Browsing articles by " Kate Yanchulis"
Jun
18

Bay Swim Attracts Hundreds in Balmy Conditions

By Kate Yanchulis  //  Pollution, water quality  //  8 Comments
More than 600 swimmers participated. (News21 Photo by Brian Hooks.)

Swimmers approach the eastern edge of the Chesapeake Bay during the Great Chesapeake Bay Swim on June 13. More than 600 people participated in the fundraising event. (News21 Photo by Brian Hooks.)

News21 reporter Kate Yanchulis wrote the following — part of a longer story published by several area news organizations:

SANDY POINT STATE PARK, Md. – Hundreds of swimmers from across the country churned through the waters of the Chesapeake Bay on Sunday, and for the participants of the Great Chesapeake Bay Swim, nature cooperated.

The favorable conditions – the water at a balmy 74 degrees, the sun shining, the currents flowing toward the finish line – allowed all but 21 of the 618 swimmers to finish the 4.4-mile charity marathon, said Director Chuck Nabit. Last year, strong currents prevented more than 100 swimmers from completing the race.

While many participated for the sheer physical challenge, others also saw it as a showcase of the region’s natural treasure.

The water looked clean on the surface, and some of the participants were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the water. Dr. Bill Dennison, vice president for science applications at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, said the water quality was the best it has been in several years.

But about a third of the course crossed a “dead zone,” or an area of the water with little to no oxygen, making it hostile to aquatic life.

The dead zone stretches 90 to 125 miles long and six miles wide every summer, according to Dr. Mike Roman, lab director at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. That comes to about 10 percent to 15 percent of the total volume of water in the bay, as pollution from nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous causes huge algae blooms, which take almost all the oxygen out of the water.

Read full story from Yanchulis.

See photos on Flickr by News21 staffer Jason Lenhart

Jun
4

Governors Call for Cooperation in Chesapeake Bay Cleanup

By Kate Yanchulis  //  Cleanup, Politics, Pollution  //  44 Comments

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley inspects a floating wetlands prototype before the press conference at the Inner Harbor Maritime Institute. News21 photo by Jason Lenhart

BALTIMORE — The governors of Maryland and Virginia yesterday joined D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty in renewing calls for interstate cooperation in efforts to restore the Chesapeake Bay.

“There may be political borders that divide that watershed, but nature doesn’t recognize those borders,” said Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, after the annual meeting of the Chesapeake Executive Council.

Representatives from West Virginia, New York and Delaware also attended, though the three bay watershed states have no members on the Executive Council, which was created in the 1983 Chesapeake Bay Agreement between Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia.

“When it comes to our waters, we all know, from the governor of Virginia on up, that there are no borders,” said Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who welcomed the group. “The water runs from north to south, east to west, without consideration for jurisdiction or neighborhood or municipal border.”

But though the flags of all six states plus the nation’s capital fluttered in the breeze behind the politicians, no one from Pennsylvania was present. Gov. Edward G. Rendell, a member of the Executive Council, was meeting with the Pennsylvania Legislature about the state’s budget.

And EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, the council chair, was also absent. She was in Louisiana dealing with the Gulf oil spill.

Though EPA Deputy Administrator Robert Perciasepe called increased transparency a hallmark of discussion during the meeting, the meeting itself was closed to the public.

And the speakers were reluctant to discuss the consequences and sanctions that could come for failing to meet cleanup milestones next year. Each state in the Chesapeake watershed has set goals to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus, the bay’s biggest pollutants, by December 2011. Recently, federal agencies said they would establish their own two-year milestones to complement state efforts.

The leaders focused at the press conference on the successes of their governments and agencies.

O’Malley and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell highlighted their state’s restrictions on harvests of blue crabs that helped cause a 60 percent rebound in the crab population from last year to this one.

O’Malley and Perciasepe spoke of the strides made in combining forces and sharing information with the public, especially the unveiling of ChesapeakeStat, a one-stop website for progress reports on restoration efforts across the expansive watershed. ChesapeakeStat is based on BayStat, started three years ago by Maryland’s government.

“I think we are entering an era of action in holding ourselves accountable for real, measurable results,” Perciasepe said. “The bay is an emotionally and culturally connected water body to the entire region, and it is vitally important to the 17 million people who live in this watershed that this multi-agency, multi-state process continue as strongly as possible.”

The level of progress toward cleanup goals has varied. Maryland has already reached its goal of maintaining 150,000 acres of no-till farming but has made no movement on its promise to transport 10,000 tons of manure out of the watershed area. But O’Malley remained optimistic even about the failures.

