by Harry Glasgow
On the last Sunday of every month, the Prince William Conservation Alliance sponsors a nature walk at the Merrimac Farm Wildlife Management Area in Nokesville. This morning, we walked this very beautiful remote property and tallied 38 species.
Of particular interest were Warblers. We found an abundance of Prairie Warblers, and what could almost be called a flock of Hooded Warblers along the area’s Cedar Run Trail, which provided the greatest concentration.
A Louisiana Waterthrush, one of the Hooded Warblers, and the Magnolia provided the best views, while the others were heard rather than seen.
White-eyed Vireos were very plentiful, as were Red-eyed Vireos, Barred owls, and even a few Wood Thrushes. It was a beautifully cool and bright morning for a walk deep in the woods. The full list is below the fold and the preliminary bird list for Merrimac Farm is online here. Read more…
Guest post by Harry Glasgow
In the forest, in autumn, an acorn drops from an oak. Soon, a bushy-tailed squirrel finds it and obeys an ageless urge to bury it to be dug up later during the spare oncoming winter. Soon forgotten by the squirrel, it remains buried through the winter, and begins to germinate the following spring.
In several years, the acorn develops into a sapling, and begins the struggle for survival. It must compete with other trees for its share of sunlight, nutrients from the soil, and water. Its leaves are bigger than those of its parents so that it can devote more energy to absorbing the necessary light and carbon dioxide than the adult trees, thus promoting faster growth.
As it grows, more branches sprout with more leaves, and it is steadily gaining in the struggle for space. Soon, birds begin to explore the sapling for insects, and for nesting sites. Read more…
by Bryanna Altman
The Virginia General Assembly is expected to vote this year (2012) on whether to lift a 30-year moratorium on uranium mining in Virginia. Nuclear power is generated using uranium, a metal mined in various parts of the world. Nuclear power produces huge amounts of energy from small amounts of fuel, without the pollution you’d get from burning fossil fuels.
The United States is the world’s largest producer of nuclear power, accounting for more than 30% of worldwide nuclear generation of electricity. In 2010 the country’s 104 nuclear reactors produced over 20% of total electrical output. It is expected that 4-6 new nuclear reactors may come on line by 2020.
A company called Virginia Uranium, Inc. wants to mine a deposit known as Coles Hill site in Pittsylvania County, Virginia, the only economically viable source identified in Virginia (National Academy of Sciences report). Virginia Uranium says tests indicate there are about 119 million pounds of uranium, worth as much as $10 billion, below the surface. It is the world’s seventh-largest known deposit, or enough to supply all U.S. nuclear power plants for about two years or Virginia’s demands for 75 years.
Virginia Uranium, Inc. executives also stated the company is owned by locals who care about their community and would never risk polluting it. But behind Virginia Uranium Inc. are two Canadian corporations, Virginia Energy Resources and Sprott, which hold a 49.8% interest in Virginia Uranium, Inc. Read more…
By Terry Reardon
Invasive plants are destructive and virtually impossible to remove once they become established. Look at a kudzu-draped forest or a waterway choked with hydrilla. These invasives are killers, cutting off oxygen and sunlight to native plants, weakening them and eventually outcompeting them. Millions of dollars are spent annually trying to eradicate invasive plants without success.
Another type of costly invasive that we’re all familiar with—and even nurture—is grass. Many of the varieties in our lovely green lawns are not native to Prince William County, Virginia, or even the United States. For example, Kentucky bluegrass, despite its name, originated in Europe, Asia and northern Africa.
There are several significant drawbacks to the maintenance of a sweeping expanse of grass. The custom of growing a luxurious lawn originated in England, where there was sufficient rainfall to support the native plants. Many areas of the US are too dry to cultivate a large area of non-native grasses without using a huge amount of water—50 to 70 percent of residential water use in the summer. Read more…
Guest post by Akshay Manohar
Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise.
This song was written by the Beatles in 1968 in response to the racial tensions rattling the United States at the time. It was performed by both Paul McCartney and an unnamed blackbird, whose brilliant performance, some say, McCartney has yet to live up to.
The lyrics sung by the blackbird in the song must be quite famous among blackbirds, because they all sing the same rich, musical cong-a-lee.
If you’d like an encore performance, you could make your requests at the nearest marshes and swamps because that’s where Red Winged Blackbirds like to live. But be warned, they are very territorial and are known to attack anyone who comes too close to their nests.
Although they like to live mainly in marshes and swamps, they are also known to nest near almost any body of water. They can be found all over the continental United States, and even in parts of Alaska. Read more…
Guest Post by Amy Wilson, Chinn Park Bluebird Trail Leader
The bluebird trail at Chinn Park library and recreation center is having a very successful season! So far this season, in our twelve boxes, we have seen a total of 31 cavity-nesting birds fledge. Of these, eighteen were Eastern Bluebirds, eight were Tree Swallows, and five were Chickadees.
