Pennsylvania discovers money can grow on trees

Rescuing 600,000 young trees and shrubs that stood in the way of prison construction was of little interest to Pennsylvania officials - until they learned they also could conserve a different kind of greenery.

The state could save up to $2.6 million by using the plants to soak up pollution along 300 miles of Pennsylvania streams. Instead of bulldozing the trees and shrubs - most about 4 years old and less than 2 feet tall - the plants were dug up and stored for the winter and will be replanted in the spring.

"Getting these trees is a gold mine," said Garry Leach, a state forester in Indiana, about 46 miles east of Pittsburgh.

The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources organized mostly young adult workers from the state Conservation Corps and Americorps to help in "Operation Tree Rescue."

The state paid $500,000 for the nursery land at the proposed location of a 500-bed state prison. The nursery stock, which the state planned to auction, was purchased for $800,000.

But the auction was scrapped when officials decided it couldn't be completed in time to begin construction on the prison this spring. "Corrections people agreed they would just have to plow them under or dig them up," said Acting District Forester Bob Schweitzer.

Then someone realized the money-saving potential of the young plants, which fit with Gov. Tom Ridge's promise to plant greenery along 600 miles of Pennsylvania streams.

He and the governors of Maryland and Virginia agreed last October to plant 2,010 miles of forest buffers along streams that feed into the Chesapeake Bay by 2010. The state expected to pay up to $2.6 million for plants that absorb fertilizers running into the Bay. Instead, the greenery salvaged at the Indiana nursery should cover half of the project.

About 65 recruits dug up fistfuls of seedlings last week on the 83 hillside acres about 3 miles northeast of Indiana. They bundled them for the winter and stored them in furrows dug in a spot not designated for construction.

In April, the trees and shrubs will be removed and distributed for replanting, mostly along creeks and rivers in southcentral Pennsylvania.

Victor Funk, the chairman of the committee organizing the Chesapeake Bay project through the state Department of Environmental Protection, said the species at the nursery, such as chokeberry and oak, are ideal for pollution control along streams. "This really jump-starts our program," Funk said.

D.C. to install 2,000 bike racks

Up to 2,000 bicycle racks will be installed over the next three years in Washington suburbs in the hope that people will pedal more and drive less.

The bike racks in three Maryland and four Virginia counties are part of a regional plan for meeting Clean Air Act standards.

"The whole objective is to locate these in areas not just recreational but commuterwise, to get people out of their cars," said Ronald Spalding, a Maryland Department of Transportation planner overseeing the program in Frederick, Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

Half the racks will be installed in those counties and half in the northern Virginia counties of Fairfax, Prince William, Loudon and Alexandria, according to Anne-Marie Bairstow, transportation engineer for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

Bairstow's agency recommended the bike racks in 1995 as part of a five-year plan for meeting federal pollution standards. The region could lose federal transportation funds unless it conforms with the standards, she said.

The goal is to increase bike ridership by 2,220 trips per year, she said.

Currently, about 6,633 people bike to work in the region, or about 0.3 percent of the population, Bairstow said.

Maryland and Virginia will evenly split the $400,000 cost of buying, delivering and installing the racks, Ms. Bairstow said.

For the current fiscal year, Prince George's County has requested 300 racks, Montgomery County wants 155 and Frederick County wants 125, Spalding said. In addition, the state has requested 20 racks to complement those already in use at MARC commuter rail stations, he said.

Group works to save cedars

Atlantic white cedars are remarkably resistant to rot, disease and insects and can live 400 years. But the hardy evergreens that can grow eight stories tall have had a hard time coping with people.

Fewer than 1,000 mature Atlantic white cedars are all that remain of the Ice Age-era trees on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay.

Along the Atlantic seaboard, the cedars' marshy habitat was drained for development and farming and the cedars were cut to make way for profitable bog crops such as cranberries.

But the biggest threat came when people discovered that cedar was valuable for shipbuilding, planking, shingles, casks, utility poles and channel markers. Ecologists suspect Colonial-era shipbuilders in the Annapolis area stripped the Severn and nearby waterways of cedars.

Their dwindling numbers have led conservationists to implement a plan they hope will replenish the trees.

