Public servant pays price for playing fair


April 15, 2001|By CANDUS THOMSON

A voice of reason in the continuing debate about hunting is out of a job.

Mike Slattery, the head of the Department of Natural Resources' Wildlife and Heritage Division, was given a pink slip last week by his boss, Sarah Taylor-Rogers.

A department spokesman said Taylor-Rogers "decided to move in a different direction."

I can't wait to see where we're going.

It should come as no surprise that when the legislative session ended last Monday, the Glendening administration would move quickly to settle scores.

Legislative victories by hunters and trappers in the 2001 session coupled with the creation of the Maryland Legislative Sportsmen's Caucus no doubt only infuriated the governor's minions.

Slattery, a 14-year veteran of the department, was given the choice of being fired or resigning. He did the latter.

"For a very long time, things had been strained. There was significant tension. Things got to the point where I felt I had to resign," Slattery said Friday from his Severna Park home.

"We had changed from an atmosphere where employees were empowered to make decisions and stretch ... to a more controlling atmosphere."

Slattery, 36, said times are changing, and he thought he was, too. He had lunch almost every month with a representative of the Humane Society of the United States. He worked with the Nature Conservancy and the American Birding Conservancy.

"Society is demanding that we alter our approach - not just in Maryland but across the country. We have to be attuned to a broader angle of constituents," he said. "Obviously I didn't adjust quickly enough to suit them."

Slattery said he was not surprised by his ouster. I don't doubt it. Remember that in July 1999, Glendening fired John Griffin, Taylor-Rogers' predecessor. The governor never said why and used an aide to do his dirty work (talk about profiles in courage).

Others expressed surprise.

Tim Lambert, president of the Maryland Sportsmen's Association, said he thought Slattery had been fair in his dealings with both sides in the hunting debate.

"Mike has always been an advocate for the sportsmen and the resource. But he also was an advocate for the non-hunter," said Lambert. "He brought a lot of people to the table who hadn't been there before."

Steve Palmer, president of the Washington County Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs, sent a letter to Taylor-Rogers Friday, calling the dismissal "retribution" by the governor and asking her to shield DNR staff from "intimidation" by her boss.

Here's my two cents: Slattery was one of the most fair and patient public servants I have met. He attended meetings with hunters where he got yelled at and he attended meetings where anti-hunters yelled at him. He never lost his cool.

Last fall, on the opening day of deer-hunting season, I was with Slattery at the check-in station at Angler's Sporting Goods on Route 50. A television reporter showed up and obviously had not done a lick of homework.

"Is this legal?" she asked in the first of many funny questions.

Slattery spent 20 minutes on Deer Hunting 101. Sure, it was his job, but he carried it out with grace and good humor even as the number of hunters waiting to check deer grew.

He talked to kids and graybeards. He joked with gawkers and shoppers. In short, he was everything you'd want in an employee. As one of his 5.3 million bosses. I felt like I was getting my money's worth.

Let's hope Slattery lands a new job soon. Perhaps the federal government will be smarter than our state politicians.

Before we hung up Friday, Slattery said he regretted that he would not be representing Maryland's sportsmen and women anymore. But, he said, he will look for other ways to keep his hand in.

Lambert predicted dust won't be settling on Slattery.

"The MSA may gain something from this," Lambert mused. "We need a regional vice president and Mike would be an excellent choice."

Gobble on

Spring turkey season gets cracking Wednesday, and signs point to an off year.

"I don't think we're going to have a record harvest," says Steve Bittner, the Department of Natural Resources' turkey guru. "If we do, it will be because of the eastern part of the state."

Bittner says the western counties that traditionally spell success for hunters aren't producing turkeys at the level they once did. Instead, he says, look for the lower shore counties of Dorchester, Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester to "come on strong."

The last good hatches came in 1993 and '94. Heavy rains last May and June chilled and killed many recently hatched birds.

"There are fewer young ones out there and more wily ones that have been chased around quite a bit," says Bittner, who guesses that by the end of the season on May 16, the totals will drop 10 percent.

Best bets? Try the 26,000-acre Fishing Bay Wildlife Management Area in Dorchester County, the 3,000-acre Ellis Bay Wildlife Management Area in Wicomico County or the 2,600-acre Ernest A. Vaughan Wildlife Management Area in Worcester County.

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