A pandemic couldn’t stop the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and a hearty group of volunteers from planting thousands of trees this fall.
Socially-distanced volunteers worked with CBF staffers and private contractors at two different plantings in October and November to plant more than 3,000 trees along two creeks that drain into the Monocacy River. Over time, the small trees will grow and create two robust forest buffers along the creeks capable of filtering out primary Chesapeake Bay pollutants such as nitrogen and phosphorus.
“It’s so important to add more forest cover, especially along waterways, as far up in the watershed as we can,” said Rob Schnabel, CBF’s Maryland Restoration Scientist. “These new buffers and others already in place around the watershed help prevent pollution from entering creeks and other small streams, which ultimately improves water quality throughout the system—including in large rivers such as the Potomac and all the way down to the Chesapeake Bay.”
Planting forest buffers to reduce pollution in local waterways is among the most cost-effective management strategies to protect water quality. Excess amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus can be washed into rivers and streams during and after rainfalls. The pollution then travels to the Chesapeake Bay where it fuels algal blooms. Algal bloom die-offs in the Bay reduce dissolved oxygen levels and can cause dead zones inhospitable to marine life.
The first volunteer planting occurred Oct. 17 at Knox Farm in Carroll County. Contractors pre-augured small holes along about a half-mile stretch of Piney Creek. About 50 Volunteers then planted a variety of trees such as sycamores, tulip poplars, river birch, silky dogwood shrubs, and chokeberry shrubs. The farm was placed into a conservation easement by the property owner through the county's agriculture preservation program to ensure the newly planted vegetation remains protected.
The second volunteer planting Nov. 7 added more than 1,200 trees and shrubs along Israel Creek at Heirland Farm in Frederick County. More than 50 volunteers, including students from Hood College and the University of Maryland, planted diverse tree and shrub varieties along approximately 5,000 feet of stream banks at the farm.
The owners of the farm, Steve and Ruth Ann Derrenbacher, have been working with CBF since 2016 to expand the forest buffer along the creek. Saturday’s planting was the third at the site, after 6 acres of riparian buffer were planted in 2016 followed by 5 more acres in 2017.
“The riparian area really is easier to manage with trees,” said Steve Derrenbacher. “Trying to manage it with livestock is not the answer. We have people that come out and say, ‘wow those trees are really pretty.’ It’s been a good association with CBF.”
Heirland Farm specializes in regenerative agriculture and grass-fed livestock. This farming method sequesters carbon in the soil--critical for fighting climate change--while also making the land more productive. The practice restores the soil’s “sponge,” allowing water to infiltrate faster and the ground to absorb more water. This reduces downstream flooding during storm events while providing water to streams during times of drought.
Virginia-based energy company WGL Energy supported the plantings with volunteers and $141,200 raised through its carbon offset program for this project and future projects. Customers pay slightly more on their energy bill with the company to provide funds to reduce carbon dioxide through tree plantings such as this one.
“The offsets make a customer’s natural gas use carbon-neutral and ultimately support programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said Samir Das, Director of Marketing and Analytics for WGL Energy. “We’re proud to partner with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to make plantings such as this one possible.”
Sterling Planet, a company that works with businesses, universities, and individuals to offset greenhouse gas emissions, also contributes funds to plantings such as these and other CBF greenhouse gas reduction efforts.
"For 10 years now, Sterling Planet has worked closely with WGL Energy and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation through the Carbon Reduction Fund to reinvest back into the environment,” said Alden Hathaway, Senior Vice President of Business Development at Sterling Planet, Inc. “When the program started, we aimed to plant 1,000 trees as part of the first environmental initiative, since then the program has expanded to 15 projects per year and to date more than 40,000 trees have been planted. These trees have the potential to reduce carbon dioxide by 36,000 metric tons over the next few decades. Next year we aim to inform more mid-Atlantic natural gas users about the availability of WGL Energy's carbon-neutral natural gas and how purchasing it can support more tree projects such as CBF's Keystone 10 Million Trees Partnership."
The Keystone 10 Million Trees Partnership aims to plant 10 million new trees in Pennsylvania by the end of 2025. The partnership is made up of a diverse group of conservation organizations, businesses, outdoor enthusiasts, and national, regional, state, and local agencies.
In addition to reducing Bay pollution, the trees planted in Maryland this fall will help reduce carbon dioxide and prevent erosion along the stream bank. CBF hopes the projects will also serve as an example to other property owners and farmers in the region interested in adding environmental improvements. Landowners can contact CBF to learn more about government programs and CBF assistance that can subsidize the cost of installing tree buffers, livestock fencing, and other practices designed to reduce polluted runoff.
Both plantings aim to boost the health of the Monocacy River by improving water quality to streams that flow into the river. Maryland’s Department of the Environment has classified the Monocacy as impaired by nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment—Bay pollutants that negatively affect the river’s ecosystem. In Frederick County, elected leaders have made efforts to address ongoing water quality issues in the river by approving the Monocacy Scenic River Management Plan in 2019, which specifically calls for targeting areas near the river for expanding forested land and adding streamside forest buffers, among other proposed improvements.