Stalking Four- Evolved Chesapeake Ethic

My ethic regarding the Chesapeake Bay has evolved over the course of the semester, maturing and expanding past simply using the resource carefully and trying to learn more about the issues surrounding it, to largely fall under the category of responsible citizenship. As a citizen, I should not only be aware of the issues, continue to learn more about them, and care about my personal use of the Bay. I should also be concerned with how other people in the watershed act and the ways in which various levels of government work on ensuring that the Bay is used more responsibly and cleaning it up; then I need to get involved on multiple levels. Making personal changes is a good start, but I would like to engage on more community based and political levels as well, following my Chesapeake Ethic and fulfilling my role as a responsible citizen. During the last segment of this semester we have focused on the resources and regulations aspect of the Chesapeake. By examining this topic through the lens of food, I have been able to gain the perspectives of the provider mindset of food producers, the ethics of food, and responsible consumerism, which provide us with a better and more complex understanding of the Chesapeake and responsible citizenship.

When visiting the Davis brothers’ poultry operation and talking with waterman, Mark Connolly, in order to learn how they felt about regulations in their industries, we were provided with the insight of how they saw themselves as providers. In a conversation about the ethics of mass producing animals for food and the consequent pollution created from their waste, Mr. Olin Davis said that he believed they were doing something amazing as poultry farmers: helping to feed the world (personal communication, 2015). Mr. Connolly espoused similar sentiments in saying that he, “feed[s] people for a living” (personal communication, 2015). In both cases it was understood that the farmers and waterman felt that they knew how to take care of the resources provided by the land and water best in order to fulfill the noble deed of feeding people, and that the bad reputation their industries receive are due to a few bad farmers and watermen. Thus, we discovered a new reason why they didn’t agree with some regulations. Learning about this provider mindset helped add dimension to the basic, dichotomous idea that farmers and watermen are either treated unfairly by regulations while they try to make a living or not regulated harshly enough because they damage our environment just to make a profit.

Ethics regarding food production and consumption ran even deeper with some of the people we met, the exploration of which further deepens our understanding of the Chesapeake. When we asked Judy Gifford, a small dairy farm owner in Kent County, MD, if she chooses to pasture raise her cows for ethical reasons, she was hesitant to say yes out of caution for labeling other dairy farmers as unethical. However, she did say that in this method of farming, her cows got to be outside in the sunshine and “act like cows” by participating in herd behavior (personal communication, 2015). Her refusal to “think mechanically about the land and its creatures” exemplifies the connection between the land and agriculture that Wendell Berry promotes in Renewing Husbandry (2005).

On the consumption side of food ethics, we learned the power that consumers have in making positive change within the Bay by demanding food that is treated more humanely and grown more healthfully. At Steinweg Port Facility in Baltimore, MD, we witnessed a warehouse containing 15,000 tons of organic animal feed to produce organic beef. The port invested an immense amount of money in the ability to receive, house, and transport this commodity, which shows that being a responsible consumer, which is part of being a responsible citizen, does have the ability to make a difference. The perspective of food ethics helps us better understand how we can change and improve the Chesapeake by replacing mechanical farming with husbandry and being a responsible consumer.

Throughout this exploration of resources and regulations, we have developed a better and more complex understanding of the Chesapeake and of responsible citizenship, the foundation for my evolved Chesapeake Ethic, through the perspectives of the provider mindset many food producers have, food ethics, and responsible consumerism. These perspectives have added new dimensions to classic debates over regulations, and increased understanding of how to produce and use resources more ethically and in a more environmentally responsible manner. This deeper understanding of the Chesapeake enables me to become engaged in various levels of active citizenship in order to help improve the health of Bay.


Stalking Three: Natural Harmony Makes Better Management

Belize, a coastal Central American country that is slightly smaller than the state of Massachusetts only recently gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1981 and has a growing population that is currently estimated to be 347,369. This young country, however, has a long history of exploiting and overharvesting natural resources such as timber. Today, Belize’s primary source of income is tourism, followed by exports of crude oil, marine products, sugar, and citrus, respectively (CIA World Factbook). By examining Belizean timber resource management and agricultural techniques that work with nature to improve environmental conditions after historic overharvesting and degradation, we can better understand the need for such practices in the Chesapeake watershed of America.

