Come on, Get Sappy: Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers and Why Everyone Should Bird

by Adreon Hubbard

I didn’t used to think birdy thoughts on a regular basis. Like most people, I didn’t own a pair of good binoculars or know much about birds. After retiring, however, I signed up for a birding class, got a pair of excellent, yet affordable Vortex Diamondback 10 x 42 binoculars, and gained awareness, Matrix-style, of a new reality. Through numerous outings with instructor Marty Brazeau to local natural areas such as Loch Raven, Cromwell Valley, Oregon Ridge, Marshy Point, and with the help of free birding apps like the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Merlin Bird ID and eBird, I gradually learned how to spot and identify a variety of birds by their sounds, appearance, and behavior. Now I take binoculars with me on nearly every walk or trip, even on short jaunts in Overlook Park down the street or while strolling around our bird-friendly yard. 

An interesting species I recently learned about is a lesser-known migratory woodpecker that winters in Maryland and further south, the comically-named Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (YBS.) Its pale yellow belly can be hard to see, because this bird is usually clinging vertically to a tree trunk, busily making horizontal rows of small holes called sapwells, then licking up the oozing sap with its brush-tipped tongue. YBS is the only woodpecker that makes horizontal rows of holes, which I have observed on a variety of local trees. The holes do not damage most trees unless they are already in decline, and a variety of insects and other wildlife feed on the oozing sap, including hummingbirds. Hummingbirds even time their migration north to take advantage of the sapwells’ sweet sustenance. Any insects going to the sap are typically eaten by the YBS as well, before they can harm the tree.

YBS can be harder to see than other woodpeckers due to its mottled feathers blending into the tree bark, and it is relatively quiet. It makes a distinctive mewing sound, however, which can alert you to its presence. Males have a red crown and throat, whereas females have only the red crown. Both have a distinctive white wing stripe and striped face. I recently spotted a pair of them perched on our backyard utility pole. “No sap there,” I thought. Perhaps they were after insects hiding in the many holes and crevices, or perhaps they were just resting and posing for me to enjoy!

Thankfully, YBS is one of only 39% of bird species globally that are not in decline. North American bird populations have plummeted by three billion birds in the last 50 years due to habitat loss, collisions with glass, predation by outdoor cats, and other factors. Only when we notice and appreciate birds can we begin to work to support their continued existence. I highly recommend giving birding a try!

Resources

Marty Brazeau’s April, 2024 Costa Rica birding tour may still have openings: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=21IfZ2xz0L8 

Email Marty at tropicbirder56@gmail.com for questions about the trip or upcoming CCBC birding classes.

Consider joining the Baltimore Bird Club to connect with birders and ongoing birding outings https://mdbirds.org/join/chapters/baltimore-bird-club/

Visit https://abcbirds.org/ to learn more about birds and threats to birds. This group has many excellent, free bird webinars on youtube.

My email is hubbardesol@gmail.com for any questions on supporting birds.

Adreon Hubbard is a member of Green Towson Alliance. Besides birding, she leads a group that removes invasive plants from Overlook Park in Towson. A version of this article originally appeared in the February 2024  Idlewylde Newsletter.

Male Yellow-bellied sapsucker
Male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Female yellow-bellied sapsucker
Female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Horizontal rows of holes, called sapwells, made by Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers
on a tree in Baltimore.
Marty Brazeau, my inspiring birding instructor, at Loch Raven Reservoir.

Photos of the Yellow-bellied sapsuckers, courtesy of All About Birds.
The photos of the tree and birding instructor were taken by Adreon Hubbard.

Green Towson Alliance discovers sanitary sewer overflow below the Lake Roland Dam after heavy rains on Tuesday, January 9th

  

Sanitary sewage debris at a sewer “stack” and its manhole cover lying on the ground were discovered on January 10 by a volunteer from Green Towson Alliance (GTA). The overflow near the banks of the Jones Falls was reported to Blue Water Baltimore, Baltimore County Department of Public Works and Transportation (DPWT) and Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE). Wednesday’s discovery was in the same area where GTA volunteers found a Sanitary Sewer Overflow (SSO) in 2019.

