax was reportedly Dr. Seuss’s personal favorite. Nearly 40 years later the book has become a timeless cautionary tale of excess and neglect. Without sounding too didactic, it warns children – and adults – that we must all be concerned about unchecked growth on our natural resources or suffer the consequences.

    As the remorseful Once-ler tells the boy, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

  • Green Gift Ideas
    Posted 12/14/09


    Finding holiday gift ideas that please the recipient and are also consistent with being kind to our environment can be a challenge, but there are options that will satisfy both criteria that are also economical and original.

    All manufactured items require material and energy to be produced, and production and transportation of merchandise translates to some level of pollution, so this year consider shopping for presents at thrift and resale shops. Buying secondhand items is also easy on your bank account, and you can often find new items with the tags still on them at a fraction of the original cost.

    There are several thrift shops nearby where you can find great bargains. Check out the Church Mouse in Berlin, the Sheppard’s Nook in Ocean Pines and Used to be Mine in West Ocean City. All three are run by non-profit organizations and profits often go back into the community.

    Although this next practice has been frowned upon in the past, don’t be afraid to shop in your own home for things that you no longer need but that are still useful and can be passed along to someone else. That great book you read last summer or that decorative bowl that doesn’t fit in with your new décor might make great presents for friends. And don’t be ashamed to re-gift. That two sizes too small sweater that your old boyfriend’s aunt gave you that has been sitting in your drawer since Christmas 2007 might still be in style and fit your niece perfectly.

    Food makes for a great gift any time of year, but delicious treats are particularly festive during the holidays. Although not inexpensive, filling a basket with organic coffees and chocolates is a great idea for someone who might not typically buy organic items. It’s also a great way to reuse that basket you’ve had in your closet since last Easter. For a more personal touch, add some homemade goodies such as cookies, quick breads and cookies, or buy some at a local bakery.

    Consider giving services instead of merchandise this year. Pay to get your mom’s house cleaned, or your sister’s haircut, or purchase tickets to movies, plays or concerts for your friends. Buy some local artwork or give gift cards for dance, cooking, martial arts or yoga classes, or pay for a meal at a local restaurant.

    Donating to a non-profit charity or organization, such as the Maryland Coastal Bays Program, can be a great gift idea for the person who already has everything. A donation to the MCBP will benefit many and the recipient will know that they are making a difference, helping to ensure that our wonderful natural resources will continue to provide joy for future generations.

    Donations are gifts that endure and continue giving long after the holiday season is over. To give a monetary gift from yourself or in someone else’s name, go to the Coastal Bays Program website at www.mdcoastalbays.org and click on the donate button.

    In-keeping with the donations theme, this is a good opportunity to thank Ocean City’s Vera McCullough – our Queen of the Bays – who recently gave a generous monetary gift to the Coastal Bays Program. Thanks to Vera and others like her we will be able to continue working toward preserving and protecting our watershed.

  • Delmarva BioBlitz Award Winners Announced at Tally Rally
    Posted 11/30/09




    Delmarva Low-Impact Tourism Experiences (DLITE) announced the winners of the Second Annual Delmarva BioBlitz at the BioBlitz Tally Rally on November 19. The event was hosted at the Hazel Outdoor Discovery Center in Eden, Maryland.

    The Delmarva BioBlitz connected kids and families to nature through fun, semi-competitive nature exploration, while raising funds for non-profit organizations working on the Delmarva Peninsula. The BioBlitz helped adult and youth teams of up to 10 citizen-scientists conduct inventories of plants and animals in their local parks, watersheds, and throughout the region during the week of October 10 - 19, 2009. All proceeds were shared 50/50 between DLITE and the designated partner charitable organizations.

    Thanks to event sponsors, the Hazel Outdoor Discovery Center and Jolly Roger Amusement Park, four prizes of $500 each were awarded to local non-profit organizations. Prizes were awarded to the youth team that inventoried the most total species, and one to the youth team that raised the most money. Prizes were also awarded to adult teams in each category.

    The adult team award for most species inventoried went to the Maryland Coastal Bays Program. The Coastal Bays team counted 403 species during an eight-hour block on October 18. The team averaged one species every 71 seconds.

    The adult team award for most funds raised also went to the Maryland Coastal Bays Program. The Coastal Bays team raised $2,114.15 by soliciting pledges for species inventoried. The team raised $5.25 for every species inventoried.

