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Are We Prepared to Live with a Healthy Bay?

It’s going to be wild, surprising, unpredictable, and sometimes messy—as so often the most wonderful things in life are.

Every year it happens.  Initially, I was shocked.  Now, like clockwork, every spring I fully expect to get the call from some concerned citizen that local wildlife has gotten out of control and needs to be exterminated. 

Our South River riverkeeper has been asked, or in some cases told, to kill a vast swath of fauna, from osprey and cow-nosed rays to muskrats and beavers, for reasons ranging from their perceived threat to small children to minor property damage. 

Needless to say, she’s never acted on those requests.  And, it’s for a good reason.  To the extent that those creatures remain here at all, or in some cases, are making a comeback, it should be cause for celebration, not an opportunity to purge the river of its last vestiges of wild-ness. In many cases, their roles as keystone organisms in the ecosystem are critical to the river’s recovery.

Recently, in this very publication, the question was posed as to whether a local environmental restoration project, the wetland, was an “eyesore or resource.”  Besides the fact that, depending upon one’s aesthetic preferences, the two descriptions aren’t mutually exclusive, there can be little doubt that the project has, by its intended goals, been a success. 

The University of Maryland has been studying a number of similar restoration sites throughout the county for the past several years and has found that they significantly reduce both nutrients (in particular, nitrogen) and sediment to the downstream resource.    This means, that by trapping and processing pollution in these constructed wetland systems, and allowing those nutrients to be taken up by the plants and other organisms that inhabit them (e.g., fish, frogs, turtles, and yes, even snakes), our rivers and the Bay are kept healthier.

In the case of the Edgewater Elementary project, which is in a high-profile, well-traveled location along Mayo Road, it does tend to collect the trash that drivers carelessly toss out their window, or that washes off the nearly 90 acres of surrounding neighborhood.  But that trash would be in Warehouse Creek, the South River, the Chesapeake Bay, and eventually, the Atlantic Ocean if it wasn’t trapped there, where it can easily be cleaned up.  Just because trash is out of site doesn’t mean it should be out of mind. 

As a result of the way we have used the land around the bay for the past several hundred years, the South River has been devoid of underwater grasses for the better part of the last decade.  Nevertheless, it’s still always interesting to hear the stories of people in their fifties and sixties recounting tales from their childhood of having been paid a quarter or two to help tear up the grasses that were so abundant they fouled the propellers of local watercraft. 

More ominous stories abound as well, detailing the widespread application of herbicides to eradicate the grasses we now so desperately wish could thrive in our rivers.  It gives one pause to think that we could easily slip back into those “bad old days” when the grasses do eventually bounce back.

“Save the Bay” has become nearly an unofficial state motto in Maryland, as well it should.  A great many of us choose to reside in the “land of pleasant living” precisely because of the majesty of the Chesapeake Bay and the wonder that surrounds it.  It’s important for us to recognize that if we’re going to restore the Chesapeake Bay and the South River that it is not going to be a sterile, manicured menagerie that will be constantly under our absolute control. 

It’s going to be wild, surprising, unpredictable, and sometimes messy, as so often the most wonderful things in life are. 

Jamie April 27, 2011 at 11:32 AM
yes! great article! Scientific enough that all folks can understand. I miss the days when I could find soft crabs on the shores of Beards Creek and see my toes while standing on the shore. The bog is a wonderful educational resource for our students at Edgewater Elementary. Students played an active roll in helping to establish the bog and still play an active roll releasing eels into the bog that they raised in their classrooms. There is nothing as vibrant as learning in a live setting. Thanks for the wonderful coverage about a somewhat controversial site in our community. Should publish in the Evening Capital to reach more folks.
Maryellen Brady April 27, 2011 at 03:18 PM
Really encouraging considering we often hear so many contradictory statements about the health of the rivers and the BAY. We have been restoring the BAY for as long as I can remember! The South River has declined since I was a child and that is so sad to see and frustrating. But your article gives hope. By the way, how good is the storm water management plan for the development at Lee Airport?? Is anyone paying attention?
Erik Michelsen April 27, 2011 at 03:59 PM
Maryellen, The Federation actually presented an award to the developer of the Village at Lee Airpark because the stormwater management was done so well there. We followed the development closely, meeting with the development team on a weekly basis and making sure that sediment did not leave the site during construction. The developer also modified some of the stormwater facilities mid-stream to help increase infiltration in the area. There is still some standing water in the bioretention areas, but that is because they were installed with filter fabric. My understanding is that they are going to be fixed at some point in the near future. Thanks.
Maryellen Brady April 27, 2011 at 04:24 PM
That is really good news. Thank you Erik! It is good to know the federation is still active and on point. This is a prime example of where citizen involvement really matters in the future of a community. The govt cannot do it all, and in this case the developer was willing to listen and to work with citizens to protect a valued resource.
Erik Michelsen April 27, 2011 at 05:12 PM
Absolutely. The surrounding community, particularly those participating the in Lee Farm Conservancy, deserve a lot of credit for the end product, as does the Lee family, who agreed to terms that went beyond what was legally required.

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