Nature Depends On Them

Two Specialists Care For Apg's Wetlands

August 04, 1991|By Samuel Goldreich | Samuel Goldreich,Staff writer

An Army jeep speeds past James Bailey as he slowly weaves his way out of Aberdeen Proving Ground in a surplus pickup truck covered with faded government-green paint.

"All along this road, alternating on both sides, it's wetlands, up-lands, wetlands, up-lands," Bailey says, pointing back and forth across Old Baltimore Road. "It's extensive,that's the point I'm trying to make."

So extensive, in fact, that wetlands cover at least half the installation's 39,000 acres that aren't submerged under the Chesapeake Bay or the Gunpowder and Bush rivers.

For the past year, Bailey -- who holds a doctorate in the study of parasites -- has been working ona $300,000 management program to map, enhance and restore wetlands at the base. It's an effort that's been praised by state and federal environmental officials.

"We have freshwater wetlands, emerging tidal wetlands, emerging marsh wetlands, forest wetlands. Just about every kind of wetlands there is we have on the site," Bailey says Thursday as he conducts a tour of his domain.

At a base dedicated to developing weapons and testing their breaking points, Bailey has the oddjob of protecting and creating new habitats for the many birds and other wildlife that make APG their home.

The project is partly in response to President Bush's order prohibiting any net loss of wetlands on federal property. The wetlands management plan will allow for quicker approval whenever APG needs to use land for construction or testing purposes. Instead of going through a six-month environmental evaluation, a project can be judged through the 45-day public comment process -- if the base can use its inventory of land to show where new wetlands can be created to replace the old.

APG's most ambitious wetlands project so far was the preservation last year of a 120-acre beaver pond abandoned by its inhabitants.

APG's fish and wildlife specialist James Pottie pushed to have the Army take up where the beavers left off, creating a permanent home for wood ducks, bald eagles and other birds, rare and common. The result is a man-made dam replacing the beavers' 15-year-old structure that would have crumbled in their absence.

APG manages the pond as a test habitat for fish and water fowl. Pottie uses the man-made dam to raise and lower the water, trying to determine the perfect level to grow marsh grasses, attract birds and limit outbreaks of botulism that tend to fester in brackishconditions.

The pond has attracted scores of great blue heron, who flock to the area during the nesting season from April through mid-summer.

A site on the edge of the proving ground -- Maryland Boulevard Park -- is open to the public, unlike much of APG. Here, a localBoy Scout troop maintains a trail that surrounds yet another beaver pond that Bailey and Pottie have inherited.

The park parallels a row of tanks dating to World War I that stand along the road. The areais accessible from Route 715 and APG's Maryland gate in Edgewood.

Stretching for a mile and a half along a paved track where trucks run brutal test courses, the marsh betrays clear signs of previous human occupation.

"This was an old colonial drainage ditch," Pottie says, pointing out where farmers dug a trench to keep their crops from flooding. "You'll stand in a wetland and see a nice big tree and say,'That would be nice in my front yard,' because it used to be somebody's front yard."

"The military's presence is a blessing more than anything else," says Bailey, who like Pottie and most of APG's employees, is a civilian. "It ensured maintenance of this green belt. This is probably the biggest undeveloped green belt along the Chesapeake Bay."

An egret cranes its neck to watch the traffic 10 yards away as Pottie and Bailey lecture on how wetlands control floods, filter impurities from the rain and trap sediment that chokes the bay.

The egret ignores an explosion half a mile away and thrusts its beak intoits fishing hole.

Along the Bush River, Pottie explains that eagles will soon abandon one roosting site because the vacated beaver pond has fallen into disrepair.

But the heron rookery will remain anda colony of black vulture have made an abandoned grenade range one of their northernmost breeding sites.

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