Chesapeake Outdoors by C. D. Dollar

 Vol. 10, No. 2

January 10-16, 2002

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The Uses of Open Land

A few miles past the maze of construction barriers and confusing new traffic patterns snarling vehicles headed southbound on Route 2 rests some of Arundel County’s last stands of open space. Here, horse pastures and cropland offer a refreshing respite from the sameness proliferated by the ever-encroaching strip-mall and fast-food culture.

These undeveloped tracts are dwindling fast all over Chesapeake Country, straining habitat needs of wildlife species from songbirds to deer to waterfowl. The legions of Canada geese that winter in our watershed rely heavily on these areas for food, including wheat, rye and remnants of corn and soybeans. The resultant crop damage, however, is significant, placing a financial burden on farmers facing an already shaky future.

This year, following three good breeding years for geese in Canadian provinces, Maryland wildlife biologists recommended that the state re-open Canada goose hunting, in part to alleviate some of these pressures on farmers. Hunters took to the field eager to renew a Chesapeake tradition, and they haven’t been disappointed.

Perched atop a gently rolling knoll near Lothian, I watched vibrant streaks of magenta, violet and amber wash away the night. The full-bodied decoys silhouetted against the new dawn as my friend Karl Roscher and I, guests of Kevin Colbeck, hunkered down in the portable blinds to wait the morning flight.

A short time later, the birds were making their way from the watery roosts of the Rhode River to the fields to feed. With goose call singing out, Kevin worked the birds into range. But several weeks of heavy hunting pressure had made them cagey, and they didn’t light to us the first pass. The big honkers craned their necks and clearly were wary of the feint. But by 9am, each of us had taken our allotted bird.

For many years, Colbeck guided clients for waterfowl, and when the goose season opened back up you’d think he’d get back into it full bore. But his habitat restoration company, SMGC, part of a small yet specialized wave of new entrepreneurship, has kept him busy planting warm-season grasses and other buffers for landowners and farmers taking part in state and federal restoration programs.

The state’s Rural Legacy Program and the federal-state Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program just might be the ticket to help farmers and landowners resist the pressure to sell their land for development. By providing attractive yearly cash payments to those willing to voluntarily take environmentally sensitive land out of agricultural production, we can protect and restore key natural filters, like wetlands and stream buffers.

Sadly, most of South County’s rural landscape — much of rural Maryland for that matter — has already been divvied up for housing, golf courses and the prerequisite strip malls. Idyllic settings are not good just for the environment but also for our spirit and quality of life. I for one am willing to pay my fair share for that.

Birds Are Flying
With only two weeks remaining in the 2001-2002 waterfowl seasons, goose hunting has been far more reliable than gunning for ducks. Freezing temperatures have locked up some smaller tributaries, but hunters willing to walk into small ponds and bust a hole have been rewarded with a brace of widgeon or pintails.

January is also the month for bird counts. It will be interesting to see how this year’s numbers stack up to 2001, in which 533 active nests with 813 eaglets, the highest number in the region in 23 years, were counted.

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly