Monthly Archives

December 2016

8 Outings that Aren’t Taxing on the Environment

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Wine tasting at a local, sustainable winery: Support a local business and learn about green agriculture! This outing is a great way to spice up any road trip or to just get away for a day. Go with friends, family, or a significant other and take some time to smell the grapes. Some wineries will even host small parties for you.

Go on a hike and pack a picnic: There’s no better way to experience and appreciate nature than to spend a day surrounded by it! Pack a lunch and take it to go! You don’t need to go far to get exercise. Look up nearby parks or trails and don’t forget the sunscreen.

Take a Class: There are classes in eco-friendly paper-making or sustainable cooking class now. This is a great outing do to with a date, or friends. Fun and educational!

Hit the Farmers’ Market: There’s nothing like being able to pick out your produce and know that you are helping support local farmers. Farmers’ Markets are very popular, so it shouldn’t be hard to find one close by. If you have a big family, consider joining a CSA that has weekly produce pick-ups.

Visit a Museum: Taking a trip to a museum is an excellent way to spend the day! If the weather isn’t nice enough to be outside, take the kids to a museum. There are so many different kinds of museums—history, art, botanical gardens—and a lot of them are free.

Play Tourist in Your City: Have you really taken advantage of everything your town has to offer? Leave the car in the driveway and explore where you live. I have a long list of places I want to visit where I live. The Botanical Gardens in D.C. or the Dragon Run Kayak tours are next on my list.

Stargazing: Laying out and admiring the stars is a wonderful ending to a day and the best part is that there is no pollution involved! Just you and your blanket and a clear sky. If you’re ambitious: make it a nighttime picnic or try to name all the constellations. Leave your phones at home and make an effort to really unplug.

Urban Gardens: If you live in or near a large city then there’s a garden that needs help! Large cities have community gardens that are always looking for volunteers. Grab your friends, your gardening gloves, and your rake and spend a day helping out. It’s a rewarding way to help the environment and socialize at the same time.

Marie Paterson is an intern at the Chesapeake Bay Trust in the Development and Communications Department and a junior at UMBC majoring in Psychology and Media and Communications.

A New Front in the Fight for Maryland’s Forests

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Deep in the woods of Maryland, a hidden war is being waged. On one side, the native trees that have provided food, shelter, clean water and beauty to the region for thousands of years. On the other, foreign invaders that have upset the natural balance of the state’s ecosystems and are threatening to make the forest less diverse and a less enjoyable place to visit. The winner will help determine if and how our natural systems will continue to deliver these benefits to both animals and people in the face of future threats such as climate change and development.

This battle is not new; non-native pests and pathogens have been attacking our natural heritage for more than 100 years. The chestnut blight, a fungus introduced to Eastern forests from China around the beginning of the 20th century, quickly brought the American chestnut, one of our most ecologically and culturally important trees, to functional extinction throughout the eastern United States. Additionally, since the late 1800s our state’s forests have been battered by frequent outbreaks of the gypsy moth, an invasive from Europe, which defoliates and eventually kills thousands of acres of forest annually. But this newest wave of invasives may prove fatal to other species that are some of the most ecologically valuable trees in the forest.

The first pest, the emerald ash borer, is a beetle native to Eastern Asia that was accidentally brought to the United States in the bottom of a cargo ship sometime in the 1990s. Originally discovered in Michigan in 2002, it arrived in Maryland the next year at a nursery in Prince George’s County, and despite a ban on transporting firewood has since expanded its range to other parts of the state, reaching the Eastern Shore in 2015. The emerald ash borer, or EAB, lays eggs in the bark of ash trees. When the larvae hatch, they bore into the trunk and feed on the sugar-rich sap within. This destroys the tree’s phloem, robbing it of its ability to transport water and nutrients between tissues and eventually killing it. The second invader, the hemlock woolly adelgid, or HWA, is a small aphid-like insect native to Japan. It arrived to the Eastern US in Virginia in the 1950s, reaching Maryland by the 1980s. These insects feed on Eastern and Carolina hemlocks, and can be easily identified by the white wooly sacs that protect the eggs. When the eggs hatch, their larvae crawl to the bases of the needles on the hemlock branches and feed on the sugars the tree produces via photosynthesis. This, combined with the toxins they sometimes inject in to the phloem, causes the needles to dry out and drop off the tree, leading to its death.

