Sustaining the harvest, the land, the mission

Courtesy photo by Matt Rath

For at least several thousand years before Capt. John Smith arrived in the Chesapeake Bay, when the Powhatan, Piscataway, and Nanticoke were the primary residents in the region, Native Americans harvested the Bay’s fall bounty as we continue to do today.

Fall harvest of crops, wild plants and animals

Corn, gourds, and squash, including pumpkins, are still harvested from our fertile soil here in the fall as well as waterfowl, Rockfish, oysters, turkey, deer and other wild game from the Bay and forests. These all are incorporated into hearty recipes that are best enjoyed in the cooler weather.

Courtesy photo by Clark Vandergrift, Visit Maryland.Org

Natural resource conservation and restoration or reintroduction efforts in Maryland – some of which began around the time APG was founded in 1917 – have helped to restore and sustain that harvest even as growing populations, development, historic overharvesting, and pollution diminished the harvest from earlier times.

Though still far from early colonial levels, populations of many harvested species have risen back to levels enough to allow, or even require, an annual fall harvest that helps sustain the region’s cultural, economic, and natural heritage.

Flora and fauna, wild and domestic, terrestrial and aquatic

In addition to the traditional bull roasts, pig roasts, and Maryland fried chicken feasts that celebrate domestic livestock production in Maryland, many wild animals are harvested at this time of year.

The fall is the preferred hunting season for managed game in Maryland because populations can be reduced before the winter months when food becomes less available to wildlife.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources regulates hunting in Maryland and lists seasons for the following species in the 2017-2018 hunt: deer, turkey, goose, duck, doves, rails, woodcock, common snipe, black bear, squirrel, rabbit, quail, pheasant, ruffed grouse, crow, beaver, coyote, long-tailed weasel, fisher, fox, muskrat, mink, nutria, groundhog, river otter, raccoon, opossum, and skunk.

Most of these are taken for meat but some are still harvested for fur and hides.

Aquatic species still harvested in Maryland include: blue crab, rockfish, oysters, soft-shell clams, flounder, perch, spot, croaker, catfish, sea trout, bluefish, bay scallops and bluegill.

A few other less common harvests still occur in Maryland including some wild mushrooms, wild herbs, aquatic plants, snapping turtles, and bull frogs.

Pre-World War II Maryland cookbooks often list a large variety of native plants or animals that might surprise the uninitiated. Some, like the diamondback terrapin turtle (Maryland State reptile and University of Maryland mascot) was a very common menu item in those days (89,000 pounds reported harvested in 1891) but their harvest was ended in 2007 to preserve the species. Snapping turtle soup is still available since that species is far more plentiful. Many native Maryland trees and shrubs produce either edible nuts or fruits. Though the chestnuts for “roasting on open fires” are mostly gone due to an imported blight, you can still harvest walnuts, beech nuts, hickory nuts, and persimmon in the fall. Domestic apples are also harvested for table fruit, pies, and the traditional apple butter festivals where the fruit is mashed, spiced, and churned all day in caldrons over open fires. This a traditional local aroma of fall that is welcomed in the chill air.

There are also many edible native plants and mushrooms in Maryland but none should be harvested or eaten without expert knowledge of their safety and proper preparation.

Sustaining the Army mission alongside native species

Harford county’s namesake, Henry Harford, was the last Lord Baltimore and his surname is also a location in England. Some linguistic historians believe the name is a combination of Old English words for a deer or army river crossing. In either case, the name fits well for a county where the Army and deer co-exist by two major rivers, the Bush and the Gunpowder, which was named for the saltpeter or potassium nitrate used in gunpowder found there in colonial times.

Photo courtesy of Chesapeake Bay Program

Before 1917, the Aberdeen Area neck of APG was largely farmland. Even after the Army moved in, some fields and orchards were maintained to feed the troops stationed here.

Hunting clubs were set up on the Edgewood Area neck of APG. The Upper Bay has long been a favored waterfowl hunting region for everyone from local hunters to the rich and powerful such as banking financier J.P. Morgan, Jr. who built a hunging lodge on Spesutie Island, and several presidents.

The submerged vegetation , the vegetated shorelines and wetlands around APG support a variety of local and migrating waterfowl. The forests and meadows continue to support deer, turkey and other game. Firearm and bow hunters still utilize APG’s hunting areas annually.