Historic timber exploitation and overharvesting of fisheries, which continues today, are two examples of industries that have caused extensive environmental degradation. As far back as the 1600’s, logwood trees were extracted from coastal Belizean forests for the production of a popular European dye in such high demand that the Spanish brought African slaves to Belize to sustain the supply. By 1780 the market for logwood had declined significantly and mahogany, an inland species, became the main export. More slaves were brought to Belize for labor, and roads and even a short railway were implemented to make logging feasible. Mahogany was in high demand, extraction was greedy, and the resource quickly became depleted (Bridgewater, 162).

Traditionally, only the largest mahogany trees were harvested, which was unsustainable because the species needs significant sunlight and disturbance to regenerate. So the management practice of a monocylcic system was put in place in the 1990’s, where eighty blocks of 500 hectares each were divided up and two blocks are completely harvested every year. This creates a forty-year logging cycle that is sustainable and still allows 1,000 hectares of mahogany to be harvested annually. Other practices, such as leaving at least ten reproductively capable trees per 100 hectares and not harvesting trees greater than one hundred centimeters in diameter to ensure the quality of future generations are required (Bridgewater, 174). Instead of just taking what we want without regard for ecological repercussions or forcing a completely unnatural system onto a ecosystem to obtain specific economic services, these management practices take into account the biological needs of the species and in doing so, create a sustainable industry.

Mimicking the natural growth process of the tropical forest is another technique used in some of Belize’s agriculture. Ecoagriculture, such as agroforesty, focuses on integrating “biodiversity, conservation, livelihoods, and productivity in agricultural landscapes,” (Schroth and Socorro, 2007). So instead of using slash and burn techniques in an area and then planting a crop of one species that will quickly deplete the soil nutrients and require a lot of intensive agriculture to be productive, ecoagriculture takes into account the health of the ecosystem. By planting multiple species of varying canopy heights, a farmer can take advantage of the vertical structure and increase their production of different crops, as well as create more habitat for other species. These are just a few of the many benefits of ecoagriculture, but they highlight both the ecological significance and economic benefit of wedding ecology with economy.

In the Chesapeake we have created a trade-off between the health of the bay and economic production, specifically in agriculture. There are some best management practices encouraged with monetary incentives from the government such as planting cover crops, implementing controlled drainage structures, and buffer zones, but they are not enough. When compared to the amount of land within the watershed that is used for monoculture crops like corn and soybeans, the effects of these practices seem negligible. What we need are management practices that work with nature, instead of imposing artificial systems that create a chain of problems- for example, we add fertilizer to cornfields to fix nutrient depletion from the soil, which then runs off into the bay and contributes to eutrophication. In Preserving Wildness, Wendell Berry says that, “Looking at the monocultures of industrial civilization, we yearn with a kind of homesickness for the humanness and the naturalness of a highly diversified, multipurpose landscape,” ( 529). In the Chesapeake watershed we need to discover management practices for resource extraction and agriculture that work in harmony with the ecosystem to improve and preserve our environment since monoculture is unnatural and overly demanding.

Works Cited:

Berry, Wendell. (1987). Preserving Wildness. Collection of Essays.

Bridgewater, Samuel. (2012). Belize: Inside the Maya Forest.

CIA World FactBook. Website.

Stalking Two- What’s it Worth?

Collectively, people of the Western world like to know how much things are worth. We use terms like ‘getting our money’s worth’ and ‘bang for the buck’ on a daily basis, and brand names and price tags are everywhere we look! Advertisements are always telling us we will pay less for something that is worth more, and expensive clothes, watches, and cars are considered symbols of status in our consumer-focused world. Dollar signs are a form of communication that expresses our collective agreement on the worth of things- what someone is willing to pay for a good or service is tangible and uniform in this way. When we view the environment, most of the time we value it based on what it can do for us; provide us with resources or a vacation spot, or even childhood memories. However, you can’t pay for anything with childhood memories. By assigning economic value to ecosystem services, we are able to better advocate for responsible management and conservation of our environment and its resources, but we risk promoting an artificial concept of wildness and naturalness.

Ecosystem services are the benefits that humans receive from ecosystems. Provisioning services, the products we gain, such as food, timber, and natural medicines are the most obvious category. However, ecosystems also provide us with regulating services such as pollination and climate and disease regulation, supporting services that are necessary for the production of all other services, such as soil formation and nutrient cycling, and, cultural services. This last category may seem rather abstract, but ecosystems provide the people who are part of them with cultural heritage, sense of place, recreation and specific education, which are all very important in why we value our environment (Alcamo, 2003).

