ANNAPOLIS-Why would a Chesapeake Bay restoration group whose goal is to improve the bay’s water quality give $50,000 to plant trees in a faraway city in mountainous Western Maryland?
“Planting trees in Cumberland,” answers Molly Alton Mullins, communications director for the Chesapeake Bay Trust., “benefits the rest of the watershed because it soaks up nutrients and pollutants before they enter any stream or river. Every stream or river affects the Chesapeake Bay.”
Cumberland joined Baltimore, Annapolis, Hyattsville and the Herring Run Watershed Association of Baltimore in receiving a total of almost $200,000 in so-called tree canopy grants. The trust says that the grants are intended to help Maryland meet its clean water obligations under the inter-state Chesapeake 2000 Agreement.
The grants will assist communities in either implementing a tree planting program, assessing management plans, or both. Implementation includes transporting and planting large trees.
Chesapeake Bay Trust officials said they selected the five grant winners based on their level of commitment. Annapolis, for example, has already set out to increase urban tree canopy from 41 percent to 50 percent by 2036, according to the trust.
The trust’s new Greening Grant program comes less than a week after the inter-state Chesapeake Bay Executive Council agreed to formulate a plan by next year to identify and protect woodlands most beneficial to bay water quality.
Both initiatives are taking off against a backdrop of increasing development and tree depletion. The bay watershed’s forests are disappearing at a rate of 100 acres per day, according to The Conservation Fund, adding to the pressures on the already polluted Chesapeake.
David O’Neill, the trust’s executive director, cautions that the bay’s fastest growing threat comes from an increase in storm water runoff, a direct outcome, he said, of development.
Harmful pollutants such as nitrogen and phosphorous have plagued the bay by forming algae, which prevents sunlight from reaching bay grasses and sucks up oxygen the ecosystem depends on. The trust is a non-profit organization that receives contributions from the tax check-off on the Maryland income tax return and from sales of the commemorative “Treasure the Chesapeake” license plates. Over the past 20 years, the organization has provided about $15 million in grants for bay education and programs to create marshes and wetlands; planting trees and bay grasses; and restoring oyster and fish populations.