October 9, 2008

Editorial: Our State Reptile Finally Gets Its Due:

For long, long stretches, it may seem as if we never bring you any good news about the Chesapeake Bay. But we did on Sunday.

True, we weren't able to report that the state reptile, the diamondback terrapin, is making a comeback. We couldn't even say that the state has come up with a terrapin management plan - the Department of Natural Resources is bringing together experts to work on such a document soon.

But with commercial harvesting of the turtles suspended for more than a year now and the researchers out looking for nests on the beaches, there's at least some excuse for optimism.

As Dr. Richard Seigel of Towson University commented, "we've bought ourselves a good amount of time. (and) we can take a look at what we can do long-term for this species."

Certainly this is a vast improvement over the situation before last year - with commercial harvesting permitted even though remarkably little was known about the extent or the health of the terrapin population.

Even without the harvesting, the terrapins are most likely in serious trouble because of pollution, boat strikes, crabbing and fishing (they can get caught and killed in pots and nets) and habitat destruction (they need marshes to live in and sandy beaches for nesting).

And, as they take a long time to mature to breeding age, terrapins may not be a resilient species. We may already have damaged them to the extent that it will take them decades to come back.

But the state should commit itself to the effort, no matter how long it takes. We're hoping that the researchers assembled by the DNR will put together a usable blueprint for state policy.

The cost of the plan - $10,000, some of it paid through a federal grant - is a minor expense if it yields insight and guidance on how to save the fascinating creature that is both the state reptile and the mascot of the University of Maryland College Park.

We don't want to contemplate a future in which the diamondback terrapin is reduced to a few captives living in zoos and aquariums - and perhaps we won't have to.

Working on health

IN 15 YEARS Anne Arundel County has had four county executives, not to mention two hurricanes and at least two major health scares. And through all that time the county could always draw on the steadiness and competence of its health officer, Frances B. Phillips.

But not for much longer. In December, Mrs. Phillips starts as the state health department's deputy secretary of public health services. It's a gain for Maryland as a whole, but a loss for this county.

Mrs. Phillips dealt well with everything from fly ash to cancer screenings. She established her department's office of minority health, and worked on providing health care to the uninsured. It says a lot about her colleagues' view of her abilities that four years ago she was even asked to pinch-hit for a few months as interim fire chief.

We thank Mrs. Phillips and wish her the best in her new job. {Corrections:} {Status:}

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