Both of these species have the potential to drastically alter the composition of Maryland’s forests by virtually eliminating ash and hemlock from the landscape. Aggressive infestations of both EAB and HWA can kill a target tree within four years, and studies have found that once established in a stand of ash or hemlock, tree mortality rates can reach 98 percent. This would be a major loss on several fronts. Ash trees are valued economically for their furniture-quality wood, culturally for their use in traditional Native American crafts and ceremonies, and ecologically as a source of food and protection for a variety of animal species as well as an important actor in preventing soil erosion along river banks. Similarly, hemlocks play a vital role in the riparian and cove habitats in which they are found, improving water quality by preventing soil runoff and providing shade to keep stream temperatures suitably low for species like brook trout. Additionally, both ash and hemlock are commonly used as ornamental trees in urban and suburban areas, meaning that this battle between tree and pest could be occurring in your backyard right now. Local tree loss will have regional effects too – dying ash and hemlock means more erosion and runoff into streams and rivers, which in turn means a more polluted and less healthy Chesapeake Bay.

So how can we turn the tide in this war? Bring in the reinforcements. As this year’s Chesapeake Conservation Corps member at The Nature Conservancy MD/DC chapter, I am working on a project to tilt the scales in favor of forests. The reason both EAB and HWA are such a grave threat to forest health is that neither have natural enemies in the area. Without predators to keep them in check, they have been free to run rampant. Therefore, classical biological control has been identified as the best long-term option for management. Classical biological control, or biocontrol, involves finding a natural predator that is specific to the target pest and effective in reducing its population. In EAB’s case, there are three parasitic wasp species that have been approved for release in the United States and have proven successful at establishing at release sites. For HWA, there are three beetle species, two from the Pacific Northwest and one from Japan, which have successfully been released and established in the region or are slated for release in the near future. My role in this effort is to write internal proposals for the release of these biocontrol agents on TNC lands, and then (pending approval) assess our preserves in the state to determine which would qualify as high-potential release sites. Ideally, I will be able to make some initial releases by the end of the summer, but that step may fall to my successor. Nevertheless, it is an exciting project that has the potential to help protect Maryland’s forests from degradation and protect the health of the Bay. The Nature Conservancy’s preserves encompass some of the most unique habitats in the state, and guarding them against invasion is good for both the rare species that dwell in those areas and for all of us who want to visit and enjoy them.

Nobody knows who will emerge the victor in this decades-old struggle between native trees and the invasive pests and pathogens seeking to destroy them. In an age of ever-increasing globalization, new invasives will continue to arrive at our shores, further weakening the integrity of our forests and requiring renewed searches for control options. Meanwhile, climate change will bring new stressors to bear, such as drought, wildfires, and storm damage. In order to save Maryland’s forests and the myriad services they contribute to our communities and the Chesapeake Bay watershed, we must all be aware of what is going on in our backyards and nearby woods, and support efforts to protect them. Only by working in tandem with state agencies, conservation groups, and local communities can we contain and control the invasives here now, and protect the health and intactness of our forests for years to come.

Andrew Ireland is a Chesapeake Conservation Corps member at The Nature Conservancy.

Why Arlington Echo Made Me Want to go Back to Summer Camp

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Why Arlington Echo Made Me Want to go Back to Summer Camp

For many adults, the start of summer means rolling down the windows during the drive to the office and looking out the window a little more longingly while we’re there. So when I was offered a chance to spend a Friday with the Chesapeake Conservation Corps at Arlington Echo, an Outdoor Education Center that sees every fourth grader in the county each year, for one of their “All Hands on Deck” events I accepted immediately. Expecting nothing more than a few hours in the sun and maybe a decent lunch, I was completely unprepared for the experience I received.

