More than 250 citizens, most of whom are recreational users of the three Baltimore City owned and controlled reservoirs, attended a public hearing earlier this week on the future of fishing, hunting, hiking and horseback riding at the Loch Raven, Liberty and Prettyboy properties.
"What happens on the watershed land directly affects the quality of the city's water supply. And the quality of that water is the sole concern of this office," George Balog, director of Baltimore City's Department of Public Works, told the gathering.
Balog awarded citations to members of a task force formed by the city to draft a watershed management plan. The proposal details recommendations to protect the quality of the city's water supply using strict controls on recreational and commercial use of the 17,580 acres surrounding the dams.
After making the presentations, he said, "I have already made my final recommendations to the mayor supporting the task force's work, so this hearing is to gather any additional input you may wish for us to consider."
A gentleman in front of me stood up to leave, saying, "Well, that's all I need to hear. They've already got their plan in place."
Before the hearing, Duke Nohe, chairman of MARC, a group representing one of the state's largest bodies of sportfishing interests, said, "We've dealt with these people before and fear that this hearing is nothing more than a rubber-stamp effort."
Among the management plan's recommendations was one that would allow existing hunting (bowhunting in Liberty and Prettyboy) to be allowed in the short term, but expressed the desire to see a program that would give the meat to the poor.
Josh Sandt, director of the Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Division, testified that the DNR is "in complete agreement with the goals and recommendations for managing the deer populations on the watershed properties. We advise that the size of the deer herd on each watershed should be maintained at a level sufficiently small to prevent degradation of the plant communities, limit problems caused by deer to adjacent landowners and reduce vehicular accidents."
"We strongly feel that a well-managed and controlled hunting program is the most expedient way to manage the deer herd and can be carried out in a safe and efficient manner."
Sandt and a representative of the Maryland Bowhunters Society pointed out that each has had a fully developed program to give deer meet to the needy in place for some time.
This triggered a comment from one of the first citizens to testify that "the makeup of the task force committee is heavily tilted toward preservationist interests and completely lacking in any representation from anglers, hunters or any other existing user."
The 10-member task force is chaired by Cathy Olson, who is also the chairwoman of the Potomac Chapter of the Sierra Club, an organization with strong preservationist leanings.
Balog said the plan recommends that all current activities, "such as fishing, hiking, bowhunting and riding," will be allowed "at least for the short term."
The committee recommended that ATVs be banned from the watershed properties and that Loch Raven Skeet and Trap Club, which is situated on city land, "rework their shooting schedules" and pay what was termed "a more reasonable fee for property use."
A number of attempts were made by people present to address the controversial ban on boating in relation to city fears about the zebra mussel. Duke Nohe, the MARC spokesman, unsuccessfully pressed the public works director for a date on which a decision would be made to lift the ban.
"We're worried that the ban won't be lifted this year and believe that the city is dragging its feet. This is an important issue with the business community as well as the sports angler," he said.