Coalition Success

Coalition Success: Maryland Bans Fracking

In March 2017, a number of successes came out of Maryland’s state legislature, including a ban on hydraulic fracturing. The ban to protect the precious Marcellus Shale formation, local waterways, and drinking water in the Western part of the state had overwhelming, bipartisan support and Maryland’s Republican Governor, Larry Hogan, signed and passed the ban into law noting that, “Protecting our natural clean water supply and natural resources is critically important to Marylanders, and we simply cannot allow the door to open for fracking in our state”. Maryland and New York are the only two states that have banned fracking in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.   

The threat of natural gas development within the Bay watershed has been a long contested debate. For the last nine years, the Coalition’s Shale Workgroup has pushed back at the local, state, and regional level to champion precedent setting policies to address the impacts of shale gas drilling. The significance of this historic ban speaks volumes to the work of Coalition members, specifically in Western Maryland. Efforts on the ground in favor of Maryland’s fracking ban legislation was seen from 37 diverse Coalition members, including faith groups, sportsmen, and conservation non-profits. Strong support was vocalized through a series of sign-on letters addressed to Governor Hogan and six state legislators whose districts would be impacted by fracked natural gas.

Maryland’s ban on fracking is not just a huge victory for  one portion of the Chesapeake watershed, it will also protect  drinking water for tens of thousands of people and species of wildlife. This victory signifies the importance of collaboration and working together. Each member of the Choose Clean Water Coalition -no matter how big or small- plays a key role in protecting the Chesapeake. The ban serves as a Coalition win and demonstrates the power of our ability to provide capacity to our members and drive strategic action for the protection of our natural resources.  

Mariah Davis is the field manager for the Choose Clean Water Coalition.

Coalition Success: Conservation collaboration in New York

 Wendy Walsh of the Upper Susquehanna Watershed Coalition speaks at the Upper Susquehanna Watershed Forum in Oneonta, New York, on November 3, 2016. The event was organized by the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and its partners to share local knowledge regarding restoration in the Susquehanna headwaters.

Wendy Walsh of the Upper Susquehanna Watershed Coalition speaks at the Upper Susquehanna Watershed Forum in Oneonta, New York, on November 3, 2016. The event was organized by the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and its partners to share local knowledge regarding restoration in the Susquehanna headwaters.

On a peaceful, cloudy day in upstate New York on November 3, 2016, the State University of New York (SUNY) College at Oneonta played host to the first annual Upper Susquehanna Watershed Forum, a chance for upper watershed and Chesapeake Bay representatives to engage with one another and create connections for sharing watershed restoration and protection resources. Communication and collaboration, the unofficial themes of the day, were evident throughout. Opening remarks were a joint effort from Maryland and New York, with Lou Etgen from the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and Les Hasbargen from SUNY Oneonta addressing the crowd. They were followed by Mike Lovegreen of the Upper Susquehanna Coalition, who echoed much the same in his State of the Upper Watershed: “We need to address the whole watershed.” 

The Upper Susquehanna River forms the headwaters of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and is unique in that 99 percent of its headwaters are protected and managed by a network of soil and water conservation districts (SWCDs) working together as the Upper Susquehanna Coalition (USC). USC’s structure allows SWCDs, which are established by state law and work to develop locally-driven solutions for natural resource concerns, to enter into multi-district agreements with a memorandum of understanding. These SWCDs work within their own locality, but also use these agreements to share equipment and training with one another. Together, these districts voluntarily work to improve water quality and quality of life for the 7,500 square miles under their care. 

The area is overwhelmingly forested—close to 70 percent—which led farms to be built along the banks of streams, directly in the floodplains. “[Sediment pollution] is not running off the farms.  It’s the farmland itself” that is eroding away, explained Lovegreen. Following Lovegreen’s State of the Watershed was a local government panel and examples of successful best management practices, or BMPs, with much of the conversation focused on stream restoration. 

 Attendees of the Upper Susquehanna Watershed Forum, including representatives of local watershed groups, tour Silver Spoon Dairy Farm and their BMP initiatives in Garrattsville, New York, following the conclusion of the forum sessions.

Attendees of the Upper Susquehanna Watershed Forum, including representatives of local watershed groups, tour Silver Spoon Dairy Farm and their BMP initiatives in Garrattsville, New York, following the conclusion of the forum sessions.

