Support for Good Farming Practices
Maryland lawmakers left Annapolis three weeks early due to the coronavirus, but during a flurry of activity on the final day they passed a CBF-supported bill aimed at increasing natural filters on farm lands.
The legislation, if signed by the governor, will update Maryland’s agricultural cost-share program. The bill defines fixed natural filters in Maryland law to ensure farmers are fully eligible for state funds to restore wetlands; convert crop land to grass pastures; and plant trees next to field edges and streams or other waterways. The legislation also focuses funding on reducing pollution on existing farms rather than assisting with start-up or expansion projects at large animal farming operations.
The natural filters promoted in this legislation limit Bay pollutants including nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment from running off farm fields during and after rain events. The filters also help build healthy soils by keeping the plant nutrients on the land, rather than allowing them to flow into the Bay. Once in the Bay, nitrogen and phosphorus fuel harmful algal blooms that create dead zones devoid of oxygen in the water that are uninhabitable for marine life.
Once in effect, CBF believes this new policy will help Maryland meet its 2025 Chesapeake Bay clean-up goals by having more farmers add these natural filters to their land, which will reduce Bay pollutants over time.
Other Priorities Fail to Pass
While the cost-share bill passing was good news, the shortened session resulted in other environmental priorities not being addressed. Bills that would have decreased plastic ban usage, removed incineration from the renewable energy list in the state, and required net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045 failed to pass before the session wrapped up March 18.
Legislators also ran out of time to fully restore about $440,000 in state education funding that CBF previously received to help fund the Maryland outdoor education program. The funding was cut by Maryland Governor Larry Hogan in his fiscal 2021 budget. The funds were only used to help CBF take students and teachers out on the Bay to teach them about state history and estuary science. The state funding made up about a quarter of CBF’s Maryland education budget. We’re working to get the funding restored either in a special session later this year or next year. It’s also possible, but unlikely, that Hogan could restore the funds sooner by reprioritizing other education funding.
New Oyster Management Law in Place
Earlier in this year’s session, progress was made to protect oysters. In February, the legislature overrode Governor Larry Hogan’s veto of a bill the General Assembly passed last year that will create a consensus-based process to draft a new oyster fishery management plan. The new law will bring together environmental advocates, academics, watermen, and seafood sellers to create a new plan to end oyster overfishing and increase oysters’ overall population in Maryland. Under the law, the group is scheduled to send its fishery management plan recommendations to the state’s Department of Natural Resources for implementation by August 2021.
Oyster advocates hope the new group can use the latest science and newly available population modeling technology to develop management strategies that end the long-term decline of oysters in the state. Since 1999, Maryland’s oyster population has dropped from about 600 million adult oysters to 300 million in 2018. In the Bay, oysters are valuable as water filters and their reefs provide habitat to fish and crabs.
Maryland Executive Director
Chesapeake Bay Foundation