While enduring an unprecedented year of restrictions and challenges brought on by COVID-19, CBF staff and volunteers in Pennsylvania were able persevere during the pandemic and have a productive 2020. In the Keystone State, field work was significantly reduced and staff successes came from working virtually and at home.
With 20/20 hindsight into 2020, the Pennsylvania staff recounted the year's "wins" and successes, "whiffs" that could have turned out better, and "wishes" and goals for cleaner water and health and economic wellbeing for 2021.
Much success in 2020 was rooted in the ability of the Keystone 10 Million Trees Partnership, coordinated by CBF, and other groups across Pennsylvania to advance to the mark of planting roughly 1.74 million trees since the partnership began in 2018.
The determination of many hands to plant many trees was on full display during COVID-19 restrictions, that often kept CBF staff from the field. Of 95,000 trees distributed for spring planting in 2020, about 84,000 went into the ground.
"Without volunteers, most partners went out and planted by themselves," said CBF's Brenda Sieglitz, who manages the partnership. "Most of their volunteers became people in their households, their spouses and children who they could safely have contact with. They went out during work hours and on their own time to ensure that they could get as many trees planted as possible this spring."
For fall plantings, about 47,000 trees were being delivered to partners in September. Because of spring cancellations, the fall 2020 number of trees was more than double what was planted in fall of 2019.
The first Mira Lloyd Dock Partnership Diversity Awards were presented by the partnership, to Rafiyqa Muhammad of Harrisburg and Kristen Thomas of Lancaster. The women were recognized for their conservation and urban greening and beautification work in under-represented portions of their communities.
The Keystone Restricted Account Fund was activated in the spring after the legislature passed the Keystone Tree Fund in late 2019, thanks to efforts by CBF. Those renewing Pennsylvania driver's licenses or vehicle registrations are now able to make voluntary $3 donations that will pay for more trees to be planted through the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR).
CBF's soil health partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Regional Conservation Partnership Program in Clinton, Centre and Lycoming counties helped farms establish conservation practices on 4,147 acres. They are working with additional farms to improve water holding capacity, reduce nutrient loss, cut erosion, store carbon, and enhance farm economic viability.
The Mountains to Bay Grazing Alliance, supported by CBF, is helping farmers in south central Pennsylvania improve management on 444 acres. Well-managed pastures with perennial vegetative cover have some of the healthiest soils in farming systems.
CBF spearheaded a coalition with the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, Penn State, and others to craft legislation for the Agricultural Conservation Assistance Program, a cost-share program that would provide farmers funding and technical assistance to help keep soil on the land and reduce pollutants entering local waterways. Among the "wishes" for 2021 is that similar legislation will be re-introduced and passed in the next legislative session.
Chesapeake Bay Foundation Online Watershed Learning (OWL): Our virtual environmental program allowed CBF's expert educators to bring watershed environmental education to life through LIVE demonstrations and activities. Thousands of students in the Chesapeake Bay watershed have had CBF educators visit their classrooms virtually.
More than 100 students in Pennsylvania participated in the Mentors in Agricultural Conservation Program virtually. "Transitioning this program to a virtual setting is an accomplishment that ensures our ability to stay connected and relevant to agricultural science teachers and students," said Kassie Fenn, CBF Student Leadership and Education Coordinator.
With CBF's help, the Pennsylvania Grazing Lands Coalition created a 2021 calendar with ideas for improving livestock production, farm profitability, soil health, and water quality.
The Buffer Action Team in Lancaster County has developed the BEST (Buffer Establishment Support Team) program to fund maintenance for riparian buffers in the county. "We are looking for less restrictive funding for the BEST programs to make buffer maintenance as simple as possible for landowners, to ensure creation of more buffers in Lancaster,"said Ashley Spotts, CBF Restoration Specialist in that county."
Through the Conservation Foundation of Lancaster County, CBF Restoration Specialist Ashley Spotts was able to complete eligibilities for new Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) projects and to plan 76.35 acres of new CREP riparian buffers during 2020.
Participants in Volunteers as Chesapeake Stewards (VoiCeS) online classes, offered by CBF, gained deeper appreciation of the value of clean water to local communities, economy, and quality of life. Six live, online classes were hosted for Pennsylvania residents interested in learning more about water quality issues and what they can do to help protect and restore local rivers and streams.
