Perhaps not since the snail darter defeated the Tellico Dam project in Tennessee have a few little fish created such a stir.
The cameras were clicking when officials from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources dipped nets in the left fork of the Jabez Branch near Gambrills last Thursday and scooped up 18 baby trout -- the first born in the stream in more than six years.
"This is a red-letter day," said Robert A. Bachman, director of DNR's Fish, Wildlife and Heritage Administration. "Christmas in March."
The reason for the jubilation is that environmentalists have tried for years to revive this branch of the Severn River. It was once Maryland's southernmost wild native trout stream. The trout were killed in 1990 when storm water runoff and other pollutants from nearby road construction entered the stream.
Since 1992, the Department of Natural Resources has moved hundreds of wild trout into the Jabez Branch, but most of them died, and, until last week, no young trout had hatched.
Because trout can survive only in fresh, cold and relatively clean water, the discovery of the baby fish indicates that steps taken by the DNR to restore the Jabez Branch to good health are working.
Environmentalists hope the existence of the baby fish will help persuade the state and county governments to spend up to $1 million to purchase land along the 382-yard branch to save it from development. A 140-acre housing project is planned on a parcel above the Jabez, although the owner has indicated he is willing to sell some of the property.
Why all the fuss over a few fish that are not even two inches long? After all, most, or perhaps all, will be eaten by predators or die of natural causes before they reach maturity.
The excitement is justified because these small fish that hatched on the gravel bottom of the Jabez Branch in Anne Arundel County and now swim in its cold waters are a symbol of what can be done. They prove that conservation efforts work. The fact that it has taken six years to restore this stream also shows it is not easy to repair our damaged environment.
But these 18 little fish ought to inspire us. We must continue to work to clean up Chesapeake Bay, remove poisons from our leaking landfills and eliminate the chemicals that are fouling our air. It can be done.