Local environmentalists will harvest seeds for spring planting, as well as root cuttings from the seven stands of cedars along the Severn and Magothy rivers.

"There are very few of these trees. The gene pool is shrinking," said Keith Underwood, an Annapolis wetlands biologist and consultant leading the drive.

Biologists believe the Anne Arundel County trees, more than 50 miles from their nearest relatives on the Eastern Shore, may have genetically adapted to their western shore habitat.

Many are thriving at the edge of slightly salty water near freshwater springs. That is unusual because it requires very little chloride, a component of salt, to kill most Atlantic white cedars, Underwood said.

"With only seven populations, it's certainly cause for concern," said Philip Sheridan, director of Meadowview Biological Research Station in Woodford, Va. Seedlings have sprouted at some of the seven sites, but their future is uncertain because they are a favorite food for deer and rabbits.

Underwood's plan is to have volunteers collect seeds from the Atlantic white cedars in Arlington Echo, where 40 mature specimens stand.

Volunteers will study archives to find out where the heavily logged trees historically grew, in the hope that stands can be restored in those areas.

PA reaches recycling goal

Pennsylvania has reached its goal of recycling 25 percent of municipal waste and will seek further reductions in the coming years.

State law required that the 25-percent level be reached by January of this year. The state will try to recycle 35 percent of municipal waste by 2002.

WV seeks, but won't enforce cuts in poultry pollution

West Virginia environmental authorities plan to encourage poultry farmers to cut their runoff into Potomac River tributaries in half, but have no plans to punish those who don't comply.

West Virginia poultry farms have been under heightened scrutiny since a Washington, D.C.-based environmental group blamed the industry for creating "Third World" conditions in the Potomac.

The state Division of Environmental Protection proposes urging poultry farmers to cut their runoff from 36 percent to 50 percent along six streams that currently exceed safe levels of fecal coliform bacteria. The streams are the South Branch, Lunice Creek, Mill Creek, North Fork, Anderson Run and South Fork.

Bill Brannon, assistant chief of the Office of Water Resources, said poultry plants are affecting water quality in the streams, but to an unknown extent.

The state relies on a good-faith effort by poultry farmers to protect the environment and is not contemplating any fines for noncompliance, Brannon said.

Officials estimate there are nearly 1,000 chicken houses along the South Branch of the Potomac, which forms part of West Virginia's northeastern border with Maryland.

The South Branch flows into the main stem of the Potomac, which empties in Washington, where about 2.5 million residents obtain tap water from it.

Last year, West Virginia produced 90 million broiler chickens. One byproduct was about 150,000 tons of manure, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

State environmental officials have never required poultry farmers to obtain permits limiting the amount of chicken manure that runs off farms into streams. Nor are they required to store the manure in sheds to prevent rain from washing the waste into streams.

Baltimore chosen for study of urban environment

Baltimore is one of two cities chosen for a six-year study of the ecology of an urban environment, a project officials hope will lead to better city planning and quality of life.

The National Science Foundation has given long-term grants of almost $4.38 million to study the urban ecology of Baltimore and Phoenix, AZ.

"Most of the studies focus on pristine natural systems," said Scott Collins, a spokesman for the foundation. "But now we're starting to realize that everything is impacted by humans, and we need to study the urban environment as well."

Researchers will be looking at the urban settings of Baltimore and Phoenix to address such issues as how wildlife adapts to cities, what effect pollutants have on water and soil, and even how organisms develop in the sewer system.

Baltimore was chosen because of its system of watersheds, which give ecologists a good starting point for their research, said Steward Pickett, director of the Baltimore site and a scientist at the Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, N.Y.

"Watersheds provide a long history of data about an area, and that's what we'd like to begin with," Pickett said.

The researchers will first look at the Gwynns Falls watershed and test water and sediment in and around it.

Scientists also will examine how cities are arranged - where industrial districts are or where commercial districts locate. Pickett said the study will reveal what drives the development of cities.

The results will help people determine, for instance, what to do with vacant lots and rundown areas, and they will help people understand the downstream effects of their water and air use.

Another goal of the study will be to help people become more ecologically informed, Pickett said. He hopes to involve Baltimore schools with some of the studies and information gathering.