The current overflow coincides with Baltimore County Council’s pending approval of the 2023 Triennial Review of the Water Supply and Sewerage Master Plan (W&SMP). GTA issued a statement in September calling for the Council to amend the W&SMP to require an independent review of the information and methods used by DPWT to determine whether public sewerage facilities are adequate to support new development and a moratorium on approvals until recommended changes are implemented.  

GTA and other advocates have challenged whether there are adequate sanitary sewerage facilities in the Jones Falls Sewershed (JFS) since 2016. Baltimore City and County are under Consent Decrees which require elimination of all SSOs. A 2012 study by consultants described work needed to prevent JFS overflows, but the recommended improvements are incomplete leaving system capacity undetermined. GTA estimates almost 2.2 million square feet of development have been built in the JFS since the 2012 study with more development in the queue. The SSOs found by GTA are just downstream from the dam at Lake Roland, which is where consultants predicted the biggest SSOs from large storms would occur. 

DPWT reviews each development proposal for adequate sanitary sewer, but their reviews do not consider MDE requirements to account for how much stormwater enters the system through defects in pipes. In Baltimore County, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) makes the final decision to approve new development. In 2023, the ALJ denied approval of Greenspring Manor, a proposal for 61 new homes in the JFS because of expert testimony that there are not adequate facilities to safely convey the sewerage to a treatment plant. Bluestem, a mixed-use development, was denied for the same reason in 2019. DPWT continues to approve new development and refuses to acknowledge errors in its methods.  

Wednesday’s SSO is evidence that the pipes cannot contain the current volume of sewage that occurs during heavy storms, much less additional flow from new development. Storms are more frequent and more intense in the Mid-Atlantic due to climate change. Overflows are a costly and dangerous threat to public health and aquatic life and violate the Consent Decree, as well as state and local water quality laws. 

Environmental laws are intended to provide equal protection for the public. Currently in Baltimore County, only citizens with the awareness and resources to hire attorneys and expert witnesses can effectively oppose new developments that will further overwhelm the sewer system. 

The GTA statement has garnered broad support from community associations and environmental organizations including Blue Water Baltimore and Sierra Club Maryland Greater Baltimore Group.

Leave the Leaves: Less Work, More Ecological Benefit

by Adreon Hubbard

A walk or bike ride through Towson’s many charming neighborhoods makes a tree-lover really happy. So many yards are filled with trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants, in addition to the more traditional mowed grassy areas. This past fall, more than 300 native trees, including Bald Cypress, Black Gum, Fringetree, Willow and Northern Red Oak, Redbud, River Birch, Sweetbay Magnolia, Sycamore, and Tuiliptree were planted in Towson neighborhoods through our partnership with Blue Water Baltimore. Yay! Most people seem to agree that trees provide many benefits, including shade, cooling, cleaner air, stormwater and erosion control, pollutant filtering, habitat, and beauty.

Volunteers at work, planting native trees in a community park in West Towson.

There seems to be less agreement about what to do with all those leaves when they fall. The simple answer is–as the meme says–“leave the leaves.” Leaf “litter,” as it is so inappropriately called, returns nutrients to the soil, insulates plant roots, and provides critical overwintering and nesting habitat for many species of beneficial insects, including bees, fireflies, many butterfly species, and beautiful moths such as the ethereal Luna moth.

We tend to think of insects only when we see them in their adult form in the warm months while giving little thought to how they get through the winter. Unlike the famous migrating monarch butterflies, most species hunker down for the winter out of sight as either a larva, pupa, or adult in leaf litter, under the soil, or in crevices and nooks and crannies. Many of them unfortunately get killed when we blast the leaves with blowers or put them in plastic bags and get rid of dead plant stalks. Mulching the leaves with a mower puts nutrients back in the soil but also kills the insects. Populations of insects, and birds who depend on them, have plummeted in the last 50 years. Our yard practices matter because there just isn’t enough habitat “out there” anymore.

