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The Environment in Focus with Tom Pelton

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The Environment in Focus is a weekly perspective on the issues and people changing Maryland's natural world. There's a story behind every bend of the Chesapeake Bay's 11,684 miles of shoreline, in every abandoned coal mine in the Appalachian Mountains, in every exotic beetle menacing our forests and in every loophole snuck into pollution control laws in Annapolis. Tom Pelton gives you a tour of this landscape every Wednesday morning at 9:35 a.m. and 5:45 p.m.  He describes the people behind the news and discusses the broader government policies and trends shaping our ecology -- our land, our air and our Bay.

Tom Pelton is senior writer for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.  From 1997 until 2008, he was a journalist for The Baltimore Sun, where he won national awards for his environmental reporting.  He's hosted "The Environment in Focus" since 2007.

The Environment in Focus is sponsored by The Nature Conservancy, which conserves the lands and waters on which all life depends. In Maryland, our work spans from the Chesapeake Bay to our western forests, protecting clean water and air, preserving recreational opportunities and saving our natural legacy for future generations.  Learn more at nature.org/Maryland.

Program Days: 
Wednesday
Short Program: 
Only Archive

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As the Maryland General Assembly opens its 2014 session today, one of the biggest battles is expected to be over efforts to overturn a water pollution law.  Lawmakers have introduced at least five different bills to eliminate, delay, or create exemptions for suburban and urban runoff pollution control fees mandated by a 2012 law. 

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It is a story line that seems more fitting for science fiction than life in the Chesapeake Bay.  An invasive species of barnacle from the Gulf Coast, Loxothylacus panopaei, is hijacking the reproductive systems of Chesapeake mud crabs (above), transforming male crabs into female-looking crabs that produce fake eggs sacs full of larval parasites. (Originally broadcast 10-31-12)

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The epic journey of tundra swans from Canada and the northern U.S. states to Maryland and Virginia is one of the most beautiful things you can see and hear in the Chesapeake region's winters. But the arctic angels are visiting less and less often, because water pollution and disease are destroying their food supply of underwater grasses and shellfish.  (Originally broadcast 1-2-13)

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It may be hard to believe in this era of climate change, but the Chesapeake Bay used to freeze over in the winter with some regularity. A Smith Island boat captain recalls what it was like the last time his home was completely surrounded by ice: In the harsh winter of 1976-1977. (Photo of frozen bay from the Chesapeake Bay Program)

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American shad are sometimes called "the founding fish" because of the central role they played in the diet and economy of the American colonies.  After nearly being wiped out, shad are returning to the Potomac River in part because of because of water quality improvements and a ban on killing them.

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Coyotes, which are native to the West, over the last three decades have been moving into Maryland and multiplying in suburban and even urban environments like Baltimore.   Genetic testing of some of the animals in the Chesapeake Bay region suggest they are mixed-breed "coywolves" -- larger coyotes that are the product of the animals breeding with their mortal enemies: wolves. (Photo of coyote from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

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Communities across the Chesapeake Bay region recently started imposing fees on their residents to pay for stormwater control systems.  Two people who can testify personally to the need for these projects are Jonathan and Elizabeth Stoltzfus. They had to flee their home because of a giant sink hole caused by uncontrolled  stormwater runoff.

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The gothic Victorian American Brewery building in East Baltimore was abandoned for more than three decades before being reborn as the offices of a non-profit organization, Humanim, that gives jobs and training to disadvantaged people.  Next door, the city tore down 18 dilapidated row houses to allow the creation of a park that absorbs polluted runoff like a sponge.  This green sponge keeps runoff pollution out of the Inner Harbor and Chesapeake Bay. Above, Jeff Carroll, a director at Humanim, stands outside the former brewery.

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Because hydraulic fracturing has made supplies of natural gas so abundant in the U.S., an energy company is proposing to build a more than $3 billion liquid natural gas export pier at Cove Point in Southern Maryland.  Some environmental activists are trying to stop the project, because they fear it will encourage more fracking and undermine efforts to shift to cleaner fuels, like wind and solar.

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Because wild Chesapeake Bay oysters are increasingly scarce, many oyster harvesters are switching to growing their own oysters in tanks and underwater cages.  Former watermen Johnny Shockley and his father Dorsey took the evolution a step further. Their family launched a business, Hooper's Island Oyster Aquaculture Company, that markets the techniques and technology of aquaculture from their website (www.cgoysters.com) to Asia and around the world.


Contact Tom Pelton at pelton.tom@gmail.com