As I arrived, I caught glimpses of pavilions and picnic tables tucked behind trees, several inviting trails branched off of the main road, and a cloud of butterflies and bumblebees hovered over the flower gardens that surround every building and field. Having not been to an outdoor education center since I was about 12, I was afraid that I would no longer enjoy an entire day of environmental education geared towards a pre-teen age group. While I parked my car and walked towards my Corps group I couldn’t help feeling like I was walking into a new elementary school, worried that the other kids would make fun of my shoes. But my fears evaporated instantly under the infectious smile of Anna, our group’s camp guide, as she led us towards the low ropes course. Minutes later I was being passed through a gigantic spider web, lifted over a 12 foot wall to escape the “zombie apocalypse,” and testing the limits of my balancing skills on “Don’t rock the boat.”

Feeling much more comfortable with my new friends and our teamwork potential, we met up with the rest of the Corps members and Echo staff for lunch. Before we could eat however, we had to learn the rules of Wheel of Echo! , a game after lunch where a lucky 4th grader (usually) gets to show off their ecology chops by answering a random nature question. Despite my personal, grouchy aversion to cheesy audience participation, I soon found myself joining the rest of the dining hall in enthusiastically shouting “SPIN THAT SQUIRREL!” and straining to see what category it landed on. However, lunch wasn’t over until after the traditional weighing of any leftover food waste. Thankfully our group of career environmentalists was able to finish our veggies, earning us a coveted spot on the food waste wall of fame.

After a short digestion break, the Conservation Corps split into two groups and prepared for an afternoon hike/canoe through the Severn Run natural area. Not satisfied that we were soaking in all that Arlington Echo had to offer the staff challenged us to see which group could spot the most plant and animal species before we left later that day. So with our eyes and ears peeled looking for types of life we began paddling up the Severn Run. Focused mostly on not getting stuck in the shallows, and then of course on having to get ourselves un-stuck, we were only able to identify six different types of birds including a great blue heron, a kingfisher, and even a bald eagle. The real fun began once we met up with the other group and our mystical forest guide Sean.

Leading us through stands of chestnut oak and Virginia pine, pointing out lady slipper orchids and wild cherries, rainbow tie-dye socks poking out of the tops of his boots, Sean McGuinn could only be described as the cool counselor in every movie about summer camp. As he led down the trail leaking tidbits of information like “Jewelweed can help counteract poison ivy,” I was reminded of my childhood camp experiences just like when I was in 4th grade and looked up to older kids working at Arlington Echo and decided that’s what I want to be when I grow up.

It wasn’t until we had finished the hike and I sat under a red cedar rehydrating that I realized how much fun the entire Arlington Echo experience had been. Not only was the location right on the Severn River beautiful, you could tell the staff truly cared about their program and wanted every visitor to leave with a newfound passion for supporting local habitat. On top of Arlington Echo itself, I was blown away by the Chesapeake Conservation Corps members: their enthusiasm for environmental stewardship, and the incredible projects they are working on outside of this event. Somehow it made even my own healthy environmental passions and career goals feel shallow. The worst part of the day was driving away and realizing that I had to go to work on Monday and there are kids that are going to get to go there every day of the week this summer.

Will Cameron is an intern at Chesapeake Bay Trust and a senior at John Hopkins University.

Sustainably Cultivating Faraway Fields 

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By Kimberly Y. Choi

My discomfort at a Watershed Forum session about GIS applications was at once resolved when a professional sitting behind me said to the instructor, “Not all of us are scientists,” for indeed I wasn’t a scientist.

