CREP: Prescription for the Chesapeake

Studies have shown that lotic water bodies passing through agricultural land contribute to high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in the Chesapeake Bay.

Studies have shown that lotic water bodies passing through agricultural land contribute to high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in the Chesapeake Bay.

Most folks in Tioga County would consider Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay a long way from home. But, in the mind of Wellsboro resident and physician Dr. Jon Grigg, it’s just a short float downstream.

Through participation in the federal CREP (Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program), Grigg is doing something tangible to preserve and enhance his own land, while, at the same time, contributing to improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay, hundreds of miles away.

The Chesapeake Bay watershed is huge, covering over 64,000 square miles in parts of New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia, and Virginia. From these states, water from countless small tributaries, streams, and rivers feed the Bay.

Studies completed in the 1970s documented that increases in agricultural development, population growth, and sewage treatment plant discharges were negatively affecting the Bay to become excessively nutrient enriched, mainly with nitrogen and phosphorous. This originated from municipal and industrial waste, cropland, animal wastes, urban and suburban runoffs, and airborne contaminants. Among the leading contributors was nitrate contamination from agricultural fields.

Similar to how Rachel Carson’s 1962 book Silent Spring helped launch the U.S. environmental movement, these studies alerted the nation to what many had feared: their treasured Bay was slowly being poisoned. In 1983, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation was formed with its highest priority being restoration of the Bay’s living resources. In partnership with the Foundation, CREP is one of many initiatives helping to achieve that objective.

CREP is a federal voluntary conservation program that financially rewards producers and landowners for implementing conservation practices on their properties, and offers up to 100 % cost share reimbursement for installation, annual rental payments, and cash incentives. It’s administered by the United States Department of  Agriculture’s Department Farm Service Agency whose Tioga County office, located in the Wellsboro Plaza, is under the direction of Pam Reese. It was here during the fall of 2007 that Grigg first inquired about CREP opportunities for his farm in Delmar Township. Currently, he has eighty of his 474 acres enrolled in fifteen-year CREP contracts.

According to Reese, the program is available to anyone with “qualified land” as determined through a free assessment, typically conducted by program technician Catherine Lingle. “It’s a step-by-step process and we never pressure the landowner,” Reese emphasized. “There is never a commitment until contracts are signed.” No minimum amount of land is required to become CREP eligible.

While leasing much of his acreage for growing corn, soybeans, and hay, Grigg suspected that his unused pastures and other marginal land might be perfect for CREP involvement. His greatest interest was in providing riparian buffers along the many springs and streams on his property. Reparian zones are critically important natural biofilters, protecting aquatic environments from excessive sedimentation, polluted surface runoff, and erosion. Under CREP, planting a riparian buffer is considered Conservation Practice 22 (CP22), which is one of many conservation practice types.

Once approved, Grigg contracted with Mike Hale of Hale Forestry Company in nearby Westfield to provide native hardwood trees and shrubs, protective plastic growth tubes, wood stakes, and labor to plant selected areas. Upfront material and labor costs for his CP22 projects were paid by Grigg, but were eventually reimbursed 100 percent through federal and state cost sharing.

According to Hale, planting a minimum of 100 trees and shrubs per acre satisfies CREP requirements. A plant survival rate of 70 percent is expected to maintain participation in the program. “It is not a ‘plant-and-forget’ technology,” Hale advised. “The key to success is an engaged landowner who is willing and able to maintain the plantings.” Not surprising to those who know him, Jon Grigg is the model of involvement.

With undoubtedly the same care he provides his patients, Dr. Grigg nurtures his trees and shrubs with the passion of a master horticulturalist. He considers animals and weather the two greatest challenges to maintaining his plantings. Deer have learned that those plastic tubes have something living and nourishing inside them which they love to browse. In the fall, bucks frequently take out their rutting urges on tubes and trees with their antlers. Even passing black bears are attracted by the tubes. The buzzing of nesting bees within the tubes incites their curiosity, and they occasionally rip the tubes apart in search of an easy meal. Field mice and voles damage both the tubes and the plants themselves with their incessant gnawing. As for weather, winds in excess of forty mph can wreak havoc on the tubes and damage the trees.

But, even with these day-to-day trials and tribulations, Grigg characterizes his time afield—driving his Kubota ATV among the trees, sometimes with friends and family, but most times alone—as “peaceful and tranquil.” In the hands of Dr. Jon Grigg, CREP has become effective therapy for his Tioga County farmland, the Chesapeake Bay, and even himself. In fact, it’s just what the doctor ordered.

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