State is asked to protect fragile bogs in Arundel

Officials agree to weigh special status after tour

November 30, 1999|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Conservationists desperate to protect a string of bogs along the Magothy River showed off the dinosaur-era ecosystems yesterday to state officials, hoping to win special environmental consideration for at least three recently discovered wetlands containing rare plants.

The bogs, which lie at the edge of residential communities, are among about 10 on Anne Arundel County's Pasadena peninsula, a swath environmentalists are calling the "biodiversity hot spot" of the state because of the large number of endangered plants sprouting from their peat.

State and local officials treaded lightly amid endangered carnivorous plants, the largest stands of rare native bamboo in the state and other Ice Age relics as they discussed the importance of the fragile wetlands and how to preserve them.

From a distance, some of the bogs looked like low-lying meadows dotted with pine trees. Others looked like wet rugs laid out in the sun, a testament to the variability among the related coastal bogs, which are unique in Maryland, said Judy Cole, the Maryland Department of the Environment's bog expert.

The largest known stand in Maryland of yellow-fringed orchids lies in one bog, endangered pitcher plants in another. Most of the shrubby leatherleaf, threatened with extinction in Maryland, exists in the Magothy, Cole said.

Bogs hold insects, worms, bacteria, even fungi, that are different from those anywhere else, and each bog may contain genetically unique species, she said.

"These are some of the most important wetlands in the state. To the extent that we can, we should protect them," said J. L. Hearn, director of the Water Management Administration of the Maryland Department of the Environment.

Yesterday, he and other MDE officials agreed to consider proposing the addition of the newly detected bogs to state regulations that provide more protection for enumerated sites.

More discussion planned

Toward that end, they will meet soon with the same group of preservationists and local officials, this time drawing in the Department of Natural Resources, the state agency that recently earmarked $675,000 to help purchase land in the Magothy greenway. Anne Arundel County has set aside $200,000 for the same purpose.

Del. Joan Cadden, a Brooklyn Park Democrat who represents the area, said an additional $1 million would be needed to purchase or obtain easements for all 1,000-plus undeveloped acres that include most of the bogs.

DNR is negotiating with one property owner, said agency spokesman John Surrick. And environmentalists, undaunted by their failure to capture a state Rural Legacy grant this fall, have begun to identify owners of other property they want to buy.

"Everyone is to be applauded at this meeting," said bog expert and landscape architect Keith Underwood. "I feel like this is going to move forward."

Still a mystery

But nobody is sure what areas drain into the bogs. Nor does anyone know whether there's a complete accounting of the soggy sites.

Conservationists stumbled onto their newest finds in June. "They are just being discovered because nobody has gone to look for them," said MDE's Cole.

Ginger Ellis, Anne Arundel County's environmental planning administrator, said the county has just started to map the bog watersheds. State officials can use the maps to try to win the state protection -- a 100-foot buffer instead of a 25-foot buffer from any development -- for the bogs, a process that includes public meetings and detailed site identification.

Underwood and Melvin Bender, president of the Magothy River Land Trust, said that even 100-foot buffers probably are not enough in the Mountain Road corridor, which is better known for crowded roads and schools than for bogs.

That is why environmentalists want conservation of areas larger than the bogs and the land immediately surrounding them.

"As long as you've got cash in your pocket, I'm in favor of that," replied Hearn.

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