Ball Games, Boat Trips, and Wade-Ins
Bernie Fowler and Steny Hoyer. Credit: Michael W. Fincham
Reading the tale of the tape measure are Maryland politicians Bernie Fowler, a former state senator, and Steny Hoyer, current U.S. congressman. The water clarity mark for June 14 at the 2015 Patuxent River Wade-In measured 44.5 inches of light penetration. The Wade-In, which focuses attention on the health of the river, has been conducted yearly since 1988. Photograph, Michael W. Fincham

BERNIE FOWLER HAS BEEN RUNNING his annual Patuxent River Wade-In since 1988, and scientists and politicians have been showing up every year to go wading with him.

They come for several reasons: to keep alive their commitment to cleaning up the Patuxent River and to monitor the progress of the cleanup. They use the most basic of instruments: their eyes and their feet and a tape measure. How far out can they wade and still see their feet? When Bernie Fowler grew up on the river, he could wade out to shoulder depth and still watch blue crabs scrambling through the underwater grasses. When he saw the water grow cloudy, Fowler became a politician on a mission.

And they come to the Wade-In for another reason: to reconnect. The cleanup campaign Fowler launched as a rookie politician drew support from scientists he met through softball games against the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory (CBL), the research center at the mouth of the river. And his wade-in has kept that connection alive. Among the scientists on hand this year for the speeches and the music and the wading were Tom Miller and Walter Boynton from CBL.

Wading alongside the scientists were politicians committed to the cleanup cause. U.S. Congressman Steny Hoyer and Mike Miller, president of the Maryland Senate, both made speeches, and Hoyer, as he often does, made the official measurement (see cover photograph above). This year's water clarity mark, he said, came in at 44.5 inches.

How can scientists connect with politicians and policymakers? It's an important question because most of us believe scientists can help policymakers reach the right decisions on complicated questions about environmental issues.

Serving on government commissions is one way scientists try to drive policymaking. They review the scientific literature, try to reach consensus, and then offer the best, science-based options for dealing with oysters or blue crabs or Pfiesteria fish kills or the sediments behind Conowingo Dam. Sometimes their findings become policy, sometimes not.

Serving as government advisers is another technique. Don Boesch, president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, now serves on the Governor's Bay Cabinet, along with the heads of the Departments of Natural Resources, the Environment, Agriculture, and Planning. He's working in a Maryland science tradition that dates back to 1925 when Reginald Truitt founded the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory. "My role is to tell the truth as I know it as a scientist," says Boesch. "And I will." Sometimes policymakers listen, sometimes not.

In this issue of Chesapeake Quarterly, however, we are looking at some of the less formal ways in which scientists and policymakers have built personal connections and worked together. In recent Bay history, relationships between scientists and policymakers, connections built on competence and character, have become important forces for environmental progress. "I have seen it frequently," says Ann Swanson, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Commission. "To translate science into policy, there has to be somewhere in there a deep relationship of trust."

Where does trust begin? Sometimes during ball games and boat trips and community wade-ins. They have been the secret key to creating alliances that altered attitudes about environmental issues and helped create science-based policies for attacking the problems facing the Chesapeake Bay and its great tributaries.

— Michael W. Fincham

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Chesapeake Quarterly and Bay Journal teamed up in 2014 to produce a series of articles about sea level rise, coastal flooding, and the Chesapeake Bay. Articles appeared in both print and online. This 72-page, full-color report compiles this content along with a new foreword to offer a comprehensive look at the subject. Download a pdf of the report here.

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