A nest of three Bluebirds chicks and another of five baby House Wrens will be fledging any day now, and there are five active bluebird nests (with a total of eighteen eggs so far) and one active tree swallow nest (containing four eggs) underway.
If all of the current chicks and eggs go on to successfully fledge, that will bring our total fledgling count for the season up to 61 birds! That number seems bound to increase even further, because now we are seeing birds already beginning to brood their second clutches of the season in four of our boxes.
There have been a few problems this season, as there always are. One nest with six eggs (Chickadees or Titmice) was destroyed by an unknown predator. We have also had a few problems with house sparrows (a non-native species that can destroy bluebird nests and eggs and even kill hatchlings) trying to take over one box. Read more…
Guest post by Charles Smith, Prince William Wildflower Society
Prince William County is a highly developed county. This is obvious to most of us. What is less obvious is that the majority of the areas of the county that have not been developed have had the vegetation removed and the soils disturbed in the recent past. The result is that many of our plant communities are of poor quality.
Featherstone National Wildlife Refuge has some of the best and most unique plant communities left in the county. The refuge contains one of the last tidal freshwater wetlands in Northern Virginia. In addition, much of the upland area at Featherstone, although not pristine, has not been disturbed by land clearing activities in a long time, leaving good soils and mature forest.
Featherstone is a rare gem. During the open house for the refuge in June 2010, amateur botanists discovered the only known occurrence of Prince William County of the state rare plant river bulrush (Schoenoplectus fluviatilis). The bulrush itself was an exciting discovery, but what it represents is the presence of a healthy wetland community type called high-marsh which is very rare in our region. Read more…
Environment Chapter: Developers propose 11th hour changes that will force higher tax increases this spring
Supervisors adopted most but not all the positive changes to the County’s Environment Chapter on December 7. This consensus document, as recommended by County staff, includes input from citizens, environmental organizations, civic groups, businesses and developers.
However, after the public hearing was closed, the Chairman put forward 11th hour revisions at the request of developers. Supervisors deferred these items to this Tuesday’s Board meeting, 2:00 pm, at McCoart Government Center.
Approval of these last minute changes would allow input from one special interest group (developers) without providing an equal opportunity to all stakeholders, notably citizens and community organizations.
The effect of these changes is to shift the cost of stormwater management away from developers, forcing local residents to pay higher stormwater fees.
Approval of these last minute changes would continue the County’s business-as-usual approach, which leads to flooding and drainage problems on private property and requires significant taxpayer investments to fix.
It’s worth noting that next Tuesday’s Board Agenda includes a report from Public Works detailing the current taxpayer investments for projects that fix drainage problems on private property…problems that will continue to happen in the future if we don’t change the way we do business.
Below is a review of the proposed changes, click here to read the document the Chairman presented to Supervisors after the public hearing was closed. It’s important to remember that the Environment Chapter of the Comprehensive Plan establishes environmental policies and recommends (not requires) standards for development in Prince William County.
We recommend Supervisors reject these last minute changes and approve the staff recommendation in all cases. Read more…
It was December 7 (Pearl Harbor day), so a last-minute surprise proposal to alter the Environment Chapter should have been expected after 18 months of public debate.
However, four county supervisors questioned the legitimacy of voting on a back room “compromise” that had been crafted in secret with just the developers.
The proposed changes to the draft chapter were revealed only after the public hearing was closed, ensuring no public review or comment – except the developers were given a special opportunity to speak after the public hearing was closed. That’s fair and balanced, right?
The Board ended up deferring action on the last-minute changes, including the definition of significant non-RPA streams and the identification of areas with steep slopes, until December 14.
Do a little math in advance of that meeting:
- Prince William needs to reduce existing stormwater pollution to meet the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) standards for sediment, nitrogen, and phosphorous
- Prince William’s population is projected to grow by 33% over the next 20 years, adding even more pollution
- a Federal judge is requiring EPA to enforce the Clean Water Act standards (27 years after Virginia committed to Save the Bay)
And we should do… nothing?
The Environment Chapter update proposed by the Planning Commission encourages implementation of policies that were adopted in 2003, but then ignored. For example, in 2003 the Environment Chapter recommended 50’ buffers for all intermittent streams. It’s time to re-affirm and then implement that guidance.
Just last week, Beazer Homes agreed to pay nearly $1 million after the EPA found Clean Water Act violations at their development sites in Prince William and elsewhere. Local government is supposed to be enforcing the rules and shares responsibility for protecting streams. Let’s start with clear policy guidance in the Comprehensive Plan.
There are no immediate, direct fiscal impacts associated with adopting the updated Environment Chapter – but we all know that new EPA pollution caps for the Chesapeake Bay and new Virginia stormwater standards will require Prince William to pollute less, despite predicted population growth. That won’t be easy or free – but EPA is not going to give Prince William the option of polluting more.
Supervisors face a clear choice when they vote on the Environment Chapter update. Will we shape our future through local decisions or abdicate responsibility for local land use, allow business-as-usual development and stand on the sidelines until EPA imposes penalties for noncompliance with the Clean Water Act? Read more…