When a defunct natural gas pipeline project left five acres of a Susquehanna County maple farm scarred by trees that had been cut down, CBF worked with the county conservation district, and DCNR, to plant 200 trees on the farm's hillside. It was a sweet example of the protective and healing powers of trees.
Watershed management plans were completed and submitted to the state Department of Environmental Protection, for Halfmoon Creek and Pequea Creek. Also, collaborative and partner-led stream monitoring programs were developed in the Halfmoon Creek and Pequea Creek watersheds to create robust, water quality datasets to compare against future data and evaluate water quality progress over time.
A cumulative impacts analysis tool was developed to aid in assessing future development in the Commonwealth. The tool provides a snapshot of impacts in a given watershed, and the data is then used to prioritize actions relating to proposed development projects under state review.
During two budget sessions in 2020, state legislators did not shift funding from the Environmental Stewardship Fund to plug holes in the General Fund.
It is disappointing that many rural families had to struggle this year due to COVID-19. "In addition to straining healthcare systems and disproportionate rural poverty, children have lost valuable educational opportunities as result of school closures without internet connectivity in rural Pennsylvania," said Bill Chain, CBF Senior Agriculture Program Manager in Pennsylvania.
CBF was unable to host field days, exhibit at Ag Progress Days, and hold a variety of other events due to the pandemic. "We were especially disappointed that we couldn't build on a 2019 trip on local waterways by taking a group of Cumberland County farmers to experience the Chesapeake Bay at Port Isobel," said Kelly O'Neill, CBF Agricultural Policy Analyst.
The annual Veterans on the Susquehanna event in August at Wrightsville, York County, was canceled in 2020 because of the pandemic.
Canceling the pollinator plant giveaway during Lancaster Water Week was disappointing. "Not being able to engage with my urban community partners in person for on-the-ground projects was also disappointing," said Carla Johns Eissing, CBF Grassroots Field Specialist.
A bill to regulate the application of lawn fertilizer and to certify fertilizer applicators as a way to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, failed to move out of the state House of Representatives as the legislation session ended, after it passed out of the Senate.
Pennsylvania's Phase 3 Watershed Implementation Plan did not receive new funding. The latest plan to get the Commonwealth back on track toward meeting its pollution reduction goals is underfunded by about $325 million annually.
COVID-19 restrictions in the spring and summer led to staff and partners' inability to get out into the field to conduct stream monitoring, creating a gap in obtaining and analyzing water quality data.
For 2021, CBF wishes for continued work across Pennsylvania to help farms adopt practices to strengthen profitability while improving soil health to reduce nutrient and sediment loss to waters, to increase water infiltration for greater resilience to droughts and floods, and to improve carbon sequestration.
The farm and rural communities have experienced financial difficulties this year with COVID-19 due to supply cycle disruptions and loss of revenue due to market price declines. "We know economic success on the farm is especially important for decisions to make investments in conservation practices'" Bill Chain said.
For an influential group of willing landowners and agency folks to begin implementing Countywide Action Plans to lead the way to reducing pollution in the Commonwealth and the Chesapeake Bay! This is part of Pennsylvania's Phase 3 Watershed Implementation Plan.
By joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, Pennsylvania—fifth in the nation when it comes to generating annual fossil-fuel fired carbon dioxide emissions—would join a regional collaborative aimed at tackling the innumerable negative impacts of climate change. "As a result, the health, wellbeing, and qualify of life of all Pennsylvanians will improve," said Harry Campbell, Science Policy and Advocacy Director.
It is a colorful CBF wish to get another round of incredible artists to paint more storm drain murals in York City's Street2Creek contest.
CBF educators have the goal of increasing virtual engagement with Pennsylvania students and teachers. Connecting students throughout the Commonwealth to high-quality watershed education is essential for fostering future environmental engagement and stewardship.
Last and certainly not least, CBF wishes that legislators at the state and federal levels have the will to provide the technical and financial resources so that Pennsylvania can fully implement its Phase 3 Watershed Implementation Plan and live up to its clean water commitments by the 2025.