Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Coming Soon - Coastal Bays Book & Report Card

In a few weeks the Maryland Coastal Bays Program will host an event to celebrate the release of two important and long awaited projects – A book focusing on the environmental and cultural changes in the watershed and the first ever report card grading the health of the coastal bays.

The book, Shifting Sands, is 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. 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 and documented their findings in this 225-page book.

Shifting Sands is aptly named considering the dynamic nature of the watershed, but it also refers to the “sands of time, both the geologic and recent history of this region,” and 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, Environmental and Cultural Change in Maryland’s Coastal Bays.

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.

Along with the release of the book will be the release of the first-ever Coastal Bays Report Card. Also a collaborative effort, it is a scientifically and geographically detailed assessment of the health of the ecosystem.

The Report Card assigns scores for seven indicators that reflect water or habitat quality, and uses those indicators to formulate an overall Habitat Health Index that is then used to assign a grade. The document will provide a clear, concise and timely assessment of the health of the Coastal Bays, but the details and grade will be kept under wraps until the June 8 release.

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.

The early June release of the book and the report card is timely considering county officials have proposed zoning regulations that could compromise water quality and sound land management practices. These two important documents will serve as additional resources for officials as well as the public to ponder before such changes are cemented.

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.”

Monday, May 18, 2009

Saturday's Herp Search a Big Success!

Children and adults alike had a great time searching for reptiles and amphibians with help from the Maryland Coastal Bays Program, Maryland DNR, Salisbury University, Salisbury Zoo, and DLITE.

Sixty participants at the Pocomoke River State Park/Shad Landing tallied 19 species for the day: Fowler's toad, spring peeper, green frog, bullfrog, Southern leopard frog, Cope's grey treefrog, green treefrog, four-toed salamander, redbacked salamander, five-lined skink, fence lizard, broad-headed skink, black racer, black rat snake, worm snake, Northern water snake, Eastern box turtle, painted turtle, snapping turtle.

Thanks to Jim Rapp of DLITE for the great photos!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Request For Community Stewardship Mini-Grant Proposals

The Maryland Coastal Bays Program, working in partnership with the Chesapeake Bay Trust, is pleased to announce that we are currently accepting Community Stewardship Mini-Grant proposals.

The goal of the Community Stewardship Mini-Grants Program is to increase public awareness and public involvement in restoring and protecting Maryland's Coastal Bays and its tributaries. This program is made possible through private contributions made to MCBP and CBT.

To guide its grant making, MCBP and CBT aligned its priorities with the goals set forth in the management plan for the Coastal Bays. This plan works to improve water quality, restore and improve fish and wildlife populations and habitat, improve navigation and recreation, and insure sound development and planning for our community.

MCBP welcomes requests from the following organizations:
501(c)3 Private Nonprofit Organizations
Faith-based organizations
Community Associations
Service, Youth, and Civic Groups
Municipal, County, Regional, State, Federal Public Agencies
Public and Independent Higher Educational Institutions
Examples of projects include, but are not limited to, rain gardens and rain barrels, wetland and tree buffer plantings, oyster and fish habitat creation, stream clean-ups, storm drain stenciling, workshops promoting restoration or best management practices, teacher trainings, forums, projects, training programs, and materials that expand the dialogue between leaders in minority and environmental communities, outdoor field experiences, materials promoting Coastal Bays awareness, schoolyard habitats, stream assessments and water quality monitoring that lead to community-based restoration.

Priority will be given to those proposals which adhere to the management plan for Maryland's Coastal Bays, which offer match monies or in-kind services, and show committed partnerships.

The deadline for submission is July 1, 2009. Applicants may request up to $5,000 and will be notified of the Program's decision by letter in early August. All selected projects should begin immediately and must be completed by August 6, 2010.

Contact Kate Diffenderfer at MCBP for more information 410-213-BAYS.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Herp Search May 16

The ninth annual Great Worcester Herp Search will take place Saturday, May 16 when volunteers scour county lands for reptiles and amphibians.

Sponsored by the Coastal Bays Program, Delmarva Low Impact Tourism (DLITE), Salisbury Zoo, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, and Salisbury University, the search kicks off at 9 a.m. at the pavilion at the Pocomoke State Park Shad Landing Area. Participants should park in the lot by the dock next to the concession area. A brief pre-hunt training session will feature live turtles, snakes, frogs, and salamanders and explain ways to identify them in the wild. It is free to the public and will be held to prep volunteers for searching four Worcester County sites in the morning and afternoon.

