Sportsmen aim to create new commission



March 03, 2002|By CANDUS THOMSON

There's a hearing Friday in Annapolis that every angler, hunter and trapper should care about.

Simply put, a group of lawmakers and sportsmen has decided that enough is enough when it comes to Gov. Parris N. Glendening and the great outdoors.

The House Environmental Matters Committee will be listening to the public about HB 664, a bill that would take fish and game management away from the Department of Natural Resources and give it to a new Wildlife and Inland Fisheries Commission.

It's not a radical concept. Twenty-six states separate fishing and hunting from the management of parks and forests. Some, like Pennsylvania, go farther, separating fishing from hunting.

The chief sponsor of the Maryland bill is House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., who has a bunch of legislative heavy hitters right behind him.

Taylor wants a commission of seven members, six from geographic districts and one at-large, to oversee freshwater fisheries and game issues. The governor would appoint the commissioners, subject to House and Senate approval.

The roots of this bill are as easy to follow as the ivy clinging to the side of a Tudor house. The bottom line: When it comes to fishing and hunting, Glendening robs Peter to pay Paul.

For seven years, the governor has used DNR to carry out his program of buying open space, protecting shoreline and restoring the Chesapeake Bay.

His newest DNR secretary, Chuck Fox, made no apologies for the shift in direction during an