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Spotlight- Glimpse At The Chesapeake Bay Forestry For The Bay Program

It is like the sundog that punctuated the patch of cobalt sky and milky cloud just off the bow of Capt. Clyde Wesley Bradshaw’s 40-foot craft as it skimmed across the Chesapeake Bay waters.

Sudden. Illuminating. It’s an eye-opening, if you will. A transformation, and it is, oh, so beautiful. At least in the eyes of its beholders, folks like environmental educator Elysa Miller (Photo) who welcomes visitors to the lives and livelihoods enriching her hometown -- that rich slice of Americana known as Smith Island on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

Here, everything revolves around the health of surrounding bay waters. Here, the lives of local residents today are being shaped by how many of us plan for tomorrow. Here, surrounding homes of some 300 full-time residents there are very few forests, but the growth, health and future of our Pennsylvania woodlands is paramount to the wellbeing of Miller’s neighbors.

"I love a visitor’s reaction when they come here for the first time,” Miller said. “They’ll get away from their classrooms and meetings, telephones and computers, and, instead, take interest in what can be the smallest things: ‘Look at this tiny crab,’ they’ll say.

“It is that transformation I see here that I truly love.”

That’s why the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) official was on hand Oct. 20 at the public dock as “Tylerton’s Lifeline,” the Capt. Jason II, discharged a diverse cargo: 18 men and women with backgrounds in forestry, hydrology, wildlife biology, environmental interpretation and public information.

Even before bidding farewell to the ferry’s amicable skipper, Capt. Larry Laird, the group knew it was bound for a very special place where the outdoors experiences were unending; food and hospitality excellent; and the people, warm and real.

Officially billed as the annual “Chesapeake Bay Program Forestry Workshop,” the event was financed by the USDA Forest Service, and coordinated by the foundation and Maryland’s Forest Service. The three-day effort, drawing attendees from Virginia and Maryland’s forestry departments, and Pennsylvania’s DCNR, addressed the promise of urban forestry and vibrant riparian buffers; erosion and sedimentation control; and threats of climate change, the nutria and other invasive species.

To be sure, the learning experience came with its fair share of Power Point presentations, guest speakers and roundtable discussions, but the classrooms came alive when they moved to the water and some very unlikely instructors addressed the class. With humor applied as liberally as Old Bay seasoning on their beloved blue crab, the men and women who fuel the fiercely independent mystique of the waterman bring their subjects alive:

“If you boys like to fish, you’re in luck,” Capt. Laird tells two wide-eyed passengers just before his boats strikes out for Smith Island from the mainland port of Crisfield. “Them ‘rocks’ are running strong. Yesterday I watched a boy catch one right after another, casting right from the public dock.”

“Rock.” Rockfish. “Striper.” Striped bass. Whatever you call it, call it one saltwater species whose populations have exploded in the bay, a poster child for what can be achieved when water quality is improved; protective measures are applied. With the rockfish’s rebound came a valuable sport-fishing commodity and a boon to tourism.

““Now, if you hold them right,” Capt. Wes Bradshaw advises, a very large, very irritated blue crab flailing from his catcher’s-mitt hand, “he won’t git you. Hold them this way and he’ll reach right around and git you. They ain’t dumb.

"'Course, if any of you are, I just happen to have a pair of pliers handy to help persuade him to loosen his grip.”

Thus began the group’s introduction to the blue crab and the waterman’s lifestyle around which it is so closely entwined. There were crab traps to be baited, set, checked and emptied.

Dredges were dragged for their succulent relatives, the soft-shells, or “shedders,” that seek out the safety of eel grass and other vegetation as they molt their old shell and take on newer, larger protective armor. Oysters, too, were dredged, examined and returned to their protected waters -- waters that have become increasingly troubled.

Crab catches are down; oyster populations are way down. Capt. Wes, Miller and her CBF colleague, Krispen Parke, tick off the reasons: sometimes over-fishing and toxic pollutants; more often siltation, sedimentation and oxygen depletion. For the foresters, all put to work aboard Bradshaw’s shallow-drought, jet-driven Walter Ridder, the value of what they all do in the Chesapeake Bay watershed is reinforced.

So, too, is the value of tourism on an island where just about everything comes over by boat.

Where the blue crab, oyster and rockfish go, so go the visitor’s dollars. The boatloads of tour-bound school students, photographers and other professionals are ending; cold weather is starting; and lean times are descending on places like the Drum Point Market in Tylerton.

Jeff Woleslagle, information and interpretation specialist with DCNR’s Bureau of Forestry, saw it when he and a coworker wandered into a store marked by smiling faces, sparsely stocked shelves, and the heady aroma of crab cakes frying.

“Where you both from? You with that photographers group staying here on the island,” asked the shopkeeper, breaking from her painstakingly careful, protective wrapping of one very fragile, very beautiful, hand-painted blue crab shell that bears the image of a swirling rockfish.

The woman was pleased when Woleslagle’s companion paid for the shell; she was elated when the DCNR worker paid for a fishing rod and reel to target those rockfish when the workshops were over. The warm exchange, heartfelt thanks; the invitation to “come back again -- soon” -- all part of those defining moments and hands-on experiences sought by the coordinators of these workshops.
“Last week we may have had visits by a student group or teachers,” said Parke, who manages the CBF facilities, “This week we have foresters, but the main message is pretty much the same: no matter how far upstream they may be, we want them to know the impact of what they do affects the bay and its people down here.”

A successful effort? Jeff Woleslagle, information and interpretation specialist with DCNR’s Bureau of Forestry, thinks so:

“The local residents and island are enthralling and I learned a great deal about the bay. I found the Walter Ridder-based field trips to be top-notch learning experiences for a first-hand look at the life in the bay. I especially enjoyed the insight of Capt. Wes.

“I left the island with a new appreciation for these beautiful waters, a true concern for the people and wildlife that call the area home, and a greater awareness of the threats the bay faces.”

For details on how private landowners in Pennsylvania can participate in Forestry for the Bay efforts telephone 800-YOUR BAY, ext. 723 or 777.

Reprinted from
DCNR Resource online newsletter.


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