Final word on Griffin: job well done

On The Outdoors

July 18, 1999|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,SUN STAFF

John R. Griffin has been in or right next to the hot seat at the state Department of Natural Resources since 1984, and through those years green space and recreational opportunities have been expanded, deer hunting seasons have been increased and rockfish populations have been restored.

"But those accomplishments reflect not on me, but on the whole group of dedicated people who work in this agency," said Griffin, assistant secretary for 10 years before being named secretary in 1994.

"Ever since I started [with DNR], I have wondered why it is they work so hard and long for what is comparatively crummy pay."

But, Griffin said, he believes the bond is "the compelling nature of our mission" to protect and enhance the natural resources in the state.

"They get here and they don't want to leave," said Griffin, 53. "I'm not sure I really want to leave, either."

Ten days ago, Gov. Parris N. Glendening announced that Griffin, twice named conservationist of the year, had agreed to leave his position as secretary of DNR on July 23.

"All bosses need the prerogative to have people of their choice in jobs they want them in," Griffin said.

"Eventually, I came to the conclusion he didn't have the sense of comfort with me that he desired. I respect that. We just couldn't get on the same wavelength."

Griffin has, however, been able to find the wavelengths of businessmen, farmers and sportsmen across the state through a variety of initiatives intended to benefit the resources of the state and its quality of life.

The Outdoor Caucus has encouraged businesses in the state to participate in resource and environmental improvement programs.

Green-space initiatives such as Smart Growth, Rural Legacy and the Conservation Resource Enrichment Program have added to natural habitat and buffer zones in Maryland.

And as the habitat has improved, for the most part wildlife and wildlife areas have improved.

"People need to rally behind these programs," said Griffin, noting that green-space and wetlands preservation is vital to the future of the Chesapeake Bay and the species that live in its waters or along the shorelines of the main stem and its tributaries.

"If they don't, in 20 to 30 years it will all be over with."

Griffin said the CREP, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture with $200 million over six years, is especially important in transforming environmentally sensitive croplands into buffer zones that will allow wetlands to be protected.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to improve and protect the Chesapeake Bay," Griffin said.

A few years ago, Griffin was the main architect of the Rockfish Summit for fisheries biologists and commercial, charter-boat and recreational fishermen.

Over a period of several days, netters and chummers, charter captains and scientists were built into teams that discussed the state of the fishery in classroom settings and discovered each other through team-building competitions.

"There were growing issues among user groups, conflicts were getting beyond economic jockeying, and we were losing sight of what was good for the resource," Griffin said.

"We used that to get people to work together and recognize the common good."

The common good was the restoration of rockfish, which was accomplished after extensive study, a five-year closure of the fishery and the implementation of seasons, size limits and creel limits for all user groups.

Shad populations also are recovering, deer and deer seasons are at all-time highs, black bears are again spreading through the forested hills and mountains, and cold, clear streams again hold populations of trout, where once watercourses were drainage ditches for mine waste.

But while the triumphs of the past 15 years are notable, the situations with blue crabs and migratory Canada geese are or have been in tumult.

The Canada goose problem has been laid to poor reproduction on the breeding grounds in northern Quebec, where until hunting seasons were closed four years ago, numbers of breeding pairs were dangerously low.

"You can say that it was out of our hands, but it wasn't totally," Griffin said. "We should have primed the pump the other way. The fact is, we didn't reduce hunting pressure enough."

But it is likely, he said, that a "very limited" hunting season will be considered in Maryland this fall, with a bag limit of perhaps one bird per season.

"It was regrettable to have to close the flyway, but those things should teach us something," Griffin said.

"It is not unlike the rockfish ban -- it's four years later and we're perhaps ready to reopen it.

"But it will be so limited that it might be better to wait another year."

With blue crabs, the problem is more critical, and the solution involves changes in commercial and recreational practices in Maryland and Virginia.

Both states recently were granted $150,000 for scientific work to determine the causes of the collapse of the blue crab and to come up with ways to restore the species.

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