Showing posts from April, 2016

Fields (of Fire?)

Like a life-sized game of Stratego, the lines are being drawn between pastoral landscapes and sprawling development in Maryland. With the enactment of renewed Program Open Space (POS) legislation that expands and reclaims some of the legacy funding to create agricultural and conservation easements in perpetuity, landowners who want to dedicate some of their holdings to posterity have a little help through POS.

Quite sensibly, the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Program targets prime farmland and the Maryland Rural Legacy Program similarly targets areas that have high value to local ecology. For Calvert County, the latter includes an area along the Patuxent River north of Huntingtown, the area between Prince Frederick and Port Republic, and most of the Patuxent River side of the peninsula south of St. Leonard. Statewide, the targeted ecological areas form a semblance of wildlife corridors that could offer resilience to a multitude of species in this time of climate chaos.


Beyond Chemicals

While I see a need to have soil restoration promoted in the next version of the Calvert County Comprehensive Plan, there are already many elements of the plan and ongoing institutions promoting soil conservation. The Comprehensive Plan includes "Sediment flows from development and farming" as a threat to the vision that
Our wetlands, streams, and forests support thriving plant and animal communities. The corresponding action is "Develop soil conservation and water quality plans for farms."

When you look into the Best Management Practices of the Soil Conservation District, it appears that they have this whole issue pretty well in hand (at least among the farms on the list of cooperators). Many of these best practices lead to soil restoration in addition to soil conservation. At least one of the BMPs, however, is potentially counterproductive - that is, perpetuation of chemical fertilizers.
The problem with chemical fertilizers is that they can reduce the soil biota p…

Mitigating Sprawl

The information session on the rewrite of Calvert County's Comprehensive Plan offered many insights on the process, current viewpoints, and the situations we face. Attendees were given an opportunity to submit views on paper regarding the top challenges, changes witnessed, and delights of living in Calvert County. Mine were soil tilth, invasive species, and nature, respectively. The presentation that covered some of the trends since the last major plan rewrite in 2004 brought a related problem to light - land use.

According to the statistics presented, the amount of both farmland and forest lost in our county over a ten year period is approximately 5%. As of 2007, about 60% of the county was forest or farmland. A 5% loss would have brought that figure down to about 55% as of 2014. The National Forest Service projections for forest land in Maryland under various scenarios are for additional losses ranging from 20 to 30% by 2060. If farmland losses remain in step with forest losses,…

Rip Tide on the Chesapeake Bay

Here in Calvert County, the inverted middle finger of Maryland, we have a Comprehensive Plan by which we pretend to shape our own destiny. The wife and I have been ongoing participants in a group called Calvert Eats Local that meets monthly at the county library to feast and keep up-to-date on agricultural topics. Calvert Eats Local is providing input, through the umbrella organization, Sustainable Calvert Network, to the County Planning Commission in order to update the Comprehensive Plan - something that has not been done since 2004.

The impetus for this update to the plan is a wide open gap in the middle of the county seat, Prince Frederick, which appeared when an old middle school and armory were demolished. The Comprehensive Plan has a chapter on Economy which may bear most immediately on the new purpose for this piece of real estate, though I would hope that the People chapter, under the topic of Community Interaction, would play a larger role. Either way, focusing at this stage…

Staying in the Red

The key difference in Maryland's new decision-making process for prioritizing transportation projects is that there is a population-weighted scoring system, so that a great majority of our transportation funds will, no doubt, be allocated to projects that serve higher population areas beginning in 2018. While it has been swell coasting along the ribbon of highway that takes us to the nearest major towns eight or more miles either direction, we may have to slow down soon to dodge the potholes.

Investing the bulk of transportation funds in population centers is a change that should have been made long ago, yet Maryland seems to be leading in this respect, compared to states such as Virginia and North Carolina, which have enacted similar goals and measures based decision-making processes. As James Howard Kunstler might put it, you might as well forget your dream of being able to drive to Wal-Mart forever.