Communities take a local approach in the Upper Susquehanna, coming together to address streams in every way possible: at the source, across the landscape, in the stream corridor and with programs. Efforts are guided by the USC’s three focus areas: stream corridor rehabilitation, environmentally and economically sustainable agriculture and wetland restoration. “[The strategy] is a comprehensive public participation approach,” explained Tioga County SWCD’s Wendy Walsh. “Farms and communities have trust in the SWCDs, and that’s how we get things done.” Some restoration work might be triggered by forces of nature, but the effort to address it is personal and actionable.

Discussion of successful BMP efforts allowed opportunities for attendees to problem solve comparable programs in their own areas of the watershed; themed table discussions during the lunch hour provided networking and platforms for creative solutions. Participants left that day to return to their home organizations with individual commitments toward continued restoration and protection activities, and with a desire for more engagement in the future with their colleagues across the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

With continued conferences that provide connections for the work being done all across the watershed and the actions that result from them, the vision of the Upper Susquehanna Coalition may be realized: a well-functioning Susquehanna River headwaters in harmony with itself and the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed.


Caitlyn Johnstone is the Outreach Coordinator at the Chesapeake Bay Program.

Coalition Success: Festival del Río Anacostia

Anacostia Watershed Society Announces the First "Festival del Río Anacostia"

Date: October 15, 2016 Time: 11am - 4pm Location: Bladensburg Waterfront Park, 4601 Annapolis Rd, Bladensburg, MD 20710 FREE!

(Bladensburg, MD – October 10, 2016)The Anacostia Watershed Society announced the first ever Festival del Rio Anacostia, a multicultural and bilingual celebration of the restoration of the Anacostia River.

“Bring the whole family to enjoy nature and the Anacostia River,” said Jorge A. Bogantes Montero, Stewardship Program Specialist at Anacostia Watershed Society. “We will have activities and demonstrations, arts and crafts, entertainment, delicious food and much more -- there is something for everyone.”

We are pleased that this festival is made possible by the collaborative work of different organizations and community groups, including: Anacostia Watershed Society, Chispa Maryland, Chesapeake Bay Trust, Departament of Parks and Recreation of Prince Georges County, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and many others.

Learn, connect, and explore! Bring your family, friends or neighbors and enjoy a day at the river!

About the Anacostia Watershed Society (AWS) The mission of the Anacostia Watershed Society is to protect and restore the Anacostia River and its watershed communities by cleaning the water, recovering the shores, and honoring the heritage. The vision is to make the Anacostia River and its tributaries swimmable and fishable by 2025, in keeping with the Clean Water Act, for the health and enjoyment of everyone in the community. Community involvement is critical to achieving this vision and AWS seeks strong partnerships and coalitions with all parts of the community, government, and other stakeholders. Anacostia Watershed Society’s programs include environmental education, stewardship, recreation, and engaging the community through advocacy and volunteer opportunities. www.anacostiaws.org ##

Coalition Success: Federal Funding Secured for Pennsylvania Agriculture

 Photo: Chesapeake Bay Program

Photo: Chesapeake Bay Program

On October 4, at the annual meeting of the Chesapeake Executive Council (EPA Administrator, Bay state governors, the mayor of D.C. and the chair of the Chesapeake Bay Commission) it was announced that over $28 million would be available for targeted agricultural conservation practices in south-central PA. The breakdown of funds was approximately:

  • $12.7 million from the US Dept. of Agriculture
  • $11.8 million from PA state agencies
  • $4 million from EPA

This is a big deal! A small portion of these funds had already been announced and disseminated (e.g., $3 million of EPA money announced by NFWF in August at their Chesapeake Stewardship Grants press conference), but these very targeted funds are critical to pick up the pace on agricultural lands in south central PA.

The Coalition has been very active all year trying to obtain additional funds for agriculture in PA, working with various Members of the House and Senate, meeting with officials at the Council on Environmental Quality in the Executive Office of the President, OMB, USDA and EPA.

Coalition Success: Taking Nature Black

More than 100 attended the inaugural Taking Nature Black: An Audubon Naturalist Society (ANS) Black History Month Celebration, Saturday, February 20, 2016.

