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Our top 10 moments of 2020

As this very odd year comes to a close, let’s celebrate the large and small ways our community helped us protect the health of Casco Bay in 2020. Here are our top ten for the year:

1.) On December 2, the Maine Climate Council released its four-year Climate Action Plan, “Maine Won’t Wait.” We are heartened that the plan sets a roadmap for achieving carbon neutrality in Maine by 2045 and includes important mitigation measures to help coastal communities adapt to looming changes.

2.) Our volunteer Water Reporters were chosen as CommUNITY Champions. More than 240 volunteers are helping us keep watch over the health of the Bay.

3.) Gulf of Maine Poet Gary Lawless wrote the poem, “For Casco Bay, For Us,” in honor of our 30th anniversary. You can read the poem here and hear Gary read it at our Celebrating Water event in July, hosted by Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell.

4.) The South Portland City Council passed a groundbreaking fertilizer ordinance to promote soil health and to protect Casco Bay from nitrogen pollution.

5.) In October, Staff Scientist Mike Doan and Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca shared what they saw on the Bay this field season during What Casco Bay is Telling Us: A Casco Bay Matters Event.  Ivy also hosted a Casco Bay Matters event earlier this year about the Maine Climate Council.

6.) Knack Factory made this short documentary about our work in honor of our 30th anniversary. If you liked that film, watch this behind the scenes montage about how it was made!

7.) We were delighted that Royal River Conservation Trust selected Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell and Friends of Casco Bay as recipients of their Conservation Champion Award.

8.) On Facebook, this huge lion’s mane jellyfish and this beautiful rainbow were our two most shared images from this year.

9.) We launched the public phase of our $1.5 million Climate Change and Casco Bay Fund. We are now less than $15,000 from crossing the finish line! And we will soon be launching two more continuous monitoring stations, thanks to the Fund!

10.) While we couldn’t celebrate our 30th anniversary in person, we were honored to have these community partners reflect on our success over the past three decades. We also took a trip down memory lane by scrolling through this timeline of our biggest victories and milestones.

We look forward to keeping you updated in the New Year. Thank you for being a Friend of Casco Bay.

More good news for the Bay

Nuisance algal blooms, such as the one seen this summer along the Fore River in South Portland, can be caused by excess nitrogen. These blooms can degrade water quality and create conditions that worsen coastal acidification.

Casco Bay received an early holiday gift: the City of South Portland passed an ordinance to restrict the use of fertilizers in order to encourage soil health and reduce nitrogen pollution into our coastal waters.

Friends of Casco Bay applauds South Portland for taking this first-in-Maine step to protect our marine resources. The ordinance, which updates the City’s groundbreaking pesticide regulations, was passed on November 17. Any fertilizers used must be organic and free from synthetic chemicals, and a soil test is request before any use is allowed. There are special provisions for high performance such as playing fields, and new construction. The ordinance focuses on best practices for promoting soil health.

South Portland began working on this ordinance because nitrogen, which is found in lawn care fertilizers, can be washed downstream into the Bay. Once in marine water, excess nitrogen can cause nuisance and harmful algal blooms, which degrade water quality and create conditions that worsen coastal acidification. Friends of Casco Bay’s water quality data, including sampling for Total Nitrogen and pesticides, have been pivotal for helping the city understand the need to limit the use of lawn care chemicals.

South Portland’s City Council appointed Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell to the Fertilizer Working Group, which was tasked with drafting the protections. For a year-and-a-half, Cathy served alongside local residents, city officials, and landscaping business owners, to develop the ordinance.

“This is great news for the Casco Bay! South Portland has shown tremendous leadership in its efforts to protect our marine resources,” says Cathy, reflecting on the Working Group’s effort. “Whenever we hit a roadblock in the drafting of the ordinance, work group members found a way forward by reminding ourselves of the need protect the health of the Bay and the importance of healthy soils, especially in light of climate change.”

While South Portland’s fertilizer ordinance is the first of its kind in the state, we hope it will not be the last. Local ordinances such as this can lead to changes at regional and statewide levels. The City’s pesticide ordinance, for example, has been used as a template by other municipalities in Maine, including Portland.

As a Friend of the Bay, you probably know that we launched our BayScaping program nearly 20 years ago to help residents and businesses grow green lawns that can help keep Casco Bay blue. We have worked with local residents, Master Gardeners, landscape professionals, and state agencies to encourage the use of ecological approaches to lawn care rather than depending on fertilizers and pesticides. As BayScaping has taken root in our communities, more towns around the Bay have considered ordinances to reduce lawn care chemicals.

