Biologists zap fish in interest of Howard County conservation

April 28, 1994|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,Sun Staff Writer

Electro-fishing anyone?

"It sounds diabolical, and almost everybody thinks we look like the Ghostbusters when we're at it, but the fish recover quite nicely," says Stu Lehman, a biologist with the Department of Natural Resources.

He's talking about how he stuns small fish living in streams so he can show people the many varieties.

The unique demonstration helps Mr. Lehman drive home to people a lesson in conservation. Mr. Lehman's pitch will be part of the county's first effort to educate new residents of the countryside.

The event, dubbed Conservation Discovery Day, runs from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. Saturday at the University of Maryland's Central Research & Education Center on Folly Quarter Road.

Organizers at the Howard County Soil Conservation District Office have assembled about a dozen authorities on farm and country-life related topics.

Topics to be covered include pesticide safety, nutrient and animal waste management for small operations, wildlife and meadow management, pasture and forage production, well and septic systems, tree planting techniques, soil testing, organic composting and drainage around the house.

The free event is aimed in particular at residents living on 3- to 50-acre properties, said Patty Engler, of the county soil conservation office.

State Sen. Christopher J. McCabe, a Republican whose 14th District includes the western portion of the county, also is an organizer of the event.

The idea was to explain conservation and environmental issues for residents living on small and midsize properties on what once were large working farms, said Ms. Engler.

Traditionally the soil conservation service has helped owners of large farms manage their properties with conservation measures.

"We realized there was a gap in reaching the people who had the smaller farm properties," said Ms. Engler.

Also, said Ms. Engler, "We were finding a lot of people overstocking these type of properties with horses and other livestock," which leads to soil erosion and pollution of streams.

Another important conservation issue the soil conservation office plans to address is the maintenance of well and septic systems.

"A lot of people who move from the city to the country are very unfamiliar with wells and septic systems. They don't realize you have to have maintain these systems properly," said Ms. Engler.

An exhibit and talk that organizers expect to be particularly popular Saturday will be about wildlife.

Several wildlife specialists will be on hand to show people how rural properties can be enhanced with trees, wetlands and other additions so that birds and other wildlife find the property hospitable.

What should prove one of the more unusual demonstrations will be Mr. Lehman's stream ecology exhibit, said Ms. Engler.

Mr. Lehman says he'll lead a short trek along a stream on the research center property so people can get an up-close view of the fish and other fauna that call such small country streams home.

"People are usually surprised at how many different types of fish are found in a small stream," said Mr. Lehman.

"I like to take them to an area of the stream that has a good buffer of trees and other vegetation, and then to an area that doesn't have a good buffer. You can see how a stream is affected by having a poor buffer. We catch fewer types of fish -- and just plain fewer fish. It's a pretty clear lesson."

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