Federal law, by way of The Sikes Act, requires professional management of the natural resources at military installations and allows for public access that does not interfere with the military mission. Turkey hunting is permitted at APG, as is rabbit and squirrel. Deer hunting in particular is critical at APG as a cost-effective way to manage healthy ecosystems that can support and sustain the mission here.

Deer hunting

Photo courtesy of Chesapeake Bay Program

Deer seasons were first established in the colonies as early as 1729 to conserve the deer population from over-hunting. A regulated annual hunting season open to the public is the current method at APG for keeping the deer population from expanding to damaging levels. Excess deer are a threat to the mission, a threat to healthy and balanced ecosystems, and a threat to public and animal health.

Deer are an important and treasured part of the local ecosystem, but excess deer create safety hazards for vehicles and other operations, damage the young trees that regenerate the forests, overgraze native flora, and vector insects and diseases that threaten people as well as the deer population.

Prior to human hunting in the area deer populations were maintained at healthy levels by top predators such as the gray wolves and Eastern mountain lions that no longer exist in great numbers along the East Coast.

Coyotes from southern and western states have recently moved into every county in Maryland. According to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, only fawns under six months of age are likely to be vulnerable to coyotes which tend to take smaller, easier prey such as rodents and rabbits.

The Integrated Natural Resources Management Plan at APG (as required for all DoD installations by the Sikes Act) guides the Natural Resources Team and all APG tenants in managing all native plants and animals holistically for healthy ecosystems that will sustain the Army mission here indefinitely.

Tree harvest

Trees that naturally fall, or need to be removed for mission at APG, may be sold for firewood. The proceeds of the sales of any wood products on military property go into an Army forestry account. Even wood chips are considered Army property and must be used on site or sold.

A certain amount, and variety of species, of dead trees are retained in the forests of APG to support certain wildlife – such as wood peckers and wood ducks – and to help renew the forest ecosystems.

Permits for taking firewood from APG can be purchased Bldg. E4630 in APG South (Edgewood). Certain safety requirements and rules for removing wood are described in APG Regulation 200-63.

Firewood stock piles are located in both areas of APG. For information about firewood availability or permits, contact the Natural Resources Team at 410-436-8789 in APG South (Edgewood) or 410-278-0536 in APG North (Aberdeen).

Ready for winter

Photo courtesy of MD DNR

As hay barns , silos, larders, canning jars, freezers and firewood piles are filled and stacked for livestock and humans, wildlife also conduct fall harvest and food storage activities.

Some non-resident ducks and geese fill their bellies for a long migration south. Squirrels routinely bury acorns for meals later on in winter. The acorns that aren’t dug up by spring, become the oak forests that so many APG creatures rely on along with other nut trees.

Some mammals, like the APG groundhogs, cousins of “Punxsutawney Phil,” retreat underground for a long nap until they peek outside for their shadows in February or March. Before it was the “APG News” the post newspapers adopted the name of this familiar resident and one-time APG mascot and was known as “The Groundhog.”

Marylanders witness the retreat of the “Pennsylvania Navy” (Maryland watermen term for Keystone State boaters) which is nearing completion as boats are pulled and winterized. Many watermen used to switch from summer crabbing to winter oyster dredging, when that bivalve was more plentiful, but some now subsidize incomes guiding waterfowl hunts or renting forest to deer or turkey hunting parties.

These days, due to global trade we count on every meat, seafood, fruit and vegetable known being available every day of the year in our local supermarket. There are some trends by chefs and the environmentally conscious to return us to being “locavores” that primarily eat foods harvested in the region at the appropriate time of year. But whether for freshness, environmental motives, or just for maintaining fun traditions, it can be a pleasure to participate in the local annual fall harvest and celebrate the bounty and protection of our natural resources here at APG in the heart of Bay country.

APG natural resources managers have continually coordinated the natural infrastructure stewardship that supports and sustains the Army’s testing and training mission. Working with partners from APG tenant organizations, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, APG Directorate of Public Works personnel developed and coordinated the Integrated Natural Resources Management Plan as a roadmap for a sustainable mission landscape that is created through proactive management of APG’s natural resources.

By John Leader, APG DPW, Natural Resources Team