EPA official reaches out to anglers on bay cleanup

May 15, 2010|By Candus Thomson | The Baltimore Sun

Now I know how those White House party crashers felt.

I received an e-mail Wednesday addressed to "Dear Chesapeake Bay colleague," inviting me to listen in on a "special briefing for the watermen and recreational fishing communities on a new federal strategy for protecting and restoring the Chesapeake Bay watershed."

Earlier in the day, the Obama administration announced a "we really mean it this time" plan to restore the bay that involves tons of federal tough love and forces the six states in the watershed to break a sweat on enacting and enforcing stricter pollution and development laws.

Flattered that anyone would consider me a colleague and excited that I would be receiving anything other than a notice that I had won a Nigerian lottery, I dialed the phone number, punched in the secret pass code and waited. I don't want to say I was giddy, but I was the first on the scene by several minutes.

When Chuck Fox, former secretary of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and now special adviser to the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, got on the line, it was like old home week.

For about 30 seconds. Until everyone introduced themselves.

"What are you doing here," Fox yelped at me.

Oops. Seems I wasn't supposed to get an invitation.

But the other participants, including charter Capt. Ed O'Brien, watermen, recreational anglers and seafood dealers, were cool with it. So I stayed.

Thanks, guys.

Fox outlined the challenges facing those who hope to end more than two decades of bay cleanup charades and truly make the water better. He played down the effects of sewage treatment plant spills, which he called a minor problem, and put the larger issue of runoff from farms and developments in the cross hairs.

He said states, rather than the EPA, have more clout to control what drains into the bay from fields and blacktop. And recreational and commercial fishing groups — along with other sportsmen — have the numbers to keep the pressure on local officials as they draft regulations to reduce pollution.

"The states are going to be on the hook to come up with comprehensive, enforceable plans. I fully expect it will be a difficult challenge," he said in asking for their help. "You all depend on clean water like nobody else does."

Guys such as O'Brien and Scott McGuire of Coastal Conservation Association Maryland pledged their support but urged Fox not to overlook sewage spills, which are easy for boaters and anglers to spot and create a sense that nothing is happening.

And Jack Brooks, president of the Chesapeake Bay Seafood Industries Association and a Cambridge seafood dealer, said it will be important to tell the public who is polluting the bay, likening it to a local market that posts the names of those who bounce checks.

"That hits home," he said. "It's like a report card on people's credit."

Fox promised to contact the group again. Me, too?

Barking up the right tree

Acre for acre, Maryland has more National Champion Trees — 23 — than any other state.

It could have more champions if the Maryland Big Trees Program had more volunteers, says John Bennett, the retired schoolteacher who leads the effort.

Volunteers measure and photograph each nominated tree, a time-consuming effort. Trees are scored on height, girth and canopy; the tree with the most points is declared the champ by America Forests.

Maryland placed six more trees on the national register this year: a swamp chestnut oak in Kent County, an American basswood in Charles County and a Kentucky coffeetree in Washington County. Harford County was responsible for three additions: a bitternut hickory, a Norway maple and an Eastern hemlock.

"Harford went from zero to three," Bennett says. "I don't know of any county in the country that's done that."

Bennett figures that he has "a couple dozen" candidates, eight from Worcester County alone, waiting to be evaluated. And there are potential state champions — one, a bur oak at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore — also waiting to be counted.

If this kind of thing appeals to you, drop him a note at mdbigtreeprogram@aol.com.

The rash of Maryland national champions has its own champion. At 30 feet tall, 18inches around and sporting a 19-foot crown, a poison sumac tree in Arnold, discovered in 2000, shares the title with a Michigan tree.

But both trees might be kicked off the throne soon.

"I've got a fellow who says he's got a bigger one in a swamp in St. Mary's County," Bennett says.

How does one measure a poison sumac tree?

Bennett laughs before answering. "Very carefully."

candy.thomson@baltsun.com

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