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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Populations of frogs and other amphibians have been declining around the world. Researcher Lisa Schloegel and colleagues have concluded that the breeding and farming of bullfrogs in Brazil, Taiwan and China, and the international sales of these live frogs (including in the Asian market in Philadelphia, shown above) may be spreading a fungus that causes a disease called chytridiomycosis, which is often deadly in amphibians.

 

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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.

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Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley's administration is proposing new regulations to reduce fertilizer and manure runoff pollution from farms. Although the farm lobby opposes the rules because of the cost, hog farmer Will Morrow (shown above) supports the regulations, because cheap food carries a high price tag downstream, to public health.

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The Chesapeake Bay region has now reached the "clipping point," where the nearly four million acres of lawns exceeds all the land devoted to corn, wheat, soybeans and other crops, according to a report by the Chesapeake Stormwater Network. "Bay Wise" gardeners like Lynn Dickens (above) are trimming back lawn fertilizer pollution by replacing their lawns with gardens of ferns, wild ginger and other plants native to Maryland.

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The tiny island town of Tylerton in the Chesapeake Bay is sinking because of rising sea levels and erosion. But the women of the Smith Island Crab Meat Cooperative sing gospel hymns as they pick crabs on the island, and say they are sustained by a seawall of faith.

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Fisherman Shawn Wetzel with blue catfish: credit Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Blue catfish, native to the Mississippi River, grow up to 140 pounds and four-and-a-half feet long--more than twice the size of any native Chesapeake Bay catfish. Virginia game managers introduced them to local rivers in the 1970s as a sport fish, but now regret the move, because the "blue cats" are multiplying and have ravenous appetites for native fish species that are in decline.

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Freakish weather events this summer--droughts, wild fires, record-breaking heat, and the "derecho" storms across the East--have inflicted economic damage on millions of American voters. But an eerie silence on climate-related subjects is the reaction from the U.S. presidential candidates, and public opinion on global warming has eroded because of the economic downturn.

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Coyotes, which are native to the West and Midwest, over the last three decades have been moving into Maryland and the East and multiplying in suburban and even urban environments like Baltimore and Washington, DC. 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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The average American eats 100 pounds of poultry meat every year. But what do these 9 billion chickens eat? A study by Johns Hopkins researchers found that the poultry industry feeds the birds their own feathers, ground up and mixed with grains.  And this feather meal may be laced with a variety of drugs and chemicals, including arsenic, caffeine, banned antibiotics, and the active ingredients in Benadryl, Tylenol, and Prozac. 

 

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In a shallow bay of the Potomac River an hour south of Washington, D.C., lie the remains of 214 wooden cargo ships from World War I, some of which have sprouted trees and become islands. The so-called "Ghost Fleet of Mallows Bay" is a reminder of the waste of war, and also of nature's resilience and ability to transform even a junkyard into an insurgency of life. (Originally aired 7/15/11.)


Contact Tom Pelton at pelton.tom@gmail.com