Burton on the Bay

Vol. 8, No. 16
April 20-26, 2000
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Earth Day? Who Cares

Whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster.

		“The Raven” Edgar Allen Poe, 1809-1849

Those words struck home the other day when I took a walk along the east side of the first point of land up here in Stoney Creek in North County. Disaster was evident; also evident was that unmerciful disaster would follow fast and faster.

The human beavers are at work. Secretly, they cut the trees and anything else that grows on the steep bank that drops to the water a long cast from its confluence with the Patapsco River not far to the north from where Francis Scott Key penned “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Some neighbors want to see the water, and who can blame them? But at what price?

To clear the trees to see the water, they undermine the intricate web of root systems that holds tight the soil that fights erosion and run-off, which ruins the very same water they want to see.

Those of us who understand the ecological ramifications of clear-cutting on the shores of waters that make up the network of tributaries that feed the Chesapeake have complained to the community association, the county, the state, anyone who will listen. But each spring the cutting resumes.

And each spring it gets worse. The budding tree growth on the land cleared the previous year tries to heal the wounds but is nipped closer to the ground, and any sapling that might have been spared before is cut to the ground. Weeds and shrubs are whacked. Left is exposed soil.

The terrain is steep. In heavy storms water rushes down it, carrying topsoil that ends up in Stoney Creek. Much of it, too, eventually moves into the Patapsco, where rockfish are now spawning for the first time in many decades, and to the Chesapeake itself.

Look north across Stoney Creek, and you see what happened on that shore, which was until the early ’80s forested land. But people wanted to live on the water, see the water. Development came and what you see is what’s left of a once natural shoreline. I wonder, are we coming to this?

We’re told permits are needed to cut trees of more than three inches in diameter in sensitive areas lining the Bay, and one doesn’t need a ruler to know these were stumps of trees with much more girth than that.

But these trees were getting tall enough to obscure the view from homes, so they had to go. The roots of these still hold the soil on the bank, but eventually they will rot away. The slope will be much more vulnerable from the wash of heavy storms.

Nearby is one large dying tree. It doesn’t sprout enough leaves to obscure the view, so it has been spared. Several times I have seen an eagle perched on its uppermost limbs watching for a fish dinner from the creek.

This tells the story. Just about anything that grows is cut. It’s almost as if some want to create a beach from their back yards to the creek. Anything in between must go.

Alas, they might get what they want if the degradation continues. But what they get might not be really what they want.

In heavy storms, Stoney Creek turns wild with whitecaps that wash away the sandy shoreline and will weaken eventually the vulnerable infrastructure — and the wide creek will move closer to their homes.

Though spared for the time being, the skinny strip of remaining trees is threatened by tires of mountain bikes that tear up emerging vegetation and expose the bare soil so precariously close to the creek. Gone soon will be the understory frequented by bobwhite quail and other wildlife.

Moguls have been built by bike riders to make their sport more exciting, and their trails are becoming another conduit for washing more sediment into the creek.

It is April, the month of Arbor Day and Earth Day, and all of this is what I see. And I wonder, who cares? I wonder, too, where are the county and state guardians of the Chesapeake while this is going on?

Copyright 2000
Bay Weekly