Since I retired and am home during the week, I notice the lawn services with their noisy leaf blowers removing every leaf from some properties. I take out my hearing aids and ponder ways to spread the message about insects and leaf litter. If you have a thick carpet of leaves, especially Oak or Holly leaves that can take years to break down, consider ditching the leaf blower or lawn service and instead gently raking some of the leaves into your plant beds or into piles in a far corner of the yard–your “wild area.” Get the kids involved–like the group of kids I saw in my neighborhood today squealing with delight while making and jumping in “the world’s biggest leaf pile.”

I would like to add that seeing your yard as habitat instead of just “lawn” or “landscape” is incredibly fun and rewarding. For example, on my daily rounds in the yard the other day, I unexpectedly discovered a large yellow-green and pink caterpillar with horns on its backside crawling on the native Blackhaw Viburnum shrub. I took a photo and uploaded it to the iNaturalist app, which identified it as a Hummingbird Clearwing moth larva in its final instar before pupating in the soil just under leaf litter. I had seen the fascinating native Hummingbird Clearwing moth before, but never the caterpillar, which feeds on the leaves of a variety of trees. Since I had placed only mulch at the base of the shrub, I went off to gather leaves from under the Pin Oak tree in front. By the time I had completed this task, the caterpillar had disappeared! Hopefully it either found another plant to eat or successfully pupated and burrowed through the thin mulch layer (no “mulch volcanoes” in our yard!)

Many neighbors tell me that they leave at least some of their leaves and laugh about being “lazy gardeners.” If you are not a “lazy gardener,” I hope I’ve inspired you to think about leaves as habitat and allow at least some of your leaves to lie where they fall or gently rake them into your garden beds. You may even be inspired to leave seed heads of your flowers for the birds, spent stalks for bees to nest in, and a wood pile! In Spring and Summer when you see adult bees, butterflies, and maybe even a Hummingbird Clearwing moth, you will feel good knowing that you helped them.

A Hummingbird Clearwing moth caterpillar in Adreon’s yard. Its head is to the right.
Adult Hummingbird Clearwing moth Adreon saw in Pennsylvania last summer.
 
Adreon placed fall leaves under this Viburnum shrub so the month has a perfect landing
place to pupate and overwinter among the dry leaves.
This yard sign was created by GTA member Nan Wray. Luna Moth on the right.
A No Mow area of Adreon’s yard with pathways and native sedges that hold the leaves nicely
 
The leaves and decomposing log in this plant bed will provide a winter home for many wild creatures.
Close up of another No Mow area with native Bunny Blue Sedge and groundcover plants.
 
Kids playing in leaves in Adreon’s neighborhood.

Adreon Hubbard is a Master Gardener, Master Naturalist, retired teacher, and a member of Green Towson Alliance. She has taken the photographs in this article.

Save Native Bees

Our Pollinators Need You!

Of the 100 crop species that provide 90% of human nutrition, over 70 require bee pollination to produce.  Many people are unaware that native bees are the primary pollinator of most of our food crops or increase yield by significantly supplementing the activity of European honeybees.  To put it simply, native pollinators are critical to producing food for humans and wildlife.  Many of these essential pollinators are rapidly declining because of human causes, and this could begin to threaten our food supply and our very existence.

A large study of all 4,337 North American and Hawaiian native bees has raised serious concerns.The key findings:
   

 Among native bee species with sufficient data to assess, more than half are rapidly declining.

•  Nearly 1 in 4 native bee species is imperiled and at risk of extinction.

The primary causes for the decline in these important insects are loss of habitat, including necessary native plants, and pesticide usage.  With 86% of all land east of the Mississippi in private hands, we need everyone to pitch in to save our bees. 

What can you do?  Avoid using pesticides in your garden and choose native plants, which have coevolved with our wildlife in Maryland for thousands of years.

Need ideas?  Check out Alliance for the Bay for some wonderful plant suggestions.

                     

Bumble bee pollinating crooked-stemmed aster
Photo: Judy Fulton

1https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/campaigns/native_pollinators/pdfs/Pollinators_in_Peril.pdf

This article was written by the Maryland Native Plant Coalition.