“There is a rhyme and a reason for picking those two-year milestones,” O’Malley said. “It’s so that all of us know where we’re succeeding and where we’re falling short, so that all of us hopefully can contribute to making sure that we hit those goals and the long-term goal of a much healthier bay.”

– by Kate Yanchulis

Apr
23

Water Stewardship Inc. Wants to Help the Agricultural Industry Help Itself

By Kate Yanchulis  //  Agriculture, Pollution, Regulation  //  36 Comments

What are the best ways to convince farmers and corporations that helping the Chesapeake Bay helps themselves?

Answering that question is mission critical for Tom Simpson, the executive director of Water Stewardship Inc.

On April 16, Simpson, a former professor of environmental science at the University of Maryland, addressed a small audience of scientists, farmers and citizens at the third annual Conservancy and Coldwater Summit in Waynesboro, Va., trying to teach them how efforts to clean up the bay can also benefit them, according to the Waynesboro News Virginian. For example, they can get government grants to help restore their local tributaries and make a direct impact, even if they are located in the Shenandoah Valley more than 150 miles from the Chesapeake proper.

The event offered a window into how Water Stewardship Inc. strives to improve water quality. The non-profit organization is based in Annapolis, but also works in other watersheds, hoping to change the culture of water stewardship across the country.

To achieve its lofty ambitions, Water Stewardship Inc. studies methods to reduce pollution, particularly nutrient runoff from farming and agricultural industries. It wants to work with corporations to help them implement better practices in their policies above and beyond those required by federal state governments, believing environmental stewardship will be a future hallmark of a successful business. Already, it is developing partnerships with General Mills and SYSCO Corporation.

It also plans to provide resources to farmers and other individuals in (or simply affected by) the food industry supply chain to help them learn how to put in place more effective methods to improve the bay’s health and remain on the forefront of a changing industry.

Water Stewardship Inc. was founded in 2008 and has dived headfirst into its work. As a pilot project in the water cleanup effort, its programs bear watching by corporations, lawmakers and citizens interested in the success of the bay restoration drive.

Apr
23

Chicken Poop Lawsuit Sparks Debate About Accountability, Freedom

By Kate Yanchulis  //  Agriculture, Government, Politics, Pollution  //  37 Comments

The University of Maryland’s law clinic wants Perdue Farms Inc. to take charge of its chicken poop.

The environmental law clinic’s decision to represent environmental advocacy groups in a lawsuit against Perdue, a leader of the state’s poultry industry, has spurred intense discussion about academic freedom. But it has also brought up big questions of accountability in the effort to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

The Clean Water Act citizen lawsuit, in which the clinic is representing Kathy Phillips, the executive director of the Assateague Coastal Trust, and other environmentalists, sparked anger among state legislators.

Though the defendant is Perdue as a whole, the case focuses on a small Eastern Shore farm contracted by the company to grow chickens. The suit says the farmers, Alan and Kristin Hudson, stored manure from the chickens next to a drainage ditch, funneling pollution into the Chesapeake Bay. It placed responsibility for the pollution upon Perdue, but the Hudsons still expressed worry that legal costs from the case could bankrupt their farm.

The lawsuit raises important questions about where responsibility for chicken poop lies, whether with the large company that owns the chickens or the small farmers who grow them. The answer could change the way pollution is regulated in the state.

But some Maryland lawmakers said the clinic is using government funds to attack family farmers and push a narrow agenda, bringing up a different debate about scholastic independence. State senators initially voted to withhold $250,000 from law school’s budget until it turned over information about the clinic’s clients and funding, hoping to “send a message that the law school should not target small farmers when choosing cases,” according to the Baltimore Sun.

“Small family farms on the lower Eastern Shore have survived only because of the poultry industry,” state Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus told the New York Times. “If we have this harassment in the courts, they’re going to go away.”

Many saw this as an assault on academic autonomy, and protests rang out across the country, from the St. Louis Post Dispatch to the National Law Journal. So when reconciling House and Senate forms of the state budget on April 6, the Maryland legislature ceded to the pressure and did not cut the law school’s funding. However, it did still request information about the clinic’s clients and finances from the past two years, meaning the debate is far from over.

Meantime, accountability for pollution, an issue that was pushed to the background by the legislative wrangling, also remains unresolved.