“We are thrilled you all were able to join us today for this inaugural Black History Month celebration,” said ANS Executive Director Lisa Alexander. “Our vision is to create a larger and more diverse community of people who treasure the natural world and work to preserve it; so events such as these give us an opportunity to open the doors wider and reach a greater number of nature enthusiasts.”

The day-long event was held at ANS headquarters, Woodend Nature Sanctuary, and began with a Green Jobs Fair. Twenty environmental industry employers participated including Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Department of Recreation and Parks Baltimore City, National Aquarium, National Wildlife Federation, Blue Water Baltimore and Natural Resources Defense Council. College students, retirees and professionals of color came to the Taking Nature Black event for the Green Jobs Fair, to find short-term and long-term paid and volunteer opportunities.

“The Chesapeake Bay Program’s Diversity Action Team is proud to work with the Audubon Naturalist Society in encouraging our partners to participate in Audubon’s inaugural Black History Month celebration,” said James Edward, Deputy Director, Chesapeake Bay Program. “It is important to acknowledge and celebrate the rich history of all people in the watershed. Events like Taking Nature Black help facilitate an inclusive restoration workforce with meaning.”

The Chesapeake Bay Program’s Diversity Action Team, an event partner, specifically helped to produce the Green Jobs Fair. Choose Clean Water Coalition and M-NCPPC, Montgomery Parks also partnered with ANS on Taking Nature Black. Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Seaberry Design & Communications were event sponsors.

Breakout sessions on environmental advocacy, cultural competency and stewardship practices at home or in local communities were also part of the day’s draw. Speakers for the Environmental Advocacy Panel & Listening Session included Vernice Miller-Travis, Vice Chair of the Maryland State Commission on Environmental Justice and Sustainable Communities, member of the US Environmental Protection Agency National Environmental Justice Advisory Council and member of the DMV Environmental Justice Coalition; Irv Sheffey, Environmental Professionals of Color; and ANS’s Conservation Program Director Diane Cameron. The panel held a spirited discussion on the environmental issues facing African American/Black communities.

Judy Cohall, Senior Training Manager, M-NCPPC, Montgomery Parks; Whitney Tome, Director of Diversity and Inclusion, National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA); and Nataki Kambon, Spokesperson, LetsBuyBlack365.com Black Economic Empowerment Movement delivered the session on cultural competency, Working While Black in a Green Industry. Mayor Jacqueline Goodall, Town of Forest Heights; Dennis Chestnut, Executive Director, Groundwork Anacostia; and Alan Spears, Director of Cultural Resources, Government Affairs, NPCA talked to attendees about Keeping it Green at Home. The group shared best practice stewardship tips and information on the importance of protecting nature in local, regional and national parks.

“Taking Nature Black is a unique opportunity for students, community members, and professionals to come-together and learn about environmental issues impacting our neighborhoods. This is a time for us to build relationships with one another, increase our cultural competence, and celebrate a month dedicated to fairness, equity, and inclusion. Choose Clean Water Coalition is excited to partner on Audubon Naturalist Society’s first-ever Black History Month event,” said Jill Witkowski Heaps, Director, Choose Clean Water Coalition.

 

The day’s keynote address, Green Stories in Black, was delivered by Bob “The Griot” Smith, Storyteller/Actor and President of the Griots’ Circle of Maryland, National Association of Black Storytellers. Bob inspired and entertained.

An onsite display, Black In Nature: Then & Now, featured African American/Black pioneers who have made and are making contributions to nature and the environment. This display featured images and biographic information for: John James Audubon, Sophia Danenberg, John Francis, Reverend Josiah Henson, Lisa Jackson, Frank and Audrey Peterman, Fred Tutman and Michael Twitty.

“The rich African American stories we are able to interpret through the historic sites in Montgomery County parks really makes Black History Month come alive,” said M-NCPPC Montgomery Parks Museum Manager Shirl Spicer. “When ANS approached us about partnering on their first-ever celebration, we were happy to expand our celebration as Josiah Henson Park is right in the neighborhood of Woodend.”

ANS provided a light breakfast, lunch and cocktail party reception to event attendees. The catering was done by Uprising Muffin Company and Woodland’s Vegan Bistro.

