The Environment in Focus with Tom Pelton

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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Timber rattlesnakes have been wiped out from many areas of the East.  But new research suggests these poisonous snakes can be beneficial to the ecosystem and human health, by controlling rodent populations -- which can keep down the number of ticks that carry Lyme disease. Photo above of biologist William H. Martin handling a rattlesnake in Frederick County, Maryland.

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Bert Drake, a plant physiologist at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, used futuristic-looking greenhouses to predict how wetlands plants will react to higher carbon dioxide levels expected at the end of this century.  He concluded that plants will consume more of the greenhouse gas and grow even faster than expected. But there's bad news for plants, too: drought.

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New Jersey-based Hovnanian Enterprises is planning to build more than 1,000 condominiums and houses in an environmentally sensitive waterfront area on a Chesapeake Bay island. Jay Falstad, executive director of the Queen Anne's Conservation Association, is trying to stop the Four Seasons project, pointing in part to the developer's record of almost 600 stormwater pollution violations.

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The Atlantic croaker is one of several species of fish that "talk"--communicate with each other by vibrating muscles next to their swim bladders. University of Maryland biologist Arthur Popper is concerned that noise pollution from ship engines and construction could interfere with the ability of fish like this (including red drum, toadfish, and weakfish) to find mates and prey. The photo above is of John Rodenhausen of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation holding a croaker. 

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President Obama delivered a landmark speech on climate change,  promising to regulate carbon dioxide pollution from power plants. But climate activists marched to the White House to protest ambiguous language and try to stop the proposed Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline.

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Aquaculture is growing in popularity around the world, but the high density of waste created by fish farms poses an environmental threat. David Love, a project director at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, is trying to solve this problem through aquaponics--the recycling of fish waste to feed vegetables growing on rafts.

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A Massachusetts company has asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for permission to market the world's first genetically engineered food animal, the AquAdvantage Salmon, which would combine the DNA of three different species of fish. It would grow twice as fast as natural salmon. But some critics are fighting to stop "the frankenfish" (shown in rear, next to an Atlantic salmon.)

 

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Credit: Maryland Department of Natural Resources

River otters, which are native to the Chesapeake Bay region, love to plunder the soft crab holding tanks of watermen on Tangier Island. So crabbers have fought back by importing cats to guard their tanks--and these cats have spawned new problems.

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One nearly extinct in the East, beaver populations have grown--creating complications for stormwater pollution control systems, which beavers love to dam up. Stephanie Boyles Griffin, director of wildlife response for the Humane Society of the U.S., is convincing governments to use devices called "beaver deceivers" that foil beaver dams in a way that does not kill the animals.

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Plastic trash poses a well-known threat to wildlife, which can choke on plastic bags, fishing lines, and other junk. But now scientists are examining the impact of the next generation of plastic debris: microscopic plastic particles that manufacturers are adding to skin cream, toothpaste, eyeliner, shampoo, and many other personal care products. (Photo of plastic debris on beach from VIMS/Joe Dowling, Sustainable Coastlines, Marine Photobank.)


Contact Tom Pelton at pelton.tom@gmail.com