As Eric Hartley of the Annapolis Capital wrote in his column, the lawsuit showcases what he sees as one of the chicken industry’s biggest problems: Corporations such as Perdue own chickens, but their manure belongs to the individual farmers. So  responsibility for nutrient pollution from chicken feces reaching the bay can fall to farmers, leading to small family farms bearing responsibility in cases such as this one.

Hartley applauded the suit for taking on Perdue and trying to hold the company accountable for pollution from its chickens, tying debate over this case to the larger effort to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

Apr
10

Saving the Bay One Disposable Bag at a Time

By Kate Yanchulis  //  Government, Pollution  //  33 Comments

Environmentally friendly shoppers face a dilemma when the grocery store clerk asks, “Paper or plastic?” Choose paper, and they’re cutting down trees. Choose plastic, and they’re clogging the landfills.

But Washington, D.C., has found a way to put those disposable bags to use in saving the Anacostia River, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay.

Considering the city’s Department of the Environment found in a study that plastic bags make up 21 percent of trash in Anacostia – and 47 percent in its tributaries – that claim may seem impossible. How could the pesky pollutants ever help the river?

On Jan. 1, the District started charging a 5-cent bag tax on paper and plastic bags at stores that sell food or alcohol. The goal was not only to encourage the use of reusable bags but to protect and provide for the heavily polluted river that flows past Southeast Washington.

As a part of the D.C. Council’s Anacostia River Clean Up and Protection Act of 2009, the majority of the proceeds go to fund cleanup efforts. For each bag, 1-2 cents goes back to the businesses, while the rest is sent to the Anacostia River Clean Up and Protection Fund, according to the Washington Post. The D.C. Department of the Environment will use the fund, which also receives money from other sources such as a new commemorative license plate, to clean the river and its tributaries as well as to provide citizens with reusable bags.

In the month of January alone, the tax already made almost $150,000, the Washington Post reported this week. And it also has resulted in a significant drop in disposable bag use, benefiting the river from two directions.

Washington has found a creative way to turn a negative but largely unchallenged part of life into a positive force for the city, the Anacostia and the Chesapeake. And shoppers still debating “paper or plastic” can breathe a little easier knowing they can still help save the bay.

Apr
10

Meet Jim Perdue, Mr. Maryland Chicken

By Kate Yanchulis  //  Agriculture  //  31 Comments
Jim Perdue

Photo by Jim Hofman

On March 11, Gov. Martin O’Malley presented Jim Perdue, the chairman and chief executive officer of Maryland-based Perdue Farms Inc., with the state’s 2010 Governor’s International Leadership Award, given annually to a corporate or industry leader that has helped drive Maryland to global recognition. O’Malley called Perdue “one of the great corporate citizens of our state.”

But how much do we know about Jim Perdue?

Some know him simply as the friendly face bantering on Perdue’s TV commercials. Some know him as businessman: He has continued to expand the company built by his father and grandfather to a multi-billion dollar corporation as it celebrates its 90th anniversary this year. Some know him as boss: Perdue Farms Inc. contracts many independent family farms in Maryland to raise chickens, especially along the Eastern Shore. Still others know him as controversial: Agriculture is the single largest source of pollution in the Chesapeake Bay, and many of Perdue’s farms are located in the heart of the bay’s watershed. So the nitrogen, phosphorous and other chemicals and metals from the chicken feces drain to the Chesapeake.

Did you know, though, that despite the bad reputation he receives from some Chesapeake Bay advocates, he received a Ph.D. in fisheries from the University of Washington and worked in aquaculture before coming to work for the family business in 1983? He even considered becoming a marine biologist.

While some of Perdue’s vocal critics might be surprised at that fact, there have been indications of his background. His company started a groundbreaking partnership with the Enviromental Protection Agency, the Clean Waters Environmental Initiative, to help contracted farmers comply with environmental regulations and nutrient management plans.

But how much has his past field of study impacted his views on the health of the Chesapeake Bay, and how much has it impacted his business practices?

Mar
28

Wanted: Feedback on Bay Restoration… Please? Anyone?

By Kate Yanchulis  //  Government, Regulation  //  25 Comments

Last year, President Barack Obama issued an Executive Order calling on the federal government to “define environmental goals for the Chesapeake Bay” and take the lead in organizing restoration efforts. This month,  the Chesapeake Bay Program posted draft goals and outcomes for this initiative on its Web site about the Executive Order and solicited public comments.

