Chesapeake Bay Foundation staff and volunteers worked with several different farmers and organizations this spring to plant about 6,400 trees at four sites along headwater streams in Maryland.
Each planting was designed to add tree and shrub buffers along waterways to improve downstream water quality, filter air, and improve fish and wildlife habitat. As the riparian buffers grow, their roots and stems will also sequester carbon while their canopies shade the streambed, which helps mitigate the harmful effects of climate change.
In Maryland, runoff from agricultural activities is the leading source of nitrogen and phosphorus in waterways. These primary Chesapeake Bay pollutants fuel harmful algal blooms. Tree plantings along streams are among the most cost-effective natural solutions to reduce this pollution and restore the Bay.
“We had another great planting season this spring,” said Rob Schnabel, CBF’s Maryland Restoration Scientist. “The new trees and shrubs along these tributary streams will help build a defensive barrier against pollution from entering fragile headwaters. Downstream water quality will improve by filtering out pollutants upstream. We’re grateful to the farmers and hundreds of volunteers who helped us plant this spring and we’re already starting to gear up for our fall planting schedule.”
The largest planting this spring took place at the REED Center for Ecosystem Reintegration in Frederick County where volunteers planted about 3,000 trees and plants to create a food forest on April 21 and 22 in honor of Earth Day. Almost all of these trees and plants will produce seeds, fruit, or nuts for people and wildlife. Varieties included grape vines, hazelnut trees, blueberry shrubs, black locust trees, mulberries, and persimmons. More than 200 volunteers planted the trees along a tributary to Catoctin Creek, which flows to the Potomac River, during the two-day event. The largest volunteer group that day was from ReNew White Marsh in Nottingham, which had about 50 people attend to help complete the work.
“This was the most volunteers we’ve ever had come out to help us,” said REED Center Director Benjamin Friton at the planting on April 21. “We’re transitioning a 150-acre farm into a diverse food forest. We estimate we can produce about 40 times the food per acre than a standard monoculture field. That helps us diversify our farm products and protects our business from inclement events such as poor weather years or disease. We also don’t need to irrigate or use pesticides to produce crops, which is an additional environmental benefit that helps us reduce costs. Thanks to all the volunteers who have helped us plant the seedlings to turn our vision into a reality.”
In Washington County, CBF organized a March 26 planting at Pathfinder Farm Distillery in Rohrsville where approximately 50 volunteers planted about 630 trees along a tributary to Antietam Creek. The distillery grows many of the ingredients used in its products on-site.
For this planting, the farmer was among the first to take advantage of Maryland Department of Agriculture’s conservation buffer initiative to plant trees. Farmers can enroll in the program to receive $5,000 per acre of new forest buffer plus maintenance fees for five years. This planting was completed in partnership with the Maryland Forest Service. It continued CBF’s long history of adding trees in the Antietam watershed, where CBF has worked since 2002 to improve streams and fish and wildlife habitat.
On April 1, CBF and volunteers partnered with the state’s Department of Natural Resources to add 1,400 trees across seven acres of land at the Merkle Wildlife Sanctuary in Upper Marlboro. About 80 volunteers worked through rainy conditions to plant the new forest buffer near the Patuxent River. Maryland’s Veteran Conservation Corps pitched in by pre-augering holes to make the planting more efficient. The new trees will help DNR reduce the amount of mowing maintenance at the sanctuary while also providing soil and water quality benefits.
The fourth planting took place April 15 in Frederick County, where CBF and about 90 volunteers planted about 1,400 trees and shrubs along a tributary to Catoctin Creek in the Potomac River watershed. In total, volunteers added two miles of hedge rows, six acres of forest buffer, and two acres of wetlands on a farm near Jefferson, Maryland. The planting helped extend the forest buffer along the stream that CBF planted at an adjoining farm last year. The stream buffer is now about a mile and a half long.
“It’s ideal when you can get a long stretch of contiguous forest buffer like this one,” said Schnabel. “In this case, the farmer talked to his neighbor about our previous work next door and then we worked with them to extend the buffer. The hedge rows are also a great regenerative agriculture practice to help reduce agricultural runoff because they can catch water as it flows off farm fields, improve the soil’s ability to soak up water and reducing flooding, as well as create wildlife and pollinator habitat.”
Most of the trees planted this spring were grown from seedlings at CBF’s Clagett Farm in Prince George’s County. The volunteer plantings were supported by funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and WGL Energy, which offers customers the ability to offset their natural gas use with tree plantings through its carbon offset programs.