2016

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. Photo: Chesapeake Bay Program

Wendy Walsh of the Upper Susquehanna Watershed Coalition speaks at the Upper Susquehanna Watershed Forum in Oneonta, New York. Photo: Chesapeake Bay Program

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.Photo: Chesapeake Bay Program

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.Photo: Chesapeake Bay Program

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.

Festival del Rio Anacostia

Photo: Anacostia Watershed Society

Photo: Anacostia Watershed Society

On October 15th, alongside a mud-banked river usually empty of life, little children skip among brightly tented booths, carrying fishing lines and nature-inspired passport books. Community members watch water run clear through a root-planting demonstration or try to spot American eels in a cloudy-water tank teeming with fish. In the air, marimba music and the tantalizing smells of Latin fare mingle with the musical murmur of combined Spanish and English conversations. A few feet away, a paper mural of insects is constantly expanded as everyone tries their hand at drawing local bugs. This is the Festival del Rio Anacostia, and it’s impossible to decide whether you are at an environmental event or a cultural celebration. 

That perfect fusion is certainly true for Ricardo, an English-speaking local resident who heard about the event through a Spanish-scripted Facebook post.  Recognizing the word “festival,” he thought it’d be a nice way to spend an afternoon and enjoy some good food. Not until arriving did he realize the festival was heavy with nature awareness. “That’s good!” he exclaims. “We have to live in it. Anything we can do to make it better for me, for you, for the younger generation coming up, you know… be a participant. You learn and take it back to your own neighborhood.” He planned to take pictures and share them with people in his neighborhood that couldn’t make it that day—allowing them to witness the good food, dancing and environmental lessons alike.  

Coming together and collaboration were evident in the creation of the festival as much as the event itself. It began as an idea of the Latino Outreach Subcommittee of the Anacostia Watershed Citizens Advisory Committee. Before long, a diverse array of government bodies, citizen committees and environmental organizations offered their capacities and expertise. The space at Bladensburg Park was donated, along with the tents and chairs. Music was provided by Guate Marimba and entertainment by Despertar Maya Ma’am in conjunction with Asociacion de Guatemaltecos Sin Fronteras. Parks and Recreation Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, Anacostia Watershed Society, Chispa, Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin, Friends of Sligo Creek, Chesapeake Bay Trust and Anacostia Riverkeepers were all heavily involved in making the festival a reality.

Being aware of your environment and learning to care for it go hand in hand, and organizers do their best to highlight that intersection. Most booths have both English- and Spanish-speaking personnel; at others, roving translators are available and happy to help. For those without readily available transportation, buses run throughout the day to pick up attendees for the festival and later take them back home. “In many cases due to language and economic barriers, Latinos do not have an opportunity to recreate in the Anacostia River,” wrote Chispa Maryland Program Director Ramon Palencia-Calvo. “[This festival] open[s] the river to this environmentally underserved community.”

Indeed it does, and plans are already underway for a Festival del Rio Anacostia 2017. For more information or to get involved with next year’s festival, contact rpcalvo@mdlcv.org.

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

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.

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.