What a great day of celebration and new beginnings for Audubon Naturalist Society,” added Alexander. “Let’s not lose this momentum; we hope to see you all back soon for upcoming author events, member events or nature classes and programs.”

Taking Nature Black will return in February 2018! To partner, sponsor, or for more information, please contact conference chair Caroline Brewer at caroline.brewer@anshome.org.

Citizen Voices Protect George Washington National Forest

Living next door to the 1.1-million acre George Washington National Forest, along the mountainous Virginia/West Virginia border, has both pros and cons. Pros are clean air and water, many more tree neighbors than people, and the right of every citizen to tell the government how to manage this beautiful public forest. Cons are tourists, forest fires and the right of every corporation to tell the government how to manage this bountiful public forest.

For the last three years, the management plan for the forest has been delayed as corporate and citizen voices made a discordant buzz. Yet, the Forest Service has managed to make something harmonious out of the final plan that was released on November 18, 2014. Over those last three of my 30 years here, I’ve watched our maternity roost of little brown bats dwindle from dozens to zero and most of the hemlock trees die. Even that embodiment of childhood delight in discovery, the box turtle, has almost disappeared.

This forest is home to thousands of species of plants and animals that need wild forests to survive. It is the largest intact forest in the East and a globally ranked biodiversity hot spot, yet even here, about 200 species are rare or declining because of human impacts. 

If life is any measure of stewardship, then the last thing the George Washington National Forest needs is habitat destruction through gas or oil drilling.

What has proliferated in the last three years are geological maps of the Marcellus Shale gas formation and drilling leases on thousands of privately owned acres around me. Most of the national forest lies atop the Marcellus shale.

Also during the last three years I took a frack-finding trip to a West Virginia Host Farm (www.wvhostfarms.org) in Doddridge County. The intensely industrial processes of hydraulic fracturing for shale gas (fracking) have deforested and polluted thousands of acres there. Shredded roads, fatal accidents, toxic spills, toxic fumes and residents with recently developed respiratory diseases were just part of all we learned. The drilling rig I fell asleep watching from the host farm window exploded two months later, killing two workers. 

Back home, my human neighbors who at first thought fracking was like the hole-in-the-ground gas wells of the past, also spent the last three years educating themselves. The Texas gas company that leased land here is now letting its leases expire, citing a disappointing test well nearby, plus “local resistance.”

Anti-fracking sentiment was further expressed in more than 90 percent of 53,000 comments to the draft George Washington National Forest management plan issued by the Forest Service three years ago.

And it was those voices that prevailed. “The Forest Service listened to local concerns and made most of the forest unavailable for future gas and oil leasing in the new plan,” said Sarah Francisco of the Southern Environmental Law Center. “Only where minerals rights are not owned by the government, on scattered lands that comprise well under 20 percent of the GWNF, could any fracking take place. The public is much better served by protecting these natural systems that we all depend on for so many essential resources.”

National forests are a modern version of the commons, the most ancient, universal form of land tenure, and one that was traditional in these Appalachian Mountains. As a commons, the national forest benefits everyone, even people who have never heard of it. Millions of people annually gain clean water and air; erosion and flood control; carbon sequestration; timber and non-timber products; and opportunities for recreation, study and solitude available nowhere else in the East. 

While the new plan sets higher targets for logging, prescribed burning, and biomass harvests than in the original draft, it also recommends more new and expanded Wilderness Areas and a large National Scenic Area. If Congress acts on the recommendations, these areas will be permanently protected from most forms of extractive use. This seems a reasonable balance that reflects the diverse demands of many diverse stakeholders.  

It was courageous of the U.S. Forest Service to stop oil and gas leasing despite industry pressure, and I’m grateful. For three years, I have watched as my tree neighbors grew the three thin dendritic rings that will be hardly noticeable in the dense wood of an oak that can reach 600 years. Those trees, and all the lives they harbor, have a good chance of surviving under the new plan. And maybe the U.S. Forest Service’s rejection of industrialized energy in the George Washington National Forest will help against the next big threat: the massively destructive Atlantic Coast (fracked gas) Pipeline planned by Dominion Resources across the most ecologically sensitive parts of the forest. Life in the forest remains at risk.  

Chris Bolgiano is the author or editor of six books and innumerable articles about forestry, ecotravel and rural life. Visit www.chrisbolgiano.com.  

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