164 Volunteers Cleaned Out More than a Ton of Trash from Towson Streams this Spring

Volunteers from neighborhoods all over Towson helped to clean up 2,857 pounds of trash from tributaries of the Herring Run and Roland Run this spring as part of Project Clean Stream for the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay. Every year, Green Towson Alliance organizes these cleanups in Towson, and this year, nine cleanups were held in April.

These youngsters helped look for trash in the Herring Run stream in Overlook Park.
GTA members Kathleen Brady (pictured) and Diane Topper led the Wiltondale Garden Club cleanup in the Wiltondale Community.

Some unusual items pulled out of streams include a street sign, a wet vac, a lampshade, a skateboard ramp, a tire from a wheelbarrow, and a dollar bill.

Volunteers Jason and Wayne Prem found this skateboard ramp in Roland Run.

One of the cleanups concentrated on removing invasive plants from the area around the stream in their neighborhood; many volunteers taking part on the cleanups couldn’t pass by invasive plants like garlic mustard, which is easy to spot and pull, and can be found just about everywhere in the spring in Maryland.

Some of the invasive garlic mustard pulled up at Overlook Park.

Students from Towson University participated in five of the cleanups, as part of the yearly TU “big event” on April 30, in which students go into neighborhoods to help with community projects.

Members of the Towson University Gymnastics Team pitched in at Radebaugh Park and its surrounding neighborhood.
TU students from the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity with the trash they pulled out of the
Roland Run stream in Riderwood.

Since its inception in 2015, Green Towson Alliance volunteers have cleaned out nearly 16 tons of trash from local streams through these annual stream clean-ups. One big change is that we no longer find Styrofoam; its use as carryout containers was banned in Maryland in October, 2020. GTA member Lauren Stranahan coordinated this year’s stream clean-ups.

Some volunteers came equipped with boots and waders.

BEFORE YOU BUILD, THINK ABOUT YOUR TREES!

Planning a construction project at your house? First, consider your trees. They provide you with beauty, shade, and higher property value, so try to plan around them if you can. Design your new room with a view of your tree and the bird house or the feeder and the squirrel’s acrobatics, and the ever-changing display of leaves and branches throughout the season.

To preserve the trees you already have, protect the roots. Tree roots can be damaged easily in the process of home renovation. Weakened roots can lead to slow death for the tree that can take 1 to 5 years to become evident.

If grading your property is necessary for the project, bring in a tree expert before you begin to move dirt. The roots are close to the surface; about 80 per cent of the roots lie less than 24 inches deep. Roots can be buried too deep or destroyed in the process of grading.

Keep heavy items OFF THE ROOTS. Vehicles and supplies can crush the soil, the roots, and the mycelial structures underground that are essential to tree health.

How to do this? Mark out the “critical rootzones” of your trees, and protect the roots inside the zone. This is an invisible circle that runs just outside the drip line of the tree (just inside the edge of the canopy of the tree.) Directions for how to measure this circle are here.

Put a barrier, such as orange construction fence, around the critical root zone to keep off any vehicle, supplies, or other items. Instruct the crew chief that you want to critical root zone protected. If workers must walk or carry equipment over the critical root zone, it should be covered with planks for plywood to minimize crushng or compacting the tree roots.

Water the tree, 20 gallons slowly every week during the growing season to support its health during construction! Apply 3 inches of mulch over the critical root zone, too, to both retain the moisture and indicate that this area is to be protected.

If, despite all precautions, you notice dead sections or branches in an otherwise healthy tree, this can be a sign of root damage. The dead limbs will need to be pruned out to give the tree the best chance to flourish.

Trees add enormous value to our homes and our community. It is wise to plan ahead to ensure that your tree will survive any construction or renovation coming its way.

This article was written by Nancy Colvin and Carol Newill for Stoneleigh’s Greening & Recycling Committee, and published in the Winter 2023 issue of the Stoneleighite.

Mature oak tree next to a home.
A mature tree is truly a thing of beauty and adds so much
to a home, a neighborhood, and our communities’ ecosystem.