    “The Delmarva BioBlitz is a great fund raising event for us,” said Dave Wilson, Jr., Executive Director of the Maryland Coastal Bays Program. “Not only do we receive contributions that benefit our own programs, we also get a chance to showcase the incredible diversity of wildlife that lives in the land and water of our coastal bays.”

    The youth team award for most species inventoried went to the Coast Kids, a program of the Assateague Coastal Trust. The Coast Kids team counted 274 species during a four-hour block on October 10. The team averaged one species every 52 seconds.

    The youth team award for most funds raised also went to the Coast Kids. The Coast Kids team raised $1,221.00 by soliciting pledges for species inventoried. The team raised $4.46 for every species inventoried.

    "The BioBlitz is such a great opportunity for children to learn about biodiversity in a fun and semi-competitive way,” said Verena Chase, Coast Kids Program Director. “I am so proud of our Coast Kids BioBlitz team members. Some of the kids are talented naturalists already. For instance, they know a lot more about bugs and snakes than most adults do. The children were very focused searching the beach, marsh, meadow, forest, and garden habitats for species. Some animals, such as white-tailed deer and red fox, were identified by their tracks, some birds by their call, and the kids even dug up a termite nest. The Delmarva BioBlitz is undoubtedly the most fun fund raiser."

    The Delmarva BioBlitz was sponsored by the Hazel Outdoor Discovery Center and Jolly Roger Amusement Park. The Delmarva BioBlitz is supported by the Delmarva Environmental Educators Network (DEEN) and the No Child Left Inside Coalition.

    For more information, please contact Jim Rapp at dlitedirector@comcast.net or 443-614-0261.

  • Grow Berlin Green Explores Green Initiatives on the Shore
    Posted 11/30/09

    By Kate Patton

    The public is invited to an informal work session in Berlin on Dec. 10 featuring guest speaker Briggs Cunningham, the coordinator of the Chestertown Goes Green initiative.

    The event is hosted by Grow Berlin Green (GBG), the campaign to establish Berlin as a model community for participatory environmental protection, conservation, and smart growth policy and practice. Cunningham – who is also Chestertown’s climate action coordinator - will speak on Thursday, Dec. 10, from 3 – 5 pm at Berlin’s Town Hall. The public will have an opportunity to learn about the Chestertown initiative in the afternoon work session and also later that evening at the Lower Shore Land Trust Annual Dinner.

    The issues related to environmental protection, conservation and smart growth are not unique to Berlin. Towns throughout Maryland are wrestling with how to reduce waste and conserve resources, and sharing information is a key to identifying best practices and lessons learned. Priority issues such as stormwater and wastewater management, energy, water and land conservation, and waste reduction and recycling are being discussed across the state. The green initiative in Chestertown, active since 2007, is a useful case study to build upon.

    In the spring of 2007, Chestertown Mayor Margo Bailey approached the Center for Environment & Society (CES) at Washington College for assistance in implementing the Mayors Climate Protection Agreement (MCPA). A Chestertown Climate Action Committee was formed, ultimately producing a formal relationship with CES and Washington College. With grant support from the Town Creek Foundation and the Shared Earth Foundation, Cunningham was hired as the full-time Climate Action Coordinator for Chestertown.

    Cunningham will share an overview of projects he manages, including the Chestertown Goes Green effort, how the initiative is taking shape, challenges to the project and the future of the work. Cunningham also coordinates the Urban Greening Initiative and Washington College’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as part of the American College and University Presidents’ commitment to climate change.

    The Chestertown initiative is one example within Maryland of citizens, schools, residents and businesses working together to create a more sustainable community. Going Green Downtown: A Sustainability Guide for Maryland’s Main Streets, developed by the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources is a resource for Main Street communities across the state. The document provides an overview of the Clean, Safe and Green strategy to increase sustainability within Maryland’s Main Street communities, examples of projects already implemented in Maryland, as well as resources for funding and technical support. It can be found online at www.mdhousing.org.

    Cunningham will also speak at the Lower Shore Land Trust dinner at the Atlantic Hotel at pm on Dec. 10. The cost is $35.00 and includes a three course dinner and live entertainment by Berlin musicians Katherine Munson and Raquel Orsini. The Lower Shore Land Trust, a Grow Berlin Green partner, will present a brief overview of its land protection accomplishments in 2009, as well as goals for the upcoming year.