The draft spells out goals, such as restoring water quality and fish and wildlife populations; it also describes “measurable outcomes,” outlining how the achievements would be defined. The Web site states that public feedback will be used to help finalize the government’s strategy for the Chesapeake Bay, set to be released May 12. The Web site will be open for comments until April 2.

It’s worth asking, though, whether public feedback will truly be considered, or if the whole thing is just a nice public relations move. But first there is the question whether public feedback will come at all.

There’s not much online buzz about the plans – so far, just a couple of comments on the Web site where they are posted. And a quick Google News search soon after the draft was published yielded just one five-paragraph story published elsewhere about the draft. On such a big issue, one might reasonably expect a greater public response, perhaps some speculation, at least something in the great communications platform that is the Internet.

Given more time, it is possible that the requested  public comments–which could generate new ideas and point out overlooked points and missteps in the plans–still might not appear online.

While past public forums about the Executive Order and a draft strategy released in November did inspire discussion, not much of it has appeared on the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Web site. All the stories and documents posted on the home page have yielded only one true comment, along with one pingback and two trackbacks. In November and December, the public did have the option of sending comments directly to the government. But still, the fact that so little has been discussed in public on the bay program’s official Executive Order Web site could signal that the site is not bringing enough public exposure to the Chesapeake Bay restoration plans. It might even signal that the public is largely apathetic to the Chesapeake Bay restoration.

Regardless of why the public isn’t engaging on the topic, it could spell trouble for the Bay and the potential success or failure of the Executive Order.

Mar
7

Bayville: Teaching Children about the Chesapeake

By Kate Yanchulis  //  Bay Education  //  24 Comments

How do children learn about the Chesapeake Bay? With books, with music, even with direct experiences, from boating to swimming to playing. But “Bayville”, a Web site started by Maryland Public Television in 2007, attempts to harness the power of the Internet to connect kids with the bay.

But how successful is it? That’s what I set out to discover.

Though “Bayville” makes it clear that it welcomes everyone interested in learning more about the Chesapeake, the site targets Maryland middle school students. It provides teacher’s guides, curriculum charts, and an optional log-in feature that allows users to save their work and progress, making the site easy to incorporate into the classroom.

The textual sections work mainly toward this purpose so that teachers have a wealth of material to utilize. For example, the section of frequently asked questions about the Chesapeake gives an understandable if somewhat simple breakdown of the science, environment, culture and history of the bay, clearly keeping its preteen audience in mind. But without direction from a teacher, most kids would not stay long enough to sift through all the questions and answers, which lack any images or color to spice up their presentation.

Much more effective are the seven interactive activities that make up the heart of “Bayville.” As I know from experience with my fifth-grade sister (and from my own short attention span), anything that includes visual stimulation and/or the chance for “winning” automatically becomes 100 times more exciting. Though not cutting-edge technology, especially now, after the site’s third birthday, “Bayville” definitely holds more appeal than a textbook.

I think one interactive in particular did the best job of getting its point across while remaining fun throughout. “H2Oh No!” teaches about the water cycle and how humans affect it with run-off, using a series of games as well as actual pictures of the bay to demonstrate the lessons and problems.

Another ambitious section, “Bayquest,” takes you on a virtual tour through various bay habitats to find different animals and plants. I enjoyed “traveling” to the different locations with different forms of bay transport, from kayaks to skipjacks, though I wished I could learn why the vehicles changed from habitat to habitat.

A bigger problem rested in the animal descriptions, which could overload readers with information and seem too dry for its middle-school audience. Relating the topics more to the students – how their actions could impact the animals and ecosystems – might work better. But in “Bayquest,” at least, the thrill of the hunt tided me over any particularly boring bits.

No matter the smaller issues, “Bayville” provides an informative – and usually fun – primer on the Chesapeake Bay, both for kids and kids at heart.

Mar
5

Chesapeake Area Bird Watchers Also Keep a Keen Eye on the Bay

By Kate Yanchulis  //  Uncategorized  //  27 Comments

When we look at the Chesapeake Bay, we see water. But the region’s avid bird watching population knows that to see some of the species that call the estuary home, you must look to the sky. And just as birds play a vital part in the bay’s ecosystem, bird watchers take an active role in its culture.

Yesterday, Pat Tate, president of the Anne Arundel Bird Club, wrote a column featured in the Annapolis Capital advocating bird watching as a “great opportunity for everyone, young and old, to connect with nature and enjoy wildlife all around the area.” The Chesapeake dominates the environmental landscape, providing welcoming habitats to hundreds of bird species in its 64,000 square mile watershed, so clubs such as this chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society depend on it as a resource, a teaching tool, and the locale of many field trips and expeditions. So they work to protect their birds and the bay both, dedicating themselves “to the protection and conservation of bird life and other natural resources.”

