Discovery adds urgency to bog-aid dispute

June 23, 2000|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Step on them, and they wiggle and squish. Slip off the peat, and you plop into the water they float on. But from these dense mats of dead plants sprout unique growth, among it thick-leafed shrubs and carnivorous plants in Ice Age relic bogs that hold the brightest flowers imaginable.

Within a few weeks, the Maryland Department of the Environment will ask a joint House-Senate committee to adopt emergency regulations that would give a group of bogs and their rare plants and bugs greater environmental protection from Pasadena's encroaching development.

Four of the bogs are recent discoveries, bringing to 10 the number of fragile bogs in a swath across Anne Arundel County's Pasadena peninsula. Environmentalists call the area a "biodiversity hotspot" probably unequaled in the state, and Del. Joan Cadden, the Brooklyn Park Democrat who is leading the cause says they are nothing short of treasures.

Some of the bogs may be 4,000 years old, others may be the remains of ice ponds from the 1800s.

Landscape architect Keith Underwood of Crownsville, whose passion and expertise are bogs, says the Pasadena bogs hold an assortment of plants threatened with extinction, plants that grow nowhere but in acidic, nutrient-poor bogs. Garden soil, a little fertilizer, a different water temperature would kill them, yet they thrive on the metals that send other plants into a wilt. The state's largest known stand of stunning, yellow-fringed orchids grows in one bog, carnivorous pitcher plants in another. And most of the leatherleaf shrub in Maryland lives near the Magothy.

Besides filtering water on its way to the Chesapeake Bay, each bog is a separate ecosystem. Experts say these bog plants, like Saint Johnswort sometimes used as a treatment for depression, may hold medical secrets, commercial promise and more. If Maryland were to promote a cranberry industry, it could have native cranberries from these bogs. The timber industry might learn from Maryland's Atlantic white cedars to see what genetically allows them to live in the mid-Atlantic when northern and southern varieties are not interchangeable, said geneticist Robert J. Griesbach of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's research center in Beltsville.

The Magothy bogs, as well as a few others, lie in an unusual band of soils that cuts across the county from Pasadena to Odenton.

It is that delicate existence that supporters want to protect and promote as a means to a healthier bay. The proposed regulations would enlarge a 25-foot buffer around the bogs to 100 feet, said Gary T. Setzer, who administers MDE's wetlands program, and would add a layer of intense state review to proposals to build within the buffer. The bogs' local and professional champions don't think that's a cure-all but say it's a start.

While MDE was working on its regulations and Anne Arundel County officials were mapping the area, home construction started on a lot that has a pitcher plant bog found last year. County officials said they had issued the permits based on existing 25-foot buffer regulations, but bog supporters are seething.

Oddly, it was their first and failed run at protection last year - a $7.6 million Rural Legacy grant to buy 1,000 acres - that led to the discovery of more bogs.

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