A moral obligation to clean up the Chesapeake Bay

By Raymond Heil and Jodi Rose

It’s sobering, but not surprising, to read that the Environmental Protection Agency has found that the pollution reduction goals identified in the 2010 Chesapeake Bay Agreement will not be met. The EPA recommends that a new agreement and timeline be developed over the next year. This is the time for all of us to think about what can be done to help the states in the bay watershed finally achieve a clean Chesapeake Bay.

There are many reasons we are falling short of bay cleanup goals. Among them:

  • Our pre-1980 urban and suburban storm drain systems — our gray infrastructure — are designed to direct polluted stormwater runoff from buildings, roads, parking lots and lawns directly into the streams that empty into the Chesapeake.
  • Over fertilization of lawns and farm fields results in nitrogen and phosphorus polluting the Chesapeake and creating its dead zones.
  • A large portion of the land in the bay watershed is devoted to raising feed for chickens and cows. Streams draining these fertilized lands often lack natural forest buffers and in many areas more manure is produced than can be safely used.

All the major world religions believe that we humans, wherever we live, have a moral obligation to care for the earth. This is the foundation of our mission at Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake. What does moral obligation to care for the earth mean for those of us who live in the Chesapeake Bay watershed? It means that we all have a responsibility to understand how our lifestyles contribute to bay pollution and change our behaviors where needed — all out of respect for those around us for we all share this home together.

This responsibility falls on every person and organization, especially those who own or manage property in the bay watershed, from the owner of a rowhouse to the owners of large parcels of land, such as governments, corporations, universities, school systems, hospitals, retirement communities, shopping malls, farms and, yes, faith-based congregations. All these properties have hard surfaces, extensive lawns or agricultural fields that contribute unfiltered runoff of nitrogen and phosphorus into our waterways. The best way to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in runoff is to capture the rainwater where it falls, and to infiltrate it into the ground. The techniques to achieve this, called “green infrastructure,” include stream buffers, rain gardens, bio-remediation facilities, bio-swales, tree planting, and other techniques, which must be more widely used. Many congregations are already reducing their runoff, and are examples for the rest of us.

We are disappointed that the EPA has not forced the bay states to achieve the goals of their agreement. The bay cleanup program has achieved roughly half of its nitrogen and phosphorus reduction goals using EPA, state and local government programs, such as the stormwater management fee adopted by some Maryland jurisdictions. As strong enforcement of these “top down” initiatives continues, additional gains can be made by organizing a “bottom up” stewardship movement involving all of us.

The results of the 2017 Stewardship Index, sponsored by the Chesapeake Bay Program, found that “71 percent of residents want to do more to make their creeks, rivers and lakes healthier, and 86 percent believe that if people work together, water pollution can be fixed.”

A broad range of grassroots efforts, aimed at all categories of land use, should be organized to help push the bay cleanup effort to achieve its goals. Additional government programs to incentivize this work will be needed. When we reach our pollution reduction goals, engaging the entire growing population of the bay watershed to maintain pollution limits will continue into the future.

We need everyone in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed with responsibility for property of any size to understand and take seriously their duty, not only to themselves, but to their children and grandchildren, to clean up the bay. We urge you to find out what you can do to reduce fertilizer use and to filter stormwater runoff from your property, and to take action to make it happen. IPC is committed to being a part of this grassroots movement.

Raymond Heil (raymondheil@verizon.net) is a board member of Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake; Jodi Rose (jodi@interfaithchesapeake.org) is IPC’s executive director.

This article was originally published as an Op-Ed by the Baltimore Sun.

Green Towson Alliance 2022 Year End Report

2022 was a banner year for Green Towson Alliance. We are pleased to have met many of our goals including planting trees in downtown Towson, helping community associations successfully plant native canopy trees in their neighborhoods, and cleaning trash out of our local streams that feed into the Chesapeake Bay.

Here’s what we accomplished in the past year:

TREES

In partnership with Blue Water Baltimore, GTA helped to coordinate the planting of more than 285 trees in Towson communities in the fall of 2022. Tree stewards worked with their neighborhoods to choose the right native tree for their yard or as a street tree.  The vast majority of these trees are canopy shade trees which can grow at least 60 feet tall and provide much greater environmental benefits than the smaller, understory species.

