New Coastal Bays Head Named

OCEAN CITY – The Maryland Coastal Bays Program announced last week 10-year veteran Dave Wilson will take over as executive director.

The former public outreach coordinator started with the program in 1997 as work began to unite fishermen, farmers, builders, scientists, and interested citizens to develop a consensus-based plan to clean up the bays behind Ocean City and Assateague. Last week, Wilson took over as full-time director after serving as acting director since January when Dave Blazer left the post for an environmental consulting position with Talbot Energy Associates.

Wilson has a history of coalescing disparate views as arbitrator in a number of fishing, forestry and planning committees. In recent years, Wilson has worked closely with Delaware and Virginia as chair of the Delmarva Atlantic Watershed Network (DAWN), a mix of planners and decision-makers from Sussex County, Del., Worcester County, and Accomack and Northampton counties in Virginia.

In December of 2007 under Wilson’s guidance, the group created build out scenarios to show what the four counties would look like when built out, based on current zoning. The work’s groundswell of media coverage has prompted Virginia and Delaware to hold additional workshops this summer to look at alternatives. Significant portions of the coastal bays watershed include the two states.

An avid fisherman, birder, cyclist and kayaker, Wilson has become a frequent lecturer on growth and wildlife-related topics. He recently showcased Coastal Bays Program work with presentations in Puerto Rico, New Orleans, Washington, DC, Philadelphia and Atlanta.

During his tenure as public outreach coordinator, Wilson has spoken to more than 250 local community groups on conservation issues in the coastal bays and generated some 3,000 news stories, 140 radio shows and 240 television appearances. He coordinated Maryland Coast Day and authored most Coastal Bays Program publications including its weekly column, quarterly newsletter, Homeowners Guide, Coastal Bays Boaters Guide, Fishing Size Limit guide and a significant portion of the program’s State of the Bays Report and Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan.

“My job was to put the coastal bays on the map and highlight the issues the estuary faces,” he said, “but we still have a long way to go.”

Earlier this year DNR scientists highlighted significant declines in water quality in Chincoteague Bay, usually considered the coastal bays most pristine water body. In 2005, the bay lost 40 percent of its bay grasses and like much of the coastal bays has shown increases in nutrients and decreases in oxygen levels since 2001.

“We saw a lot of improvement in the 90s,” Wilson said, “but the signs over the past half decade or so are very troubling.”

Wilson said he wants the program to continue to stick to its management plan.

“Hundreds of locals spent thousands of hours working on that effort and we need to honor their commitment and ours by fulfilling the obligation we made to accomplish the goals in the plan,” he said.

Nevertheless, Wilson added that the Coastal Bays Program would continue to look at larger precedent-setting issues that affect water quality and that are relevant to the goals set in the Coastal Bays Management Plan. In the recent past, the program played a part in the Worcester County Comprehensive Plan passage, Critical Areas law, and efforts to protect large land parcels on both Ayers and Grey’s creeks.

“Water quality improvement will continue to be our top priority,” he said, “but wildlife habitat and land conservation will be important components in the overall effort to restore and protect this fragile estuary.” He added that education and outreach on these issues will continue to be central to the program’s work.

One of 28 National Estuary Programs, the Coastal Bays Program is a non-profit organization that began in 1996. The Estuary Program, which targets the most biologically and economically significant estuaries in the country, is partially funded through the federal Clean Water Act. Last year, the Coastal Bays Program added a $1 million endowment at the Community Foundation and raised $326,000 in private donations. The towns of Ocean City and Berlin, Worcester County, the state of Maryland, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are all partners in the Coastal Bays effort.