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The Chesapeake in Focus

, 280 pages

16 color photos, 1 map

March 2018



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The Chesapeake in Focus

Transforming the Natural World


When Captain John Smith arrived in Virginia in 1607, he discovered a paradise in the Chesapeake Bay. In the centuries that followed, the Bay changed vastly—and not for the better. European landowners and enslaved Africans slashed, burned, and cleared the surrounding forests to grow tobacco. Watermen overfished oysters, shad, and sturgeon, decimating these crucial species. Baltimore, Washington, and Richmond used its rivers as urban sewers. By the 1960s, the Chesapeake was dying.

A crossroads of life and culture, the Chesapeake straddles the North and the South, mixes salt water with fresh, and is home to about 18 million people and 3,600 species of animals and plants. Although recent cleanup efforts have improved its overall health, they have not been enough to save this national treasure. In The Chesapeake in Focus, award-winning writer Tom Pelton examines which environmental policies have worked and which have failed.

Based on Pelton’s extensive experience as a journalist and as the host of the public radio program The Environment in Focus, this sweeping book takes readers on a tour of the histories of the Chesapeake, as well as the ecological challenges faced by its major tributaries. It details the management of blue crabs, striped bass, and other delicious wildlife, profiles leaders and little-known characters involved in the restoration campaign, and warns of the dangers of anti-regulatory politics that threaten to reverse what has been accomplished. Looking to the future, Pelton offers a provocative vision of the hard steps that must be taken if we truly want to save the Bay.

Tom Pelton is the host of the public radio program The Environment in Focus. A former staff reporter for the Baltimore Sun and Chicago Tribune, he has also written for the Boston Globe, the Washington Post, Harvard Magazine, and other publications.

"Tom Pelton, one of the country's leading environmental journalists, offers us a wealth of knowledge about the Chesapeake Bay, collected from his more than two decades of reporting on this ecological, cultural, and historical treasure... The highlight, perhaps, comes toward the end, when Pelton proposes 10 realistic steps for bay restoration. We should listen to him."

"A terrific book... Really puts in perspective the different issues swirling about the Bay."

"Really good book about a really great ecosystem."

"Tom Pelton's The Chesapeake in Focus masterfully captures the people, places, critters, and policies of the Chesapeake Bay region. It is essential reading for anyone interested in understanding the difficult fight to protect the bay."

"Pelton brings a clear-eyed analysis to what has worked, and not worked, in our decades-long effort to save the bay. This book is destined to enter the canon of Chesapeake Bay literature. It is a worthy successor to Tom Horton’s classic Turning the Tide."

"The Chesapeake in Focus is a tour de force study of the decades-long attempt to restore the nation’s greatest estuary to health. Pelton gives credit where credit is due for recent cleanup successes, but he also lays out the unvarnished truths about the failures of EPA and questions whether mainstream environmental groups really have the gumption to fight for the progress we need. This is a good and constructive read about what it will take to restore the Chesapeake Bay."

"Tom Pelton’s book on the Chesapeake is a gift to anyone who cares about this great national treasure. Pelton is without question the most gifted and informed writer the Chesapeake has had in a generation, and the knowledge he distills here—gathered from the rivers, the farms, and the people that make the bay so magical—comes at a critical time in the Chesapeake’s long recovery. I will be giving this to everyone I know who loves this beautiful estuary."

"In Maryland, we love the Chesapeake Bay, or at least we believe these words when we say them. We are, in fact, loving it to death. In this remarkable book, arranged with increasing impact from rivers to people to fish and crabs, and finally to revealing decades of hypocrisy, Tom tells the truth, a truth we must accept if the bay is to survive."

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