Tree planting in Anneslie

MORE TREES! DOWNTOWN TOWSON TREE REPLACEMENT

72 trees were planted by Baltimore County in downtown Towson in December. GTA volunteers advocated for years for the replacement of trees that had died or been removed.The County has created a Street Tree Replacement Program that will add 1,300 trees in six concentrated areas. We are delighted that Towson is one of those areas that will benefit from this critical green infrastructure.

Green Towson Alliance members join County Executive John Olszewski and other county officials at the street planting in downtown Towson.

SAVING TREES AND OPEN SPACE

GTA volunteers worked with the Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability (DEPS), the communities, and the developer of the Villas at Woodbrook (on the site of Villa Maria nursing home for the Sisters of Mercy on Bellona Avenue) to provide more open space, and to save a few more large specimen trees.

STREAM CLEAN-UPS

In partnership with the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, GTA organized 216 volunteers to pull 4,570 pounds of trash out of neighborhood streams in the spring of 2022. In many cases, volunteers also pulled invasive plants out of stream beds and the surrounding areas. 

Stream Clean-up at the Loch Raven Library

ADVOCACY FOR NATIVE TREES AND LOCAL PARKS

 Green Towson Alliance testified at the Baltimore County Fiscal Year 2023 Budget hearing, asking the county to increase funding in the following areas:

  • Expand and maintain the shade tree canopy throughout the County to reduce flooding and excessive heat impacts due to climate change, as well as improve air quality and habitat for native birds and insects. The County’s Street Tree Replacement Program is a great investment toward this request.
  • Fund additional forestry positions in the Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability (DEPS).  Three additional forestry positions were created in the budget including an urban forester who is administering the Street Tree Replacement Program.
  • Fund a canopy tree inventory by DEPS using GIS, based on the Downtown Towson Tree Survey created by the Green Towson Alliance and plant trees downtown. DEPS is tracking the Street Tree Replacement program with a GIS program.
  • Fund a position in the Department of Recreation and Parks to administer a volunteer “weed warrior” program, like programs in Baltimore City and Montgomery County, that will organize and manage volunteer efforts for habitat restoration, particularly for removal of invasive vines that are slowly destroying our existing trees. We will continue to advocate for this.
  • Create a county-wide open space plan similar to the NeighborSpace of Baltimore County initiative. We will continue to advocate for this.

INVASIVE PLANTS INITIATIVES

Green Towson Alliance volunteers have continued to remove invasive vines and plants from the Blakehurst Retirement Community property, in Radebaugh Park and Overlook Park. In parks, GTA members from nearby neighborhoods are working in coordination with the Towson Rec Council of Baltimore County Rec and Parks to remove invasive plants (Overlook Park) and plant pollinator-friendly native perennials (Radebaugh Park entrance gardens at 11 Maryland Ave). 

The effects of the invasive plant removal in Overlook Park were striking:

Beneficial native plants in Overlook Park got a boost in 2022 from the dedicated volunteers of Habitat Stewards of Overlook Park (HSOP.) Habitat was restored by manually removing (without power tools or herbicides) non-native invasive plants (NNIs) that outcompete and smother natives. In addition to freeing dozens of trees from English Ivy, the group’s methodical removal of aggressive non-native Porcelain Berry vines near the athletic field and stream gave a variety of native plants access to the air, water, and sunlight they need. It was exciting to observe so many natives unexpectedly rise up, phoenix-like, as if they had been just waiting for their chance. These native plants include: Blue-eyed Grass, Blue Flag Iris, Boxelder, Black Raspberry, Common Milkweed, Daisy Fleabane, Dogbane, Horse Chestnut, Pignut Hickory, Red Chokeberry, Tall White Beardtongue, and Virginia Creeper. Beneficial native insects seen utilizing these plants include butterflies such as Azures, Eastern-tailed Blues, Monarchs, Common Sootywing and Silver-spotted Skippers, Brown-belted Bumble Bees, Red Milkweed Beetles, and Orange Assassin Bugs. Birds seen include Red-shouldered Hawks, Pileated Woodpeckers, Gray Catbirds, Carolina Wrens, and many others.  

