Magazine article American Forests

Chesapeake Challenge

Magazine article American Forests

Chesapeake Challenge

Article excerpt

A million reasons why the future looks greener for the nation's largest estuary.

"This is not your usual tree planting," Deborah Gangloff, AMERICAN FORESTS' executive director, told more than 300 volunteers and special guests gathered to launch Global ReLeaf for the Chesapeake Bay, a campaign to plant 1 million trees to clean up the Bay. "We're here to take back the Bay, to protect it from the pollution that is slowly, but surely, killing it."

The pollution that Gangloff and other federal and state officials lamented at the April event is the runoff from yards, streets, parking lots, and agricultural fields that has replaced industrial pollution as the number one threat to clean water - not just in the Chesapeake Bay, but in rivers and waterways across the country. It will require a change in how we care for the land - all of the land - and it will be abated largely by the cumulative effect of millions of smaller actions, like planting trees.

It's the kind of challenge AMERICAN FORESTS' Global ReLeaf campaign has been meeting since it was launched 10 years ago: showing that while individual actions alone will not solve our environmental problems, together they add up to a grand effort.

"This is one of the largest cooperative efforts of its kind ever undertaken in the Chesapeake Bay watershed," Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-MD) told the crowd gathered in the National Park Service's Kenilworth Park, a reclaimed landfill along the Anacostia River in Washington, DC. "There's no question that planting trees is one of the most immediate and effective ways to improve the Chesapeake Bay's ecosystem."

Sarbanes was joined at the event by EPA Administrator Carol Browner, Agriculture Under Secretary Jim Lyons, Eddie Bauer Vice President Dave Hiatt, and a dozen other public officials and community leaders.

Within hours 600 trees were planted to begin the conversion of a grassy, sloping riverbank into a 100-foot-wide streamside forest buffer. Youth volunteers from the Greater Washington Urban League, Earth Conservation Corps, and other organizations and agencies got dirty with volunteers from Eddie Bauer, which cosponsored the event and the project. The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, National Park Service, and Chesapeake Bay Program also were partners.

To some, buffer strips may seem cosmetics - more scenic enhancement than working forest. But science and experience are demonstrating otherwise: Ribbons of trees keep waterways clean. Streamside plantings that would restore the Bay's natural filtering capacity have become even more important now that polluted runoff has been implicated by many experts as a factor in last summer's outbreak of a toxic algae bloom, pfiesteria. Thousands of fish were killed and dozens of people became ill. The prospect of the return of toxic pfiesteria in 1998 is a major concern for Maryland this summer.

A study by AMERICAN FORESTS modeled the benefits of several buffer planting scenarios along rivers south of Maryland's capital, Annapolis. One along Severn Run that would be similar in scope to Kenilworth Park would reduce nitrogen runoff by an estimated 43 percent and phosphorus by 77 percent annually.

That kind of dramatic reduction in polluted runoff is the goal of Bay-area activists, experts, and policymakers. With nearly half of the Bay's 100,000 miles of waterways suffering from a lack of trees, the challenge is enormous. To address that challenge, EPA's Browner in 1996 led an effort by the region's governors and the mayor of Washington, DC, to formally set as a goal planting 2,010 miles of riparian forest buffers by the year 2010.

Through Global ReLeaf for the Chesapeake Bay, AMERICAN FORESTS will help mobilize private support to meet this goal and to plant other trees needed in urban and rural areas of the watershed. With scores of established riparian reforestation projects across the country, AMERICAN FORESTS brings a well-honed model for public and business involvement. …

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