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

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Tom Patton Honored with Golden Osprey Award

The Maryland Coastal Bays Program is pleased and proud to announce that Berlin resident Tom Patton has been named the winner of our prestigious Golden Osprey Award.
The program gives the award for outstanding and life-long achievement toward protecting the coastal bays, and Patton fits the criteria perfectly.

Patton is truly in tune with our natural resources, progging for clams, dipping soft shell crabs, hunting and fervently preserving our natural and cultural heritage through action, advocacy and commitment for decades. The Golden Osprey has only been awarded three times before in the history of the Coastal Bays Program.

Patton has helped the Coastal Bays Program a great deal over the years, serving on the Coastal Bays Fisheries Advisory Committee, and assisting with blue crab issues and development and growth-related concerns. He was one of the driving forces behind the original and two subsequent conferences on the Coastal Bays. It was the first conference that directly led to the state and Worcester County seeking our acceptance into the National Estuary Program.

His volunteer experience also includes work with the Maryland Historical Society, the Lower Eastern Shore Heritage Committee, St. Martin's Church Preservation Foundation, and with political advocacy and community association issues. He serves on the board of the Assateauge Coastal Trust (ACT).

His commitment to our natural environment dates back to the 1960s, when he was instrumental in lobbying Congress to create the Assateague Island National Seashore. He was an early participant in the Committee to Preserve Assateague Island – now ACT - and was the driving force behind moving that group from Baltimore to Berlin. He was instrumental in changing the focus of ACT to include the entire coastal bays watershed. Patton played an integral role in the revitalization of downtown Berlin and the formation of the Berlin Farmer’s Market.

In 2005 Patton published the book Listen to the Voices, Follow the Trails - Discovering Maryland's Seaside Heritage, an insightful account of the unique natural and cultural history of Maryland's seacoast. The book captures the rapidly-disappearing oral traditions past generations, urging readers to explore Worcester County's many wonderful rural byways, historical sites, and its abundant natural heritage.

Patton created the nonprofit Rackliffe House Trust in 2004 with the goal to restore the former plantation house once owned by his ancestors. That same year he leased the house and three acres of the 100-acre parcel for 50 years from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. The house is located adjacent to the Sinepuxent Bay, near the National Seashore's visitor center. He has devoted himself to the proper restoration of Rackliffe House with the goal to transform it into a coastal heritage museum.

Patton has made a significant difference in the health of our watershed through his dedication and volunteer service. Such involvement is vital to our success as outlined in our Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan, which states that the program works by recognizing the mutual dependence of good estuary management practices and citizen-based efforts to sustain the community’s culture and economy. As previous Osprey winner and MCBP Foundation Board member Carolyn Cummins puts it, Patton embodies the role of citizen involvement and all that is vital to the success of the with the Coastal Bays Program. Patton also joins Ilia and Joe Fehrer Sr. and Jeanne Lynch in receiving the honor.

Please join us as we celebrate Patton’s Osprey Award on Feb. 18 at 6 pm at the Globe restaurant in Berlin – a fitting location since it is one of the Berlin properties that Patton restored. Tickets are $20 for MCBP members and $25 for non members, and includes hors d'oeuvres and a signature Osprey drink specially created for the occasion.

To purchase tickets contact Anita Ferguson by Feb. 10 at or 410-213-2297, ext. 109. Ferguson is the Public Outreach Coordinator for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Attention Worcester County Landowners!

Would you like to restore natural function to your shoreline?
Enhance wildlife habitat on your forested property?
Replace lawn with a more natural landscape?
Learn about the current restoration and conservation programs available to large properties?

The Worcester County Department of Development Review and Permitting invites you to a day-long LANDOWNER CONFERENCE. Experts will teach sound shoreline, forest and wildlife management practices that landowners can implement.

Location: Worcester County Government Center, 3rd Floor; 1 West Market Street,
Snow Hill, MD 21811
Cost: $6.00 per registrant (to cover food costs)
Saturday, March 6, 2010

Whether you own a 1-acre lot or a 200-acre farm, this conference will provide valuable information to help you achieve your land stewardship goals. Every household/individual attending will receive a copy of The Woods in Your Backyard, or Forest Resource Management, an $18 value.

Click HERE for information on how to register for this valuable learning experience! This workshop is made possible by Worcester County and a grant from the Maryland Coastal Bays Program.