Tall white beardtongue (Penstamon digitalis) which appeared in Overlook Park
after invasive vines that had been covering it were removed.

The work at Overlook Park will begin again this month. If you’re interested in helping out, please contact Adreon Hubbard at hubbardesol@gmail.com.

Invasive plant removal at Blakehurst Retirement Community is ongoing as well. Volunteers worked through the early spring of 2022 and then paused during the summer while a professional environmental service company removed large areas of Porcelain Berry and other invasive species. Blakehurst is working with Baltimore County to re-forest at least some of these areas. 

 NATIVE PLANTS INITIATIVES

GTA engaged in several public education efforts to inform our neighbors about the vital link native plants and trees play in supporting our environment.  This includes the Towson Native Garden Contest, which we have run for the past two years; an educational display at the Stoneleigh Elementary School Environmental Fair, the Church of the Redeemer Native Plant Sale and the Towson Gardens Day. We also arranged a tour of the green roof and rain gardens at Patriot Plaza and the Towson Fire Station which utilized native plants. We marched in the Towson 4th of July Parade promoting “Nature’s Communities” of native plants and the bees and butterflies they host. 

The Towson 4th of July Parade

More information on native plants and the upcoming 2023 Native Garden Contest can be found at nativegardencontest.com

Tanya Ray, one of the winners of the
2022 Native Garden Contest

COMMUNITY INITIATIVES

GTA signed on as supporters of the Road to Freedom Trail, a proposed multi-purpose trail linking Hampton Plantation to Historic East Towson. The trail is conceived as an educational, environmental, and historical trail for walking and cycling that will tell the story of the relationship between the 500 enslaved people at the Ridgely estate and the enclave of those who were manumitted after 1829 and created a community nearby in Towson.

Community Kick-Off event for the Road to Freedom Trail.

IN ANNAPOLIS

 GTA advocated for the passage of several bills in the Maryland General Assembly.  The following bills passed: 

  • HB15/SB7 Invasive and Native Plants expands the list of invasive species regulated in Maryland.  It also requires state agencies and projects with state funding to prioritize the use of native plants. – PASSED
  • HB275 George “Walter” Taylor Act prohibits the use, manufacture or sale of fire-fighting foams, carpets and food containers that contain PFAS after January 2023.  PFAS are Per-and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances which are a type of human made ‘forever chemical’ and a known carcinogen. – PASSED
  • SB541 Great Maryland Outdoors Act Provides historic investment in Maryland’s state park system.  It funds new full-time positions in the Maryland Park Service to deal with park overcrowding, addresses a long maintenance backlog, restores historic sites, fixes aging infrastructure, and acquires new parkland.  It also has provisions to improve the equity of access to our state parks. – PASSED
  • SB0528 Climate Solutions Now Act of 2022 This comprehensive climate bill requires the state to cut emissions 60% below 2006 levels by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions by 2045 by addressing emissions from the transportation, building, and electricity sectors.  It also promotes equity in the allocation of climate funding. – PASSED

The following bills did not get voted out of their House/Senate Committees:

  • HB59/SB783 Constitutional Amendment for Environmental Human Rights guaranteeing each person in the State of Maryland the right to a healthful environment.
  • HB0135 Environment – Single-Use Plastics – Restrictions to prohibit a food service business from providing certain single-use plastic food and beverage products to a customer unless the customer asks for them.  The majority of these items are not recyclable and they often end up in our streams and rivers.
  • HB0376 Outdoor Preschool License Pilot Program – Establishment to establish the Outdoor Preschool License Pilot Program in the Maryland State Department of Education to license outdoor, nature-based early learning and child care programs in order to expand access to affordable, high-quality early learning programs and to investigate the benefits of outdoor, nature-based classrooms.

