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Environmental groups speak on how to make difference

Frank Piorko, director of Maryland Coastal Bays Program, identifies where the St. Martin River is located and its significance to the local watershed during an environmental presentation at the Ocean Pines Community Center on Thursday, April 11.

By Morgan Pilz, Staff Writer

(April 18, 2019) As Earth Day grows closer, residents were given a better understanding of how even a small environmental group can help make a difference during a presentation on Land and Water: Protection, Conservation and Improvement in the Ocean Pines Community Center last Thursday.

Sponsored by the Protectors of the St. Martin River and the Ocean Pines Environmental & Natural Assets Committee, the presentation was split between the Lower Shore Land Trust and Maryland Coastal Bays Program.

Kate Patton, director of the Lower Shore Land Trust and Frank Piorko, director, and Dr. Roman Jesien, science coordinator, of Maryland Coastal Bays Program, explained their groups’ background in the community and how they have improved the environment as a result of their work.

“This is a great opportunity for us to tell you a little bit about the land trust and how we’re different,” Patton said.

Lower Shore Land Trust, headquartered in Snow Hill, is a conservation organization that protects rural lands and provides conservations efforts to rebuild resources for wildlife. Established in 1990, the trust covers areas spanning Worcester, Wicomico and Somerset counties.

So far, the trust looks after of 21,000 acres of land and works with 120 landowners and is an accredited land trust.

“Basically, that says that we’re managing our properties well, we’re managing our organization well and we’re meeting the national standards of how to do business,” Patton said. “We couldn’t do it without volunteers … we’ll talk about how our volunteers get involved.”

There are 1,600 active land trusts in the country (22 in Maryland), according to Land Programs Manager Jared Parks.

“Each individual land trust has different goals, different versions why they exist,” Parks said. “Some are teeny tiny; they serve one valley. Some serve a single county; some serve the entire world and they do conservation efforts everywhere. For us, we looked at the area, and over time the organization has evolved to understand the lower shore fairly well and what we have here, which helped shape our goals.”

Some of those goals include sustaining healthy wildlife populations, improving water quality, and restoring areas that can be used to meet the other two objectives.

In order to attain those goals, the Lower Shore Land Trust uses specific tools, such easement agreements with landowners. Easements are voluntary land agreements between land owners and the Lower Shore Land Trust. These agreements limit the use of land or prohibits specific developments from taking place. These easements can be tailored to the needs of the owner, and require annual monitoring to ensure the agreements are being kept.

The trust ended its presentation with a request for volunteers to help around the three counties and to demonstrate some of its projects.

Following that presentation, Piorko and Jesien outlined the Maryland Coastal Bays Program.

Coastal Bays is a federally funded program that covers 180,000 acres of land and 71,000 acres of water.

“We don’t exist to do any one thing on our own,” Piorko said. Instead, the program has its own projects and works with other environmental organizations on their pursuits.

Of note to Ocean Pines residents, and falling with the Coastal Bays purview is the St. Martin River and watershed, which is approximately 11.6 miles long with a maximum depth of 12 feet.

“It’s our longest river in our watershed and a major portion of our freshwater,” Jesien said.

St. Martin’s river has held a relatively low health grade for several years, averaging a C- on health reports for levels of phosphorus and nitrates. Since conservation efforts were put in place by the coastal bays program, positive results have begun to show.

A $1.58 million restoration program funded by the state highway took just under 10 years to complete, and has shown the return of some wildlife.

Piorko also promoted the upcoming Bay Day, which will take place Sunday, May 5 at 11:30 a.m. The event will promote environmentally friendly activities and programs, as well as crafts like creating bird houses and bee houses. There will also be a pollinator garden available as well.

Vendors and food trucks, as well as a beer truck, will also partake in the festivities that day.

Those who are interested in learning more about Lower Shore Land Trust can visit and Maryland Coastal Bays Program at