Helping municipalities develop ordinances is just one of the many ways Friends of Casco Bay is working to limit nitrogen pollution in the Bay. We continue to work with federal, state, and local officials to reduce sewer overflows, address stormwater pollution, and enforce the Bay’s No Discharge Area status.

Top 10 stories of 2019

Let’s walk down Memory Lane together to recall our most popular stories of the year, based on your visits to our website and our social media interactions:

  • You answered the call when Casco Bay needed your voice
    We asked our supporters to let legislators know they are concerned about climate change and the health of Casco Bay. You urged the Maine Legislature’s Committee on Marine Resources to support a bill to create a Climate Change and Ocean Acidification Commission. Your voices were heard as our bill was incorporated into the Governor’s comprehensive climate change bill, An Act to Promote Clean Energy Jobs and to Establish the Maine Climate Council, which was passed with strong bipartisan support.
  • Maine takes a BIG step forward to address climate change
    Friends of Casco Bay fervently supported Governor Mills’ bill to establish the Maine Climate Council because it focuses on the root causes of climate change and recognizes that we must act now to remediate and adapt to inevitable change. Our Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca has been appointed to the Coastal and Marine Working Group of the Climate Council.
  • Casco Bay Temperature Extremes
    Research Associate Mike Doan is often asked, “What were the highest and the lowest water temperatures this year?” Thanks to our Continuous Monitoring Station, Mike is able to share those data with confidence. He can tell you what water conditions in the Bay are on an hourly, daily, weekly, seasonal, or yearly basis in far more detail than ever before.
  • Our new pumpout boat is taking care of business
    On June 10, more than 100 friends cheered the christening and launch of Headmaster, the new pumpout boat specially built for Friends of Casco Bay. It transports raw sewage from the holding tanks of recreational boats to shoreside treatment. The name Headmaster is a play on the word for a marine toilet — “head” — and gives a nod to the educational and ambassadorial role of the pumpout service.
  • Have you seen this fin?
    It’s not a shark! Several boaters on the Bay encountered Mola mola, or ocean sunfish, this summer. Its bulbous body is not designed for speed, but it can plunge down hundreds of feet in search of its favorite food: jellyfish. It then floats on its side at the ocean surface to warm up after its chilly dive.
  • Casco Bay Matters
    In March and April, 380 people attended our first-ever Casco Bay Matters series, held at three venues around the Bay. They heard Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca, Research Associate Mike Doan, and Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell speak on Climate Change, Ocean Acidification and You in Portland, South Portland, and Brunswick. By the last presentation, in Brunswick, it was standing room only. If you missed our Casco Bay Matters presentations, you can see the series of three videos on our YouTube channel.
  • BEE a BayScaper!
    We were proud to see a BayScaper sign on the lawn of Friends of Casco Bay’s volunteer Jane Benesch. Her South Portland yard is bedecked with flower beds, vegetable patches, and wood chip-lined paths — and just a little turf. Her yard attracts butterflies and bees — and neighbors who stop to admire her winged visitors.
  • Hosting so many service days with local companies this year is great for Casco Bay.
    Friends of Casco Bay led 22 coastal cleanups this summer. We had so many requests for community service projects that volunteers sometimes scoured the same location only four days apart. “Still,” said Community Engagement Coordinator Sarah Lyman, “we always found find plenty of debris to pick up!”
  • Keep pet waste out of the Bay!
    While we were examining a pollution incident in Cumberland, we came across several dog poop bags at the outfall of a storm drain. When folks toss poop bags into a storm drain, they are not doing the Bay any favors. Storm drains often lead directly to Casco Bay. So after bagging it, deposit pet waste in a trash can or flush the contents down the toilet and throw the plastic bag in the trash.
  • Water Reporters report in about #sealevelrise
    Volunteer Water Reporters were out taking photos of the high tides to document flooded streets, eroding coastlines, and tide levels encroaching where we don’t normally see them. Water Reporter provides a two-way conversation platform about protecting Casco Bay.

We look forward to keeping you updated in the New year. Make sure you stay on top of news about Casco Bay in 2020!

BEE a BayScaper!

Photographs by Kevin Morris

We are proud to see a BayScaper sign on the lawn of one of Friends of Casco Bay’s volunteers, Jane Benesch. Her South Portland yard is bedecked with flower beds, vegetable patches, and wood chip-lined paths—and just a little turf.

BayScaping is our educational program that encourages residents to restrict or eliminate yard chemicals. We focus especially on lawns, where rainstorms are more likely to wash fertilizers and pesticides off the yard and ultimately into the Bay. Jane doesn’t use any bug killers, weed killers, or fertilizers.