Last year 99 reptiles and amphibians representing 15 species were the result of the search held in Worcester County. Finds included black racers, worm snakes, ringneck snakes, and common watersnakes. Box and snapping turtles were found along with red-backed salamanders, five-lined skinks, ground skinks, and fence lizards. Frogs and toads included Fowlers toads and green, S. Leopard, and spring peepers. Calling Cope’s grey treefrogs were also part of the mix.

In Worcester, there are approximately 19 species of snakes, 15 species of frogs and toads, eight species of salamanders, 13 species of turtles and four species of lizards. Worcester County and the coastal bays watershed have more reptile species than any other county in Maryland. The search will provide data to help scientists better understand population trends in this declining group of vertebrates. No animals are harmed or removed from the wild during the search.

This year’s sites include a 166-acre parcel on the south side of Public Landing Road, and the state-owned 4,300-acre Foster tract which will be broken into three segments. The tract, west of Route 12, is largely unexplored by science. After the morning trips, volunteers will return to the pavilion for lunch and a slide show of the a.m. findings. Participants should bring a sack lunch and drinks. Groups will return to the field around 2 p.m. until approximately 5 p.m. The trips are not recommended for kids under 8 years and all children under 14 must be accompanied by an adult. Sunscreen, mosquito and tick repellant, and boots are a must.

To view photos and the results of last year’s search go to or For more information call Jim Rapp at the DLITE office at 443-944-8097 or Dave Wilson at the Coastal Bays office at 410-213-2297.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Zoning Must Be Consistent with Comprehensive Plan

“They paved paradise to put up a parking lot,” Joni Mitchell famously wrote in 1970. This lyric is even more relevant today because we know with certainty that land use decisions have an enormous effect on the natural environment the quality of life within a community. This is why it is imperative for residents to carefully consider Worcester County’s proposed zoning changes and then let their voices be heard before these proposed regulations are adopted.

Those who have reviewed the zoning maps on the county’s website ( and perhaps attended a public workshop have taken the first steps, but there is more work to be done before the public hearing tentatively set for early June. So what is the main question that must be answered?

As we review the maps we must question whether the proposed changes to the zoning code are consistent with Worcester County Comprehensive Plan adopted in 2006. The comprehensive plan sets the goals our community wants to achieve as our county grows. Good planning is the key to long-term economic and environmental health. The comprehensive plan is essentially the backbone for zoning regulations, but typically zoning regulations define the “best and highest” use for the land but do not consider the environmental consequences.

For example, how land is developed has a direct impact on the quality of stormwater runoff, the unfiltered water that reaches streams, lakes, bays and oceans by means of flowing across impervious surfaces such as roofs, shopping malls and parking lots. If existing forests are replaced impervious surfaces, which do not allow for the natural filtration that results from penetrating the earth, then the flowing rain picks up pollutants along the way and deposits it directly into our bays.

Our zoning regulations should preserve and enhance the quality of life in developing areas.
There must be a careful consideration so the result is zoning regulations that serve the general welfare of the community. What should we expect from zoning regulations? Better site design, habitat protection and nutrient reduction for starters. New growth areas should avoid forests and wetlands and be kept away from floodplains. A Transfer of Development Rights program should be included to help eliminate commercial strip zoning and large lot estate zoning. A provision for conservation subdivision designs should be included and land use plans should be designed and growth concentrated in a way to meet total maximum daily loads (TMDLs).

We have a choice. If we get these zoning regulations right then the negative effects on our environment will be reduced. If done wrong, however, the effects of growth on the watershed will worsen. Three years ago county officials created a comprehensive plan to guide development, land use and growth policies for the next several years. This plan was held up as a model for counties to emulate nationwide. Citizens should be sure the zoning regulations mirror what the comprehensive plan calls for. This is our paradise, and we must use every avenue we have to protect it before it’s gone.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Coastal Bays Important Bird Area

Dave Wilson, Executive Director of the Maryland Coastal Bays Program, accepts a plaque April 25 from the MD-DC Audubon designating the Coastal Bays as an Important Bird Area. The Important Bird Areas Program is a global effort to identify and conserve areas that are vital to birds and other biodiversity. This Audubon Bird Conservation designation was awarded during the Delmarva Birding Weekend.