Phil Gramm's Dorchester County

April 08, 1995

In 1984, Don Perkuchin was named manager of the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Dorchester County. That's dangerous assignment; they ought to give combat pay.

It's not the duck hunters' errant shots you have to watch out for. It's the hunters' friends on Capitol Hill. Dorchester is a happy hunting ground for members of Congress and other influential Washingtonians.

Mr. Perkuchin's sad tale has been chronicled in detail by Sun reporter Susan Baer. He no sooner arrived than he ordered his staff to begin strict law enforcement adjacent to the reserve. Illegal hunting for geese and ducks over baited fields was a favorite pastime of some Washington hunters. U.S. (and Maryland) policy was to prevent this, especially in that period and that place, where the wildfowl populations were declining and thought to need protection against over-zealous hunters.

Inevitably big shots, including a Virginia Republican representative, were arrested. Some complained to Sen. Phil Gramm, the Texas Republican and weekend resident of Dorchester County. In 1987 he called to his office the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Frank Dunkle, to meet with him and another law breaker, a lobbyist. Following the meeting, Mr. Dunkle ordered Mr. Perkuchin to stop his law enforcement activities. Then, in 1988, against the wishes of senior staff in the Fish and Wildlife Service, he transferred Mr. Perkuchin out of Blackwater.

In 1989, Mr. Dunkle resigned, amid allegations that he had politicized the service, even tipping off Senator Gramm about an investigation of him.

Given the importance to Maryland and to the Chesapeake region of a growing waterfowl population and proper management of it, we are puzzled at how this could have happened without Maryland's own senators, Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski, coming to the defense of Mr. Perkuchin -- and law-abiding hunters. They seem not to have heard of his troubles till he was transferred, which strikes us as odd, and then they did nothing about it, also odd.

Some experts who pay very close attention to policy and activities in this area say things got better after Mr. Dunkle left. They also say that if Phil Gramm or someone like him becomes president in 1997, you can expect things to get even worse than they were in the 1980s.

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