Jane says that it is not necessary to devote an hour or two per day to your yard during the growing season as she does. “You can start small. Convert a small plot of land and replace the grass with native plants or a groundcover. Then, watch for changes in your environment.” 

She replaced grass with insect-friendly milkweed, coneflower, and beardtongue. Now her yard attracts butterflies and bees—and neighbors who stop to admire her winged visitors. One little visitor said to his Dad, “That’s the bee happy garden!”

Jane’s advice:  

  1. Start small. Replace a bit of turf with a few perennials or ground cover.
  2. Leave grass clippings when you mow—they are natural fertilizer.
  3. Water in the morning so that the grass dries out before nightfall. This helps prevent fungal growth.
  4. Be a BayScaper! Show your neighbors that you don’t use pesticides and fertilizers. Pick up a free yard sign from Friends of Casco Bay, 43 Slocum Drive, South Portland, on the campus of Southern Maine Community College.  Email at keeper [at] cascobay [dot] org or call (799) 799-8574.

BayScaping Takes Root in the Community

 

We first met Jesse O’Brien of Down East Turf Farms when South Portland was considering passing an ordinance to limit the use of pesticides. Jesse is a practicing agronomist, who says, “If you want to get good turf, you need to start with good soil.”

Initially, Jesse expressed concern about how businesses would be able to meet (some) customers’ demands for perfect lawns or athletic fields if pesticides were banned.

Jesse attended innumerable public meetings. We were at those meetings as well, sharing our data on pesticides in stormwater and our BayScaping outreach, to encourage town officials to limit the use of lawn chemicals. Jesse served for nine months on Portland’s Pesticides and Fertilizers Task Force, alongside Friends of Casco Bay Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell. They found agreement in the philosophy, “Don’t treat your soil like dirt!”

In January 2018, Portland passed a ban on synthetic pesticides similar to one adopted by neighboring South Portland in 2016. The City of Portland Pesticide Use Ordinance went into effect for city property on July 1, 2018, and will extend to private property on January 1, 2019.

Although Jesse worries about the unintended consequences of the ordinances, “We are in agreement that there is an overuse and misuse of lawn chemicals. I want to focus on culture practices that reduce the need for inputs.”

He has put those words into action. Today, Jesse serves on South Portland’s seven-member Pest Management Advisory Committee. In September, he recruited a dozen yard care professionals to demonstrate best practices for organic lawn care at South Portland’s Bug Light Park—teaching about overseeding, watering, aeration, soil testing, and dealing with pests. We applaud Jesse and other landscapers for helping our communities grow green lawns that keep Casco Bay blue.

Autumn BayScaping tips you can take this fall that will pay off next spring:
Let your soil breathe. Aeration allows water and nutrients to reach the grass’s roots. Seeding and composting on top of freshly-aerated soil can be done until the end of the growing season. Take away leaves soon after they fall.
Lower lawn mower height. Gradually reduce your mowing height to 2 to 2.5 inches before the first frost to help prevent snow mold.

Casco Bay begins in your backyard

Friends of Casco Bay has been a strong advocate for municipal ordinances to reduce the use of lawn care chemicals.

As the grass turns green, we are celebrating a series of milestones in our effort to protect the Bay from pesticides and fertilizers:

  • The City of South Portland Pesticide Use Ordinance goes into effect for private properties on May 1, 2018. As a resource for its residents, the City of South Portland launched an informative website and education plan on how to grow a healthy yard–even if you do not live in South Portland, you may find this resource useful: http://www.southportland.org/departments/sustainability-office/grow-healthy-south-portland/

  • The City of Portland Pesticide Use Ordinance goes into effect on July 1, 2018 for city property and January 1, 2019 for private property.

  • With the help of Friends like you, we helped defeat bad bill in the state legislature that would have taken away the power of towns to pass ordinances to restrict the use of pesticides.

  • The Town of Falmouth is in the process of developing a pesticide and fertilizer ordinance.

We applaud the steps these communities are taking in order to protect public health and the health of the Bay! With the return of spring, be sure to use the BayScaping tips above to help grow green yards that keep Casco Bay blue. You can read more about BayScaping here.

Fireside Gardening: Winter BayScaping Tips

 

OK, there’s snow on the ground where you really want to be digging in the garden.

Instead, you can spend those carefree hours creating a beautiful BayScape in your mind!

You can incorporate ecological lawn care strategies into planning a new look for your yard, one that will require less maintenance and less expense than the outdated, overrated, “perfect” lawn of old.

 

Reflect on what you have now and design your ideal yard

Ask yourself, “What would I like my yard to do for me?” Are there areas of your lawn that demand more attention, maintenance, or chemicals than you would like? Are there views from inside your home that you could enhance by planting different vegetation?

