In Southern Maryland, being ‘green’ is a way of life

April 27, 2011

With an economy that draws heavily on fisheries and boating tourism, Southern Maryland has a personal investment in being green. Citing land preservation and water quality as priorities, county officials and environmental advocates say the challenge is not in community efforts, but in spreading the word to newer residents.

“Education and outreach continue to be the biggest challenges,” said Greg Bowen, Calvert County’s director of planning and zoning and chairman of the county’s Green Team, a group of representatives appointed to promote a “green” agenda. “Southern Maryland has a large percentage of residents that have lived here less than 10 years. Many have never been out on the waterways. They haven’t learned the importance of protecting these valuable resources.”

Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s counties all have groups that sponsor annual Green Expos, where residents and local businesses come together to celebrate and educate each other about sustainable living. Calvert’s citizens Green Team is putting together a publication called “From Our Back Yard to the Bay,” which will outline the community’s green efforts and offer tips for adapting more sustainable practices.

Karen Edgecomb, executive director of the American Chestnut Land Trust, one of Calvert’s five land trusts, said the group’s chief interest is in preserving the Parkers Creek Watershed. Since its founding in 1986, the Chestnut Land Trust has preserved more than 3,000 acres of land that will never be developed. Now, it is concentrating on making that land accessible.

“We have 15 miles of hiking trails and are currently in the process of building a new one that will connect Prince Frederick to the Chesapeake,” she said. “We’re hoping the ribbon cutting will be Earth Day next year.”

Len Zuza, who owns and operates the Southern Maryland Oyster Cultivation Society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to restoring the area’s oyster population, said the region has long been ahead of the green game, particularly in water efforts.

“These counties have been conducting water quality studies in Solomons Harbor and the bay for 20 years,” he said, adding that the counties take the Environmental Protection Agency’s standards very seriously.

“One three-inch oyster can filter more than 50 gallons of water in one day,” he said. “They screen out contaminants and help keep water clean.”

The society, which stresses that all of its oysters “stay on the bottom,” is striving for 4 million live oysters from the Patuxent River to the Chesapeake Bay for the purpose of filtering water. Members will be planting 2 million young oysters this summer with support from a St. Leonard business called Johnny Oyster Seed.

“Maryland’s oyster mortality rate has vastly improved since 2002,” he said.

Patuxent Riverkeeper Fred Tutman said that although the area’s communities have good intentions, there’s still more work to do.

“There is a growing sense of awareness, but it is still not sufficient,” he said. “Being greener doesn’t just mean broadening the circle of people who are talking about it or being selective about where we go green. It is a real lifestyle adjustment.”

Tutman said he wants to see sustainable living depart from its “niche” role so that it is not in constant competition with options that are more convenient or inexpensive.

“It’s like the organic section of the supermarket. It’s great, but it doesn’t replace the lousy, unhealthy food on the shelf — it just satisfies another niche. Ultimately, the cheap stuff is too compelling,” he said. “It is the reason people say, ‘I’d like to eat organic but I can’t afford to.’ Accommodating a niche does not solve a problem.”

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