    For information about the work session or to attend the dinner, call 410-641-4467 or email lslt@intercom.net by Dec. 7.

    Kate Patton is the Executive Director of the LSLT. She received the Aileen Hughes Award for Outstanding Leadership in Land Conservation from the Maryland Environmental Trust in 2009.

  • Thanksgiving and Thoughts on Food
    Posted 11/24/09

    By Anita Ferguson

    As you sit down to enjoy your Thanksgiving meal take a moment to consider where the food you are about to eat originated long before it got on your plate.

    Most of us are disconnected from where our food comes from, how the food is packaged and how far it traveled to get there. It’s not easy to track, considering the majority of grocery store packaging and restaurant menus do not reveal a name of a farmer or farm where the produce was grown or the livestock was raised, what fertilizer, pesticides or herbicides were used to grow the produce, or the conservation practices the farmer used.

    Today there is a growing national movement encouraging consumers to start buying local foods – foods that are produced as close to home as possible. Why? Protecting our environment, saving family farms and concern over food quality and food safety are just a few reasons to buy local.

    Measuring the full environmental impact of food production, transportation, sale and consumption is a complex task, but we know that produce in the U.S. on average travels thousands of miles from farm to consumer, which translates to an increase in carbon dioxide emissions. Moreover, industrial food production depends on fossil fuels, which when refined and burned creates greenhouse gases.

    In addition to helping protect our natural resources, buying local food is a great way to support farmers and our community in general. Farmers receive an average of less than 10 cents of every dollar spent on food, with the rest of the money going to processing, packing, and distribution. At farmers markets, however, nearly all of the money goes straight to the farmers. Helping farmers make a living also helps the local economy by ensuring the money we spend on food circulates within our own community.

    Another added benefit of local foods is that knowing where your food comes from enables you to make more informed decisions, allowing you to choose food from farmers who avoid or reduce their use of chemicals, pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, or genetically modified seed.

    Try to eat local foods for one meal each a week, or incorporate local foods for part of one meal several days a week. Start with a vegetable – squash, potatoes, cabbage, broccoli, turnips, beets and scallions are currently in season. Meat, eggs and dairy products are also currently available from local farmers.
    An all local diet can be a challenge, even in a rich agricultural area such as ours, but keep in mind that local means as close to home as possible, so this may mean purchasing lemons from Florida rather than Chile.

    For information where to find local foods, check out Delmarva’s Eastern Shore Farm Market Guide at skipjack.net/homegrown/farms_table.html. More information is available from the Maryland Online Farmers Market at www.foodtrader.org, and from Buy Local Challenge at www.buy-local-challenge.com. A local resource list from the Local Eastern Shore Sustainable Organic Network is available on the publications page of our website at www.mdcoastalbays.org.

    The ability to preserve farming, protect our natural resources stimulating the local economy at the same time are truly reasons to be thankful this Thanksgiving.

  • New Website Coming Soon!
    Posted 11/19/09

    After months of editing, writing, revising, removing and renovating, the staff of the Coastal Bays Program is proud to announce the launching of our new and improved website.
    Thanks to the generosity, hard work, and wizardry of those at D3 Corp, the new site is bigger, better and more comprehensive than ever before. Our web address remains the same www.mdcoastalbays.org, but our site is now easier to use, with an interactive map, videos, photo galleries, an up to the minute calendar, and historical as well current information on the Coastal Bays. The new site should be live by early next week.
    In terms of content, our site is rather voluminous and was quite a task to organize, but it had to be undertaken so that we can continue to get the message out about the importance of the Coastal Bays watershed. Good websites have become vital to the success of most organizations, non-profit and for profit alike, and we are no exception. As a non-profit, we need to get our message out as much as possible and as clearly as we can.
    Our website must make it easy for users to learn more about our cause, to donate money, and to become more involved. It must also be easy for users to find the information they need and the contact information of key personnel. And it must accomplish all this in a way that’s inviting to the organization’s targeted donors and volunteers. We are happy to report that our new site does all that and more.
    Of course, there will surely be a few kinks that must be worked out in the coming months, so please keep that in mind when browsing the new site. Feedback from the public is important to us, so don’t hesitate to contact us if the site can be improved. We are always looking for ways to communicate directly with the public, and we hope the new website will provide another avenue to do so effectively.
    We would not have been able to update our site to this professional level without help. Thanks to D3 Corp’s generous in-kind work, we were able to afford the company’s technical and graphic expertise and search engine marketing skills.
    This kind of community outreach and generosity did not start with us. D3 Corp has also contributed or donated in-kind work for several organizations within the Worcester County and Maryland. Moreover, D3 staff members actively contribute their time, energy and money to various non-profits, including the American Cancer Society of Worcester County, the Blood Bank of Delmarva, Women Supporting Women, Special Olympics, the Ocean City Paramedics Foundation and the Worcester County Humane Society.
    Without exception, every person at D3 Corp who worked with us was professional, knowledgeable, courteous and patient. To John, Tanja, Natalee, Nikki, Mike, Nick and David and everyone who helped with this project at D3, thank you so much for making this project possible.
    The new website can be previewed on Nov. 19 at 5:30 pm at D3’s West Ocean City office at the Berlin Chamber of Commerce November Business After Hours co-hosted by D3 and the Coastal Bays Program.
    .