Sketch a map of your yard and its features, preferably on graph paper. Include:

  • Buildings, driveway, walkways, and borders: neighboring yards, brook, street
  • Garden beds, water gardens, lawns, trees, and shrubs
  • Current uses, such as, sitting areas, playscapes, sports areas, gardening work area, or vistas for visual enjoyment

Highlight with yellow marker those areas of your lawn where you have turf challenges: areas that receive little sunlight, experience heavy foot traffic, or are poorly drained. Perhaps you should think of alternatives to grass such as patios of permeable paving stones or ground cover such as bunchberry, partridgeberry, or Canada mayflower. In wet areas, consider placing rain barrels, rain gardens, or bushes that can help prevent runoff.

Now create another map that has all the elements that you would like to have in your yard.

 

Ask the experts

Bring your ideal yard map to a nursery or garden supply store to learn more about native plants, low maintenance grass seed mixes, and ecological lawn care. The staff will love the company, and they’ll have more time to brainstorm with you. You will appreciate seeing some lush greenery.

 

Don’t pile snow on the lawn

This promotes snow mold disease in the grass.

 

DO put a BayScaper sign in your yard

Come in and pick up a free sign that announces to your neighbors that a green yard and a blue Bay will be the “in” colors for Spring! Request a BayScaper informational packet, a yard sign, or a presentation for a neighborhood association or garden club within the coastal Casco Bay area. Reach us at Friends of Casco Bay, 43 Slocum Drive, South Portland, keeper [at] cascobay [dot] org, or (207) 799-8574.

 

Download our BayScaping documents:

 

 

Friends of Casco Bay's BayScaper Sign

Get your BayScaper Sign!

Friends of Casco Bay's BayScaper Sign
Pick up a BayScaper sign and you can be ready for the growing season! We have these signs at our office, 43 Slocum Drive in South Portland.

Stop by our office on the campus of Southern Maine Community College, South Portland, and get a yard sign (like the one above), soil test kit, and information on how to have a green lawn and a blue Bay.
Contact keeper [at] cascobay [dot] org or call (207) 799-8574 for more details.

Spring BayScaping Tips:

Weed: It’s easier to pull weeds by hand in the Spring.
Overseed: Seed bare spots with perennial ryegrass before weeds take over.
Sharpen blades of the lawn mower: A sharper cut prevents tearing, which can open the grass to fungal infection.

Pesticide Purchases Graph

A New Tactic for Attacking Lawn Chemicals

Pesticide Purchases Graph
Education alone has not succeeded in significantly reducing the amount of pesticides intended for home use.

In 1998, then Casco Baykeeper Joe Payne was featured in a newspaper ad with the message, “Weed‘n’feed isn’t fish food.”

This was the precursor to BayScaping, an outreach campaign that Friends of Casco Bay has conducted since 2000, to encourage homeowners to reduce their use of pesticides and fertilizers. We have partnered with the Maine Board of Pesticides Control on ads, publications, workshops, and Flower Show exhibits, to show homeowners how—and why—to grow lawns without using chemicals that harm our coastal waters. Yet, after nearly two decades of outreach, it is evident that education alone has not significantly reduced the amount of pesticides and fertilizers purchased for Maine lawns.

Citizens are becoming increasingly concerned about the impacts of pesticides and weed-and feed products (a mix of pesticides and fertilizers) on children, pets, pollinators, and the rest of us. Residents are taking matters into their own hands to ban lawn chemicals.

In 2015, Ogunquit became the first town in Maine to enact an ordinance banning the use of outdoor pesticides on both public and private land. South Portland is poised to do the same. South Portland’s approach focuses on education—for consumers, retailers, and town employees—before it phases in a prohibition on pesticide use on public properties, including athletic fields. A ban on pesticide use on private property will follow a year later. In a nod to Friends of Casco Bay’s concerns about nitrogen pollution in Casco Bay, the committee that drafted the South Portland ordinance has stated that an ordinance on fertilizers will be enacted separately.

At the other end of Casco Bay, the coastal town of Harpswell passed a pesticide ordinance on March 12th. Its ordinance clearly seeks to protect the fishing community, where lobstering is a way of life.

According to Mary Ann Nahf, Chair of Harpswell’s Conservation Commission, “The ordinance bans neonictinoids and insect growth regulators because of their toxicity to pollinators and lobsters. To further protect marine createures, it prohibits spraying of any pesticide or fertilizer within 25 feet of the shoreline.”

These ordinances may serve as models for Portland and other municipalities. Could a trend in community bans portend a downward turn in the use of pesticides and fertilizers? Time will tell.