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.