Green Towson Alliance  looks forward to another productive year in 2023.  You can find us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/GreenTowsonAlliance and on our website at https://greentowsonalliance.org/

Removing Invasive Vines at Loyola Blakefield

by Ray Heil

As a practicing landscape architect, I’ve planted thousands of trees in my career.  Planting a tree is always a hopeful experience; we’ve always understood that if we can assure that the new tree is established after the first 3 years, the odds are good that it will continue to grow successfully and confer multiple benefits on the community.  But this is no longer true, due to the proliferation of aggressive invasive vines in the urban and suburban areas of Maryland.  We’re all familiar with stories about kudzu, “the vine that ate the South,” which is not a major problem in central Maryland, but what about English Ivy, Porcelain Berry, and Oriental Bittersweet, which are “devouring” our local trees?  You can see these invasive vines everywhere along local roads covering our trees and inhibiting their growth.  Depending on the size and vigor of the tree, these aggressive vines can be fatal.     

Volunteers removing invasive vines from trees
An example of invasive vines on mature trees. These vines were removed by Green Towson Alliance volunteers at Blakehurst Retirement Community in 2019.

    

Towson’s Loyola Blakefield High School, despite its continual growth, still enjoys stands of native tree species along the peripheries of its campus, and in protected stream buffer areas. As a member of Green Towson Alliance, I have been actively removing invasive vines from native trees in parks and private properties for a number of years.  For three years, Loyola Blakefield has invited me to talk about invasive vine removal and to lead field work with its students.

In August, I worked with 45 sophomores and their teachers during orientation week.  My in-class presentation included two short videos: on the importance of native plants with Doug Tallamy, and how to remove invasive vines from trees. (You can access these videos on Youtube.)

After introducing myself and the Green Towson Alliance, I tried to engage the students with questions, like which county do you live in? (Most were from Baltimore County, some from the city, but 4 other counties were represented.)  I told them that I am concerned about the world they will inherit, and about how emissions of greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide, are forming a “blanket” in the earth’s atmosphere that is holding in the sun’s heat and warming the planet.

I provided a simplified description of how a tree takes in carbon dioxide, combines it with water and sunshine to create energy for the tree to grow, and gives off oxygen, making it possible for us to breathe.  I discussed the important role plants play in providing oxygen to support other life forms, pointing out that during the very early years of the earth’s evolution, there wasn’t enough oxygen in the atmosphere to support animal life, until plants appeared.

I described the particular importance of plants native to central Maryland in supporting the native insects and birds with which they co-evolved, and ultimately, in supporting us.  So, removing invasive vines from native trees is something we can all do to mitigate climate change and address the decline of native insect and bird species.

I asked if any of them want to be engineers. A few students raised their hands, and I asked if any of them had ever thought about the possibility of creating a machine that would take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen to the atmosphere?  Some thought that was possible.  Then I pointed out that we already have a “machine” that does just that: the tree. 

I asked why they think it is 5 degrees cooler on the Loyola campus than it is in downtown Baltimore. This led to a brief discussion of the heat island effect in cities and the benefits of trees in cooling the atmosphere.

Finally, I pointed out that my generation has made major mistakes in the way we have treated the natural world because we don’t understand it very well. As students, they have a great opportunity now to learn about the natural world in depth, so they can preserve their home planet for themselves and future generations. 

After a brief review of the tools we would use in the field, and of what vine species we would be removing (mostly English Ivy this year) and which to avoid (poison ivy), we trooped out to the stream buffer on campus, which is “protected” from cutting but not from invasive vines.  Fortunately, I had cut English Ivy that covered a large white oak there last year, so I used that tree to demonstrate what we hoped to accomplish, and to point out that the ivy, while dead on the tree’s trunk, had started growing again at the base and would have to be removed from the roots.

Quiet but attentive in the classroom, the students were active in the field, and worked almost 2 hours removing ivy vines from trees.  I worked along with them but was exhausted after 60 minutes.  Their teachers kept the process going. 

I hope to be invited again next year to work with Loyola students.  They seem to be increasingly receptive to our message.  They are the future, and they are inheriting a world in profound need of ecological restoration.   

Ray Heil is a Professional Landscape Architect, and a Certified Maryland Master Naturalist. He is on the Executive Committee for the Green Towson Alliance, and is a Lead for the Homegrown National Park Workgroup.