Earlier this month, I joined a tour highlighting the effectiveness of land and water conservation practices implemented in the Choptank River watershed in Maryland.
The Choptank is a major tributary to the Chesapeake Bay, winding for 70 miles through farmlands, communities, and habitats in the Delmarva Peninsula of Maryland and Delaware. The river is home to resident and migratory birds, and dozens of fish, amphibian, and reptile species, including iconic Chesapeake wildlife such as the bald eagle and diamondback terrapin. More than half of the watershed is also used for agriculture, predominantly crops and poultry production. Portions of the Choptank have been designated as “impaired” under the Clean Water Act due to high levels of nutrients and sediments in the river, particularly derived from agricultural runoff.
The Farm Bill — our nation’s largest source of conservation funding on private lands — includes programs for restoring damaged and degraded lands and waters. In fact, landowners in the Choptank watershed and across the Chesapeake Bay are enrolled in an array of Farm Bill conservation programs to conserve and restore habitat, improve water quality and prevent soil erosion.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has also recognized the Choptank River as a Special Emphasis Watershed for the Farm Bill-funded Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP). CEAP is a multi-agency effort to quantify the environmental effects of USDA conservation practices and programs. Project findings help guide USDA conservation policy and program development and inform science-based implementation of conservation practices by landowners, partners, and other stakeholders.
Our tour included four farms along the Maryland Eastern Shore. We learned how various conservation practices, such as wetlands restoration, conservation buffers, use of winter cover crops, and irrigation and nutrient management, are providing a suite of benefits to both the Choptank and the participating landowners. And all of it is carefully monitored, assessed and reported by CEAP.
This field trip featured just one example of CEAP at work. Another is the CEAP Wildlife Component, which quantifies the effects of USDA conservation practices and programs for target species across the country, including greater sage-grouse, lesser prairie-chicken, New England cottontail, and golden-winged warbler.
Defenders works in Washington, DC, and in field offices across the country to advance and defend conservation policy, and it’s great to get out on the ground to see those policies in action making a positive impact on wildlife and people.