Throughout my later schooling I feared I was finally in the grasp of specialization, that I was closing off opportunities to involve myself formally in any disciplines other than my own. And now at the GIS session, which I attended out of curiosity, it felt inappropriate somehow to sit in an audience among scientists who might use the data we were discussing to position a real construction project in its proper location. It was relieving to find out there were others who were not scientists by training. My worries were dispelled that it should be indulgent of me to choose a workshop not directly related to my work. Instead it was permissible here, even encouraged, for me to expand my Chesapeake knowledge across fields, and treat it as a legitimate part of my work. After some years of introducing myself to others with my degree program, being told the disciplines are disparate modes of thought, and seeing scholarly papers criticize other disciplines for approaching a problem the wrong way, attending a variety of workshops at the Forum to entertain various informal interests seemed something of an act of defiance.

The Corps in fact has us regularly committing such acts. Volunteering and visiting outside our specific areas of work are considered almost as valuable as doing so within. Although we come from a wide range of educational backgrounds, we’re largely said to occupy the same field. Those disciplinary divisions that so clearly delineated ourselves as students are breaking down in the interest of a common issue. I can see how projects of conservation and sustainability lend well to that dissolution, as their very concern is the reconciliation of the built environment with the natural one, the human with the nonhuman, our membership in the ecosystem with our membership in the state. For me in particular, no longer is it sensible to think the concerns of humanity a domain disconnected from their tangible surroundings, if I am to work with the attitudes and social phenomena around tangible measures to protect the environment. I’d guess the scientists of the Corps confront a similar dissolution, between science and society and between the branches of science.

At events and site visits, it’s been pleasant spending time around Corps members with other bodies of knowledge, other ways of thinking. On a walk outdoors, I am not in the habit of identifying pieces of infrastructure and kinds of trees, but others are, and they point out to me those interesting bits of the environment we live and work in that I’m not accustomed to notice.

As we unite in looking after our locale, we find it’s good for us to cultivate academic fields both near and far, without pesticides, and with a rain garden in the corner.

Chesapeake Bay Trust Conservation Corps Leadership Training

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By Brandt Dirmeyer

On the 26th and 27th of October, 2016, as part of my year as a Chesapeake Conservation Corpsmember, I attended an Environmental Leadership Training retreat across the Potomac from Harper’s Ferry at the Blue Mountain Retreat with half of the other corpsmembers. We spent a little over 24 hours together with Tara Baker, the program officer of the CCC and Michael Gagné, the regional programs manager for the Environmental Leadership Program, learning what it takes to achieve our professional goals through introspective exercises that helped us better understand our strengths and weaknesses.

According to the Strengthsfinder test that all of us were required to complete before the training, my skillset focuses on the absorption, synthesis, and extrapolation of the details of the environment around me. My top five were input, connectedness, intellection, ideation, and learner. I took these attributes to mean that I am best when I am allowed to exist beyond myself, to think about the world at large as opposed to my comfort as an individual. From this, I was then able to see where my weakness lies. I have difficulty thinking about myself as an individual. When I look in the mirror, I don’t see my asymmetric eyes nor my full lips, but my original face. I am uncritical of my personal trajectory as I spend too much time critically thinking about the course of humanity and the ecological worlds we inhabit. My mind is not an arborescent hierarchy of feelings and facts, but, according to my former literary theory professor, a rhizomatic structure noding every which way. Luckily, many of the exercises Michael led us through focused us on ourselves and the goals we strive to achieve in this life we’ve been generously given.

The exercise that most stuck out to me was one where we were told to draw two trees, one with a problem in its trunk, and another with a corresponding solution. The roots of the problem and solution trees extend upward to the branches filled with the budding fruits of causality. For the problem tree, the roots were the causes of the problem and the branches were the products of the problem, and vice versa for the solution tree. While most of the corpsmembers thought about their paths towards graduate school or the careers they hoped to find, I ended up focusing on how to recreate nature’s sustainable infrastructure of clean water and localized agroecology across the world, as I have recently been reading Vandana Shiva’s most recent book, Who Really Feeds the World? Obviously, this is a daunting task that I could never accomplish on my own, nor did I have the time to write out every root and branch of the problem and the solution, but it helped me to envision a world beyond the desirous overconsumption of finite resources that plagues the current world to an ideal world where all forms of present biota can coexist and proliferate from the production of others.