It is still possible, though more blatant, for the Governor to make his or her …

Get Ready for Life in the Slow Lane

Besides lower emissions from electricity generation, the Maryland Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Plan puts transportation improvements at the top of the list of measures that we expect to help us achieve the mandated reductions. The principal improvements in transportation are in fuel economy and in cleaner vehicles.

The relative amount of greenhouse gases emitted by road transportation in Maryland is 28%. Yet, the amount of reduction predicted for these sources by 2020 is just 15%. Not only is the goal not proportionate to the problem, but the expectation is a bit high. The fuel economy goals are based partly on CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) projections. While the CAFE of light vehicles improved by 7 mpg to ~ 35 mpg since the turn of the century, the federal standard for 2025 would require an additional 15 mpg improvement, i.e. twice the improvement in half the time. The law of diminishing returns might have a problem with that.

In spite of CAFE's rose-colored looking…

Remedial Reading for the Maryland Climate Change Commission

Before we can expect the Maryland Commission on Climate Change to take biochar seriously as a carbon sequestration tool, we have to educate them more on the mechanisms which make it such a favorable option. In the latest update to the Maryland Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan, biochar is cited as a promising emerging technology, but carbon farming is given only 0.4% credit for reductions planned by 2020. The real potential of biochar alone is more like 12%.

The Emerging Technologies Appendix does not mention biochar, but the 2015 plan update has a paragraph in the Emerging Technologies chapter, saying
biochar is made "by heating vegetation slow without oxygen" (it's made by heating a carbonaceous biomass, e.g. wood, ag waste, manure, fast or slow with little or no oxygen, depending on the process). Inputs could be "lumber waste, dried corn stalks and other 168 Maryland Department of the Environment plan residues." 
"The resulting biochar... can be placed in th…

Waiting on the Courts

Another non-violent form of revolution for the sake of our collective well-being is advocated by Roger Cox, author of Revolution Justified - why only the law can save us now. Through demonstrated success in The Netherlands and current legal battles in other countries, Cox believes lawyers can turn the attention of legislatures throughout the world toward enacting laws that will put us on a path to a less "climatic" future. Several state Attorneys General are already taking up this "call to arms".

Maryland, of all places, didn't need the prompting of courts to spur legislative action that puts it on par with The Netherland's decision and second only to California and New York of U.S. states working on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. We have been a leader in greenhouse gas reduction since 2009 when the first Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act was passed and continue to set the pace with the latest revision which puts our state on track to meet the ambitious goal…

Exposing the Exposers

We are at the point that concerned citizens must hold the cold feet of anyone whose responsibility it is to uphold environmental laws close to the fire. +Albert Bates says that this is a civic duty brought to the fore by the revolutionary mandates of the Paris Agreement, as the preeminent example. The fate of humankind hangs in the balance.

Though easily jaded, I am not ready to begin my civic action efforts with civil disobedience, though there may come a time when roaring becomes my M.O.  A lot of leftist literature seems to be written by fanatical, poor-men's Donald Trumps, to borrow from The Flaming Lips. Less hostile steps may win the day in some cases, though escalation may ultimately lead to destructive behavior.

A template for reasonable objections to offending parties dealing with watershed protection regulations is provided by Community & Environmental Defense Services, offering an actionable alternative to raising hell. I noticed one glaring case in my community wher…

A Way to Plant Free Trees

The erosion control project that I am advocating for my church is to block surface runoff from eroding the topsoil into our detention pond by building a hugelkultur mound on the upper rim of the excavated area. This mound would be planted with a cover crop for at least one season, but after that, it would get some perennials or even trees in places where they wouldn't interfere with future building plans.

I hope we can get started with our preparations soon because we might be able to get help from The Alliance for the Chesapeake's Trees for Sacred Places program, which offers not only free trees, but technical support, training, and religiously-oriented motivation. You just need to have room to plant 60 or more trees. This may be possible, but it would surely fill up our open ground (outside the future building footprint). Teaming with another church congregation to make a total of 60 tree plantings may have to be our approach.

Alliance for the Chesapeake has partnerships wit…