Now, if we consider a favorite camping spot from our childhood, we understand that the aspects we enjoyed about it- easy to find firewood, lots of squirrels to look at, a beautiful view, many great memories- all fall under one or more of the categories of ecosystem services. If the owner of that campground or spot were to consider selling it to be developed, it wouldn’t be enough to list those things we value about it as reasons why the owner shouldn’t sell. We would have to explain the economic worth of the site; that is what economic valuation is: “Valuation of ecosystem services can provide evidence of the importance of sustaining and enhancing those resources and the ecosystems that provide them” (Gabrowski, 2012, pg 900).

While the concept of pricing the exact worth of ecosystems like oyster reefs or places we love like our favorite camping spot may seem artificial or even impossible, it is an important tool for putting difficult concepts into uniform units of worth that can help us advocate for conservation of our environment (Gabrowski). For example, politicians probably aren’t going to be interested in contributing to conservation efforts for oyster reef habitat if you just tell them that oysters “help counteract anthropogenic nitrogen loading” (Gabrowski, 2012, pg 901). But, if you can calculate how many kilograms of nitrogen a square meter of oyster reef removes from the water every year and multiply that times the cost of an annual nitrogen removal rate, then you can present the amount of money that would avoid being spent if oyster reefs were conserved, which is much more relatable (Gabrowski).

So, economic valuation of ecosystem services is a very useful tool in managing and conserving our environment and resources, but we can’t take it too seriously. If we actually let ourselves see the world solely through dollar signs and instrumental worth, something that can be bought, or a collection of bills to be paid, we view ourselves as above our environment; in control of it like a cashier is in control of a register. This concept of the natural world, of wildness, is artificial. Ecosystems do not exist to serve us; the environment couldn’t care less about what we gain from it, except that in our taking we negatively affect it. We are a part of the system, caretaker is just one of our many roles-not the only one. In Preserving Wildness, Wendell Berry explains that while we are not completely the same as nature, there is also not a concrete division between nature and humanity either. We depend on wildness, but also “we exist under its dispensation and by its tolerance” (Berry, 1987, pg 517). We should remember this in our efforts to preserve and conserve our environment and its resources, especially through economic valuation of ecosystem services, in order to avoid promoting an artificial concept of how we fit into nature and wildness.

Work Cited:

Alcamo, Joseph et Al. (2003).Ecosystems and Human Well-being: A Framework for Assessment.

Berry, Wendell. (1987). Preserving Wildness. Collection of Essays.

Gabrowski, Jonathan et Al. (2012). Economic Valuation of Ecosystem Services Provided by Oyster Reefs.

When is Good, Bad?

Nutrients, which are essential to the health and growth of organisms, enter the Bay in many different ways, both naturally and artificially. When there are too many nutrients in our ecosystems and waterways though, the result is eutrophication, or nutrient pollution. Nitrogen and phosphorus are the predominant nutrients of concern in the Chesapeake Bay as large amounts of them enter the waterways through runoff from agricultural fields, wastewater treatment plants, and groundwater. When this happens algae blooms explode due to the all-you-can-eat nutrient buffet, and eventually die and float to the bottom. Bacteria that decompose the dead algae consume the oxygen in the water which creates hypoxic and anoxic conditions called dead zones that are not conducive to the life of many organisms. (Hardesty)

A metaphor can be found in the process of eutrophication: too much of a good thing can be detrimental. Using fertilizer on our crops encourages a better yield; too much fertilizer on the other hand contributes to eutrophication through runoff of high levels of nutrients, especially if the field is close to a waterway. Human involvement in engineering answers for natural problems can also be considered good to an extent but the same rule applies; there are instances when our intervention and problem solving techniques go too far and result in harm, directly or indirectly.

Aquaculture in the form of oyster farming is an example of  a good application of human involvement in coming up with a solution for a natural problem. (Even though the low oyster population in the Bay is due to anthropogenic causes such as overharvesting and introduction of the diseases Dermo and MSX.) By farming tripoloids, a sterile version of oyster that grows more quickly and has proven to be less susceptible to catching disease, pressure is reduced for the demand of wild oysters. This gives the population more of a chance to rebound.  It also provides more filtering power that removes nitrogen from the Bay and firm structure for other critters like barnacles and sea cucumbers. (Livie)

In contrast, the Conowingo Dam may have more negative effects than positive and therefore crossed the line,  becoming too much of a good thing. While hydroelectric power is a great source of green energy, the dam prevents the annual migration of fish such as American Shad and eel. It alters the environment by increasing the speed of waterflow and catches sediment from the upper Susquehana river. This sediment is periodically scoured during heavy rains and strorms, washing downstream into the Bay and taking a lot of nutrients like Nitrogen with it.