Osprey

Photo of a hunting osprey. Source: Tim Lenz

In the next two weeks, the bird-watching community will be abuzz because of the homecoming of the osprey, one of signature birds of region, after a winter in South America, according to recent Annapolis Capital article by Pamela Wood. The hobbyists celebrate ospreys, and not just because they are easily spotted. Like many bay-area birds, the ospreys had their population crippled by pesticides such as DDT. But after DDT was banned in 1970s, they rebounded, and now the Chesapeake area is home to largest known concentration of the sea hawks in the world, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

But though the birds signal success and pride for the bird watchers, the ospreys also show them what they still must fight to accomplish to protect their pastime. A U.S. Geological Survey study on the Chesapeake released in 2008 said that birds such as the osprey are still threatened by pollution, disease, climate change, overfishing and shoreline overdevelopment, which harm not only the health of the birds but also their food sources and habitats. As the Fish and Wildlife Service said, “The osprey’s high visibility and position at the top of the aquatic food chain make it a valuable indicator species for detecting future habitat destruction, dwindling fish populations, and contamination of the environment.”

Bird watchers must keep up the fight for the bay to keep their community intact.

Feb
21

Maryland Watermen Fish for Ideas in the Gulf of Mexico

By Kate Yanchulis  //  Uncategorized  //  32 Comments

Maryland watermen escaped freezing temperatures in the Chesapeake Bay area this week for balmy Florida weather. But they weren’t on a vacation– more like a business trip.

Members of the Maryland Watermen Association participated in a “Fishermen Exchange” hosted by the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance and Environmental Defense Fund Feb. 15-17, the Tampa Bay Business Journal reported. The Shareholders’ Alliance, a commercial fishing trade organization dedicated to making the industry environmentally sustainable in the Gulf of Mexico, ferried the Chesapeake watermen to ports around Tampa, Florida, including Clearwater, Cortez, St. Petersburg and Madeira Beach, teaching them about the resource management plan put in place in the Gulf of Mexico that has helped red snapper population recover and boosted a fishing industry on the decline.

The organizations hope the exchange of ideas will foster alliances and awareness of problems shared by the Gulf of Mexico, Chesapeake Bay, and waters around the globe. These include eutrophication, an excess of nutrients in the water from farm runoff, air pollution, and other sources; habitat degradation and overdevelopment; and dead zones, areas of water with no oxygen. They also placed particular focus on the plight of the bay’s blue crabs in comparison to the Gulf’s red snapper.

The Chesapeake watermen observed the Gulf fishermen at work and participated in discussions about resource management plans to see how one might be implemented in the bay. The plan would include providing state governments with more comprehensive input on regulations and mandates, participating in on-boat monitoring and data gathering programs, and other measures designed to increase cooperation and sustainability.

A particularly hot topic was limiting catches with individual harvest quotas. With Individual Fishing Quotas (IFQs) in place, according to the GMFSA, “Federal officials say a new red snapper assessment suggests overfishing in the Gulf of Mexico ended ahead of a 2010 deadline and recently recommended an increase in the Gulf’s total allowable red snapper catch.”

“We’re seeing true sustainability in our revenues, our relationships and our resources,” said TJ Tate, executive director of the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance. “We’re happy to show the Maryland Watermen and others that this can be done.”

The plan would need to be tweaked for Maryland watermen. Though the conference focused on blue crab, the watermen often do not just harvest one species, but many. Still, it provides a good starting point.

More efforts such as this one are needed. At least two exchanges more are being planned in Gulf area for later this year, and from Jan. 30-31, more than fishermen from all over the country, from Gulf to Alaska, came to Ocean City for East Coast Commercial Fishermen’s & Aquaculture Trade Exposition, organized by the Watermen’s Association, to discuss issues facing their industry.

But the Chesapeake needs even more. These issues must be recognized not just as a local problems but as global concerns. If people come together and share successes, failures, and new ideas, everyone can benefit.

About Us

Bay on the Brink is a multimedia reporting project examining the fate of the Chesapeake Bay. It is produced by fellows at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism as part of News21, a consortium of journalism schools. This is the fellows' blog. The full project site is here: http://chesapeake.news21.com
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A photo on Flickr
A photo on Flickr
A photo on Flickr