  • Conservation Easement Walk on Friday
    Posted 10/28/09


    On the afternoon of November 6th, the Lower Shore Land Trust and the Maryland Coastal Bays Program will lead a short walking tour around a conservation easement property along Pitts Road. The property is owned by the Coastal Bays Program and the conservation easement is co-held by the Lower Shore Land Trust and the Maryland Environmental Trust.

    Recently, wetland restoration work has been completed along Middle Branch, and the Land Trust and the Coastal Bays Program are excited to share this work with you. The habitat restoration work will enhance an already productive riparian corridor, while maintaining critical flood control functions. The Maryland Coastal Bays Program acquired this 79 acre conservation easement property, near Showell, in 2008. In addition to the habitat restoration work, the Coastal Bays Program has used the property for various educational trips, including previous Great Worcester Herp Search outings.

    A conservation easement is a written agreement between a landowner and a conservation agency, or land trust, which ensures that a property will not be developed beyond an agreed upon limit. The land remains in private ownership while the Lower Shore Land Trust assures that the terms of the agreement are forever met. Easements are a tool for property owner to control the future use, appearance and character of the land. Landowners can continue to farm, harvest timber, and hunt, as well as reserve building rights for future use.

    Contact the Lower Shore Land Trust to sign up for this field trip which will take place on Friday, November 6th from 2 – 4 PM.

    The Maryland Coastal Bays Program and the Lower Shore Land Trust hope you will consider joining us for a fun and educational tour of a unique conservation easement property.

  • Rezoning Takes a Step Back
    Posted 10/26/09

    The Worcester County comprehensive rezoning process took a step backwards last week when the commissioners decided to overstep staff and planning commission recommendations and look at rezoning requests on a parcel-by-parcel basis.


    While the majority of commissioners seemed to favor following proper procedure, the group conceded to the move after debate stalled on commercial zoning on MD 589 and higher density residential on MD 611 and South Point.

    Good reasons exist to discuss these areas, but to re-open the entire rezoning process after professional planning staff and the Worcester County Planning Commission have strenuously reviewed the over 100 requests for zoning changes is without merit.

    Comprehensive planning and zoning is about the long-term well-being of the community, not what’s most lucrative for individual property owners. For the past four years, the public and planning staff have taken great pains to make sure transportation, wildlife, bay health, and public safety were top priorities in the county’s comprehensive plan and rezoning.

    The award-winning Worcester County Comprehensive Plan was written to keep new growth out of forests, wetlands, flood-prone areas, and around existing infrastructure. This protects the public, water quality, tourism, and keeps taxes low. Upzoning requests that do not adhere to the comprehensive plan or to these principles should be disregarded.

    Elected officials should serve to do what’s best for their community, not certain individuals or other special interests. Randomly spot zoning individual parcels has nothing to do with the greater good. Arbitrary zoning decisions that abandon the notion of planning should be rigorously questioned. Moreover, any decision about changes on individual parcels should be subject to a hearing and further debate from all Worcester County citizens.

    If certain commissioners have issues with zoning change requests that were denied, they should bring those to the fore. But going over ever request parcel by parcel has already been done ad nauseum and will take months of work sessions.

    The dismantling of the Worcester County Comprehensive Planning Department earlier this year makes this latest maneuver all the more troubling. By now most know that residential development doesn’t pay for itself. Examples of the effects of unchecked development on taxes abound from Glenn Burnie to Wicomico County.