This precarious balance between helpfulness and harmfulness of human involvement brings into question the inseparability of humans from the wild, as I considered in my last post. I think the answer is finding solutions that are sustainable.

Seeing is Caring

In preparation for our upcoming Journey in which we will explore the environmental changes from mountains to ocean within the Bay watershed, I began thinking about the immense amount of change the Chesapeake Bay has seen in its time. Earlier I wrote about how changes in the built environment, such as in architecture, indicated a cultural shift in the tidewater. However, the built environment also causes changes in the natural environment. Some of these changes have observable aspects, which are important in alerting us of much deeper, more complex issues, but also create a more emotional reaction to the decline in the Bay’s health.

Murky, brown water after a heavy rain is a visible effect of large amounts of sediment being washed into the estuary, for example. Seeing this change in the environment leads us to examine what the effects of large amounts of sediment entering our tributaries are, and why it is happening. One of the top three pollutants of the Bay, sediment runoff increases turbidity, which limits the amount of light that can reach the bottom of tributaries and prevents subaquatic vegetation from growing. It can also kill oysters by clogging their filtration systems. Just these two effects alone can result in a decrease in water quality. What are the sources of sediment runoff? Aside from natural erosion, barren crop fields, construction sites, and dirt roads are the biggest components. (Dr. Fox’s lecture)

We must use these visual cues from the natural environment to inspect our built environment and see where we can improve. Best management practices like planting cover crops after growing seasons are over and investing in controlled drainage structures, and personal practices like upgrading old septic systems and using less lawn fertilizer are all helpful ways to lessen the negative effects of our built environment. As Wendell Berry proposes in Preserving Wildness, we cannot separate ourselves from our environment in order to preserve it, instead we must create a loving economy that “rewards and enforces good use” and “place[s] a proper value on all the materials of the world…from soil and water, air and light to the finished goods” (Berry 523). By paying or cutting costs with farmers to implement these practices, the government is trying to reward them for helping to reduce negative effects of our built environment. Unfortunately, this does not help people place value on the soil or water, and that is the vital component in restoring the Bay’s health. Seeing dead fish due to low oxygen levels is much more likely to get people to care about eutrophication than reading articles about it in the Bay Journal.

Wild All Around Us

When you think of the wilderness, what comes to mind? Is it a dark forest full of tall pine trees and howling wolves? How about a natural place that hasn’t been noticeably altered by humans? When you search the term wilderness on Google Images, the first several lines of results are of beautiful scenery, completely devoid of people. You have to scroll down pretty far through the mountains, fields of flowers, forests, and waterfalls to find any pictures with someone in them, and even then only single individuals are depicted, dwarfed by their surroundings. So what is the deal with wilderness? William Cronon, an environmental historian, proposes that it is merely a cultural invention in The Trouble With Wilderness.

Photo by Kirstin Webb

Cronon explains that people used to be afraid of the wild in its rawest form because that is where the “boundaries between human and nonhuman, between natural and supernatural, had always seemed less certain than elsewhere” (Cronon, 4). That it was a place where you could either meet the Devil or glimpse the face of God, both of which were terrifying possibilities. It brings to mind Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, in which young girls in a Puritan settlement are accused of witchcraft after dancing naked in the forest. Even more relevant, it is reminiscent of the first settlers in Jamestown! They considered the natives savages and built a fort to protect themselves from the wilderness and who, or what, might live in it. In the second half of the nineteenth century, however, things changed. Nature was still considered a sacred place, but instead of being revered for being sublime it became, and remains to be, a quiet sanctuary from the happenings of civilization and modern society.

Opened in 1872, Yellowstone was the first national park in the United States. It highlights the contradictory nature of our notion of wilderness because it is supposed to be free from human influence, yet humans ultimately decided whether or not to preserve it. Our hands are always in the equation in that sense, but our eyes are usually averted. We picture wilderness as a pristine place unaltered by human activity, conveniently forgetting that there were people on these lands long before Europeans arrived.

By romanticizing the wild as a sort of utopia, yet also excluding ourselves from its definition, we create a problematic dichotomy of good and bad. What is left of uninhabited wilderness being the good, and everything else being the bad. This results in the mindset that if how we live is neither pure nor wild, and cannot become so, then there is no point in trying to preserve or improve our environmental conditions. Why should people care about restoring vital habitats or reducing pollutants in the Chesapeake Bay? So many people live in the watershed that it cannot ever be completely restored, but donations to places like Shenandoah National Park can keep them protected and preserved!

