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August 24, 2019

Congressman Trone visits, hears presentations at Appalachian Laboratory in Frostburg

Credit: Cumberland Times-News, Brandon Glass

FROSTBURG — After meeting with Garrett County Commissioners for breakfast and Frostburg Mayor Robert Flanigan for lunch, U.S. Rep. David Trone continued his tour around Allegany and Garrett counties at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science — Appalachian Laboratories on Friday, stopping in to listen to presentations by various faculty members and students.

“What I’m delighted about, this two days we spent up here in Allegany and Garrett County, is that we have a lot of good news and good progress,” said Trone, “but, boy, we have a lot more to go. We just got done talking here (with) some brilliant scientists. I mean, the work that’s being done here is just totally cutting edge and it’s spectacular.”

“We’ve got so many top scientists here at the Appalachian Laboratory. We learned about the trout, learned about global warming, climate change. We’re making some headways in certain areas when we put our minds together in a concerted effort, a bipartisan effort. We’ve seen great progress in nitrogen, mercury, the Chesapeake Bay, the Potomac River,” said Trone, of the reduction of pollutants and the revitalization of waterways in the region. “Those are good stories, and sometimes those good stories happen to be local stories.”

The presentations from faculty and students of the Appalachian Laboratory ran the gamut of environmental subjects. The facility is a complex, well-maintained building close by to Frostburg State University that receives funding from grants and state support, and focuses on graduate students.

Each presenter was limited to four minutes per presentation, give or take a few. 

Katia Engelhardt gave her presentation on the health of submersed aquatic plants in the Potomac, improvements and alternatives to roadside ecosystems that don’t require as much maintenance as the current grasses used and on restoration of the American Chestnut.

Two native grasses brought up were sideoats grama and purple love grass. 

“We do science that benefits society,” said Engelhardt. “You’ll be looking at the roadside differently.”

Mark Cochrane was supposed to speak next on managing forest fire risks in the Appalachian region, however, he was away being interviewed about the fires in Brazil and his flight home was delayed.

Using the saved time, Juliet Nagel, a Ph.D. student, and Dave Nelson gave their presentation next on bat conservation. Key points from the talk were that bat populations have declined in recent years, with White Nose Syndrome and wind turbines being considered as factors. The loss of bat life could have major impacts on the environment as they are thought to eat their bodyweight in insects.

“I grew up on a farm,” said Trone. “We had lots of bats.”

Bob Hilderbrand spoke about brook trout management. The brook trout is native to Maryland and likes cold waters, and as temperatures rise their populations could become disturbed, they could move out or die out.

Matt Fitzpatrick, Cat Stylinski and Xin Zhang all gave presentations to close out the seated portion of the presentations. Fitzpatrick explained how his research is on better communicating the impacts of climate change on populations. Examples included Frostburg seeing its days with frost dropping from 133 a year to 90, and average days of snow a year drop from 66 to one.

Stylinski advocated what she called stealth science. She is involved in a program in Maine where they combine art with science by engaging in digital interactive art by way of augmented reality — think Pokemon Go.

Zhang closed the presentations with a speak about sustainable agriculture and how improving sustainability is beneficial in the global trade markets.

The congressman, along with Eric Davidson, director and professor at the Appalachian Laboratory of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, made their way to the wet labs where Joel Bostic and Katie Kline gave a brief talk on the long term trends in nitrogen deposition and stream quality.

“I do think the opioid crisis is the big crisis that immediately we’re facing right now. Clearly, climate change is it at the end of the day,” said Trone. “I come out of the business world where everything I did in business was long-term thinking. I’ve always thought long-term, it’s the only way you can win. But in congress, man, they’re only thinking about today.”