Thursday, April 1, 2010

Marine Spatial Planning

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

Friday, March 26, 2010

Berlin Spring Celebration Goes Green with GBG

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.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Sustainable Communities Act of 2010

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.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Let's Luau!!!

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

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Wetlands Reserve Program

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

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 or go to the county’s webpage at

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


"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.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Worcester County Landowner Conference to Provide Stewardship Guidance

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

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