Instead of idealizing the wild as a remote place separated from ourselves, we should consider it as just another part of the environment in which we live. The wood ducks in the Bay’s wetlands and the squirrels in your backyard are just as wild as the grizzly bears in Alaska, the only difference is that they have adapted to coexist with us, and us with them. If we saw our environment in this way, greater value would be placed on protecting and preserving the land on which we live as well as the land that we don’t, and Google Images might bring up a picture of a family fishing on the Chester river when you searched wilderness.

Photo by Kirstin Webb

Stalking One: One Story or Two?

What a house is made of and how it is constructed reveal both the cultural values and available technologies of a time and place. Since architecture physically embodies these things we are able to gain insight into the beliefs and behaviors of people in the past through archaeology. When coupling this understanding of the changes in the built environment with the changes of labor mechanisms, we can determine a cultural shift in how colonists viewed themselves and their environment.

Photo Credit:

In the seventeenth century the houses were considered impermanent architecture because they were post-in-ground structures; there wasn’t a raised foundation, just basic wood framing covered in wattle and daub, with the posts buried in the ground, and a chimney and thatch roof. The insides of these folk houses were usually similar, with a large common room for cooking and daily life and sometimes a room where the residents would sleep. In smaller houses they would just sleep in the big room called the hall (Seidel).

The impermanence of the construction speaks to the mindset of the colonists. They were coming from England to make a profit and return home; they didn’t expect to be here long, so they didn’t go to much trouble in building lasting structures. Additionally, the steep, thatch roofs show that the colonists brought what they knew about house design with them from England since the steepness had no real advantage in the Chesapeake and required more timber to produce. The thatch roofing was also eventually replaced with shingles because the climate wasn’t as wet as it was in England, and the roofs often caught fire. The lack of privacy in these homes suggests a collective English identity, an us-against-the-world ideal where households had to stick together to make their fortune and return back to England.

After tobacco became a staple crop and indentured servitude gave way to slavery, which was a better long-term investment for planters, it is possible that the colonists developed more of a connection to the land, even if they just planned to be there temporarily for profit. For example, switching to slavery meant they wouldn’t have to give up any land to freed servants, showing that the settlers now saw long-term value in the land and saw themselves as the ones deserving to reap those rewards instead of just raiding land that wasn’t theirs.

In the eighteenth century there was the Georgian revolution when large, square, brick houses were built. They were very symmetrical on the outside and had a hallway on the inside with lots of separate rooms branching off of it, and personal bedrooms upstairs (Seidel). This established a permanent presence and dominance of the environment, as well as a sense of individualism. It was also a symbol of high status to be up to date with English fashions and styles, so there was still a connection to England, but as these kinds of houses appeared a separate identity seemed to emerge. Settlers of the New World were cozying down for good and in doing so became a group of people distinctly different from the British money-seekers of the past who came and left, and especially different from those English men and women who had never left the United Kingdom at all.

At the same time, the shift from tobacco to corn and wheat in the northern parts of the Chesapeake tidewater resulted in another shift in labor mechanisms. Slaves were freed and milldams and waterwheels were created to grind the corn for example. This shows even more direct control of their environment than having slaves cultivate crops because of the pure manipulation of natural resources to capture energy. In conjunction with the Georgian style houses, it is obvious that the colonists viewed themselves as the primary owners and rulers of the land.

Some of the colonists’ views did not change, however. For example, they didn’t ever see the intrinsic value of the land, only its instrumental value in potentially obtaining them profit (McCabe). They also didn’t seem to have an ethical issue with exploiting and owning other humans; instead they turned a blind eye to ensure that they had cheap labor and felt none the worse of themselves. John Burroughs would say those people were victims of petrification due to their lack of love and sympathy, that they became, “hard and callous, crusted over with customs and conventions,” (Burroughs 147).

Overall though, there is an evolution of colonists’ view of themselves and their environment from English citizens raiding the resources of a new land to a distinct group of permanent settlers who own and control the land. This can be seen through the changes in their built environment and their labor mechanisms.

Work Cited:

Burroughs, John. (1908). The Art of Seeing Things. Originally appeared in Leaf and Tendril. Pg147.

McCabe, Matthew. (2015). Introduction to Environmental Ethics [lecture].

Seidel, John. (2015). Tidewater Architecture and Town Planning [Powerpoint Slides].