    We are confident that the majority of commissioners will take an ethical stance on this issue and side with the planning commission, county staff, and the public which created the comprehensive plan that the zoning should mirror.

    The silver lining on re-opening this debate could be that it will allow communities to address certain parcels that are not consistent with the comp plan, such as the ones zoned A-2 along MD611/Sinepuxent Rd., all of the estate zoning (most of which is in flood-prone areas and should be zoned for Resource Protection), the large proposed commercial site across from Stephen Decatur High School, Gumpoint Road, the expanded village district near Stockton, the commercial zoning both along US 50 and to the south and east on the MD 376/611 junction etc., etc.

    Planning and zoning are the key factors in determining the future economic and environmental health of towns and counties.
    The comprehensive plan and the zoning that follows it were created by citizens, property owners, and professional planners who worked hard to reach consensus.

    But however much quick profits and individual property owners come into play, the Worcester County Commissioners have a moral and political obligation to stick to the core planning principles in the comprehensive rezoning for the common good and future health of their community.

    Worcester County’s Comprehensive Plan won numerous awards and was held up as a model for counties to emulate nationwide. The commissioners should be sure the zoning regulations do the same.

  • Ayres Creek Project Stalled
    Posted 10/19/09



    A group of non-profit organizations, the town of Ocean City and Worcester County have a chance to transform an old, unused landfill into a recreational site, creating another great opportunity for residents and visitors to enjoy our beautiful natural resources.

    The West Ocean City property is located along Lewis Rd. Although it is beyond town limits, the property is owned by the town of Ocean City. It was used as landfill from the 1950s until 1980, and in 2007 it was declared a safe area by state officials.

    The proposed recreational project called the Ayers Creek Water Trail would be on the 37-acre site, which includes 450 feet of shoreline. The site would also have an entry gate, a parking area and a 120-foot long wooden walkway and could possibly become a kayak launch in the future. Work for the project would be paid for by a $47,000 State Highway Administration grant.

    The idea originated from local kayaker Spencer Rowe, who worked with non-profit and government entities – the Coastal Bays Program, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, DLITE and Worcester County Tourism officials – interested in establishing local water trails with the hope that the site would develop into an interpretation program to educate tourists and local residents about the rich nature and heritage of our coastal bays. With the funding in place, all that remained was to get approval from the town.

    Unfortunately, the Ocean City Council decided last week that due to liability concerns they will not sign off on the project, suggesting that either the Coastal Bays Program or Worcester County government be responsible for liability insurance.

    In hundreds of municipalities throughout the country, local, state and county officials have united with citizens to turn brownfields into safe and productive parks and tourism attractions. These transformed landfills are ideal for parks because of their size, location, and low cost. One such park is the very popular Mount Trashmore in Virginia Beach. The park spans 165 acres with hills more than 60 feet high and 800 feet long. Facilities include picnic shelters, playground areas, a basketball court, four volleyball areas, parking, vending machines and restrooms, multiple walking trails and two fishing.

    Obviously, the Ayres Creek project would not be nearly as complex, but will simply create water access that provides a route for paddlers to travel along the picturesque creek and Newport, Chincoteague and Sinepuxent Bays. The water trail flows about six miles to the Worcester County public boat ramp at South Point on Chincoteague Bay. From there, paddlers can go to the canoe launches at Ferry Landing Road and Bayside Drive on Assateague Island National Seashore or they can travel along Sinepuxent Bay roughly four miles to the Assateague State Park boat ramp at the Verrazano Bridge. It could be a potential location for kayak regattas, which are increasing in popularity throughout the country.

    The development of the Ayres Creek Water Trail would also be an important tool to promote tourism by providing the only public water access in upper Ayers Creek that would connect to established areas. Expanding water trails enhances water based recreational opportunities in the area. In addition, it will also help local environmental organizations protect the water quality of Newport, Chincoteague and Sinepuxent bays.

    The non-profit Coastal Bays Program has simply been a facilitator in this process and stands no economic gain. We have worked with county and state officials to get this project up and running and we are almost there. It would a shame to let it go now. We are hopeful that resort officials will have a change of heart, or that perhaps Worcester County will step up to the plate and make this project a model for what is achievable through cooperative partnerships.

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