Today the Conservation Fund, a national group that has protected 200,000 acres in the Chesapeake region, will announce the purchase of Garrett Island near the mouth of the Susquehanna River.
Threatened in the 1990s by development, the mile-long, forested island has been held for the past few years by the Cecil Land Trust and private investors while the search continued for a way to put it in public ownership.
The $750,000 deal brokered by the Conservation Fund will turn over the island next year to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. The money came from federal and private sources, including Bass Pro Shops' "Chesapeake Challenge," which has raised about $500,000 from the company's customers and owners for environmental restoration around the bay watershed.
Garrett doesn't fit within the traditional mission of the national refuge system, and I think everyone involved is hoping to find a way to make it a showcase for environmental education and public access.
A granite plug thrust up by ancient volcanoes, Garrett is considerably less fragile than the typical, marshy bay island - and unlike so much of the Chesapeake's waterfront, it's not eroding.
One end faces Pennsylvania and the flowing Susquehanna, the bay's largest tributary, where restoration of shad runs that once reached New York State is showing success.
The other end looks out upon the tidal expanse of the Susquehanna Flats, home to spawning striped bass and wintering waterfowl, where restoration of the submerged grasses that once carpeted Chesapeake shallows is also picking up steam.
Combine that with the island's human history as a gathering place for Native Americans for thousands of years and as host to fur trading, farming and commercial fishing dating nearly to John Smith's 1608 exploration. (He ventured just past the island before turning around.)
Garrett has stories to tell, and it's uniquely situated where the bay and its dominant river join. The island's 1622 owner hoped to start a great university there. Perhaps a modern-day version of that vision, oriented toward environmental education, can now happen.
Honest pollution report targets agricultural runoff
This week the Chesapeake Bay Commission did the right thing and finally released its report on the most cost-effective ways to clean up the bay.
All but one of the half a dozen water-quality strategies involve agriculture - runoff of fertilizer from farmland is the single largest source of bay pollution.
The emphasis on agriculture had made this a tough call for many of the legislators who represent rural districts in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia, and the report was tabled at a meeting in September.
But the report has emerged mostly intact. The six strategies, which include improving sewage treatment plants, would cost an estimated $623 million a year - but they would achieve nearly 75 percent of all needed baywide reductions of nitrogen, the single most troublesome pollutant.
"What I hope is that everyone slows down and realizes this is not about pointing fingers at polluters. It's about where the best investment of dollars is if you want a clean bay," said Ann Swanson, the tri-state commission's executive director.
Couldn't have said it better.
Proposed land sale failed `Greenprint' test
Governor Ehrlich risks giving the lie to his repeated claims that "good science" will dictate his environmental decisions.
Had his administration followed the science, it would not be in the current mess over proposing to secretly sell 836 acres of forest in St. Mary's County to a private developer.
The state Department of Natural Resources years ago developed a system known as "Greenprint" to evaluate land acquisitions based on both natural values and cost-effectiveness.
Greenprint mapped Maryland's "green infrastructure" - the existing natural lands and the degree to which each functions as wildlife habitat, as buffers against polluted runoff to the bay, as refuges for endangered plants and animals.
Greenprint shows which parts of the green infrastructure are protected and unprotected - a superior guide to where future land buys could most enhance wildlife and water quality.
It's no surprise to find the 836-acre St. Mary's parcel scores at or near the highest in a number of Greenprint categories. Large, unbroken tracts of forest of a square mile (640 acres) or more are among the rarer habitats Maryland has. Several species need sizable forest interiors to flourish.
The state has a lot of explaining to do on this botched land deal.