On a recent, beautiful June afternoon local farmers, federal, state and local officials, conservation organizations and area residents gathered for an announcement by the United States Department of Agriculture naming the 67,000-acre Smith Creek watershed as Virginia’s Chesapeake Showcase Watershed.
The announcement was made on Gary and Ellen Lohr’s Valley Pike Farm overlooking the Valley in Broadway as part of the implementation of the Obama administration’s “Strategy for Protecting and Restoring the Chesapeake Bay Watershed” released last May.
Ann Mills, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, made the announcement.
“Making these announcements from a local farm is more than a symbolic gesture,” Mills said. “Nearly 75 percent of the land in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed is in private farms and forests. The showcase watersheds strengthen USDA’s commitment to funding priority conservation practices in places that will do the most good for water quality in the Bay and its tributaries.”
In May 2009, President Obama signed The Chesapeake Bay Protection and Restoration Executive Order declaring the Chesapeake Bay a national treasure and requiring a coordinated strategy for restoration and protection.
The executive order directed federal agencies to “define environmental goals for the Chesapeake Bay and describe milestones for making progress toward attainment of these goals.” The strategy focuses on achieving four essential priorities for a healthy Chesapeake ecosystem — restore clean water, recover habitat, sustain fish and wildlife and conserve land and increase public access.
One of the goals in the strategy that caught my attention and led to my attending the announcement on the Lohr’s farm was to, “Sustain healthy populations of fish and wildlife, which contribute to a resilient ecosystem and vibrant economy”.
One of the outcomes for that goal was “restoring naturally reproducing brook trout populations in headwater streams … by 2025.” Because of my involvement with the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture I was thrilled to see brook trout recovery efforts as a key outcome for Cheasapeake Bay Watershed efforts.
Eighteen months ago I wrote about the efforts of the EBTJV and the National Fish Habitat Action Plan, noted the work at Smith Creek and what it means to the Valley. At the time I wrote “Working cooperatively with ten diverse partners, the project is helping restore riparian habitat at the headwaters of Smith Creek. This project connects to Mountain Run in the George Washington National Forest as well, providing additional spawning habitat for those Brook Trout.”
Smith Creek also gained national attention in 2007 as one the first of the NFHAP “10 Waters to Watch”.
Now Smith Creek will be getting additional attention and funding and can serve as a model for other efforts across the state and country. Of course having Smith Creek as a Showcase Watershed adds additional incentive for implementing the National Fish Habitat Action Plan.
The NFHAP can build upon the successes of Smith Creek and the two other Showcase Watersheds, the 23,000-acre Upper Chester River Watershed in Maryland and the 34,000-acre Conewago Creek Watershed in Pennsylvania and leverage those models into additional aquatic habitat conservation across the country.
Now is the time for Federal agencies with responsibility managing aquatic habitat to increase their efforts to implement the National Fish Habitat Action Plan. Coordination among those agencies will promote stewardship and improve the health of our Nation’s aquatic habitat.
Perhaps it is time for an Executive Order to implement the NFHAP.
If the administration leads the way then maybe Congress will get the message and pass the National Fish Habitat Conservation Act.
It should come as no surprise and serve as a point of pride that conservation efforts here in the Valley get national recognition. There is a long and treasured tradition of stewardship and respect for the land and the natural resource bounty it provides.
That tradition and the connection to the land were never more evident than on the Lohr’s farm last week.
You can read more of my columns at the News Virginian.com.