For another exercise, we were instructed to make a chart of our five biggest wins, with “my big wins” in the center and each win branching outward from the center. I thought of four right away: Cognitive Autonomy, Career Foundation, Legal Freedom, and Physical Health. A number of these I can attribute to the privileged position that I was born into, but I also had to consciously act in order to make the most of my advantageous circumstances. This is why I empathize with the suffering of the world. Since I was born and raised in the third largest and most studied estuary in the world, it is easy to dismiss the fight for water rights in Bolivia, the conflict between nuclear powers Pakistan and India over the historically-contested Jammu and Kashmir, or the droughts and depleted aquifers that are catalyzing the crumbling of Arabia, North Africa, and the Mediterranean, and California as existing beyond personal scope.

Too bad everything is interconnected through complex cyclic processes. Clear right and wrong moral answers are hard to find in our multiplicitous world of necessary-yet-bounded natural resources. Nelson Mandela, the beloved leader of post-Apartheid South Africa, a man who experienced alienation, subjugation, oppression, and torture at the hands of ulterior interests, made a tough decision when he invaded the precipitous highlands of Lesotho to secure that water flows cheaply to the arid central region of the first country to assert water as a human right.

The fight for water rights in Bolivia during the Cochabamba Water War happened because an engineering firm in California bought rights to the country’s water for private use. Arabia, North Africa, the Western United States, and the Mediterranean are desertifying at rapid rates because of the changes in climate brought on by our own ignorance of our deep connections to the environments that sustain us. Countless empires from the Assyrians to the Romans, the Mayans and the Minoans collapsed from over-irrigation, monoculture farming, deprivation of the population’s nutrition, and the subsequent environmental changes that led to each catastrophic decline. While Lake Chad receded from natural climate variability, as the Sahara fluctuates between desert and grassland every 20,000 years or so, Lake Urmia in northwest Iran has decreased by about 80% in the past 40 years, with most of the change occurring between 2009-2015.

After thinking hard about my fifth biggest win as I wandered the grounds of the retreat, looking at the grasses under my feet, the trees towering above me, and the vultures circling high, I realized that my last big win wasn’t necessarily a personal win, but more something that I could never lose: the sun. For all the energy that I exert on the page and in the waking world, for all the energy that we exert as we do our personal best to make Earth a better place than how it was when we first came into its nurturing atmosphere, and for all the energy that we consume in the pursuit of something greater, we have the radiant star that we orbit to thank. The sun and the moon have been eternal witnesses to the changes in our original face.

To conclude this blog, I will share the first exercise that we did at the training. As we all sat in a large circle in an open room, Michael gave us three quotes from Rabbi Hillel and asked us to write about the thoughts that the quotes provoke within us. The first was, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” followed by, “If I am only for myself, what am I?” and lastly, “If not now, when?” In order to order my thoughts, I wrote in the manner that has historically been reserved for the contemplation of existence: poetry. Prose, at it currently stands with all of its punctuation, paragraphs and logical sequences, is a fairly recent development in human history, with the earliest popular English novel Robinson Crusoe, a travel narrative about a British man encountering the “savages” of Trinidad until he can be saved and sail back to civilization, written by Daniel Defoe in 1719. At the show-and-tell later that evening, I shared this poem that I wrote, titled If Not Now, When?

 

If Not Now, When?
If I am not for myself, who will be for me
If I am at a distance from my mental health
How will I see the organic beauty all around me
originating outside myself, my original face is free
to wander through dense forests filled with diverse trees
leading my mind on a journey, not only for myself
but through interactions in scene, we are at play
to combine our differences under illuminated sun rays
captured for their proliferating energy that sustains
the abundance of life left outside when it rains
yet some stay sheltered and never know the feeling
of allowing rain drops to permeate our skin, for healing
our minds, we must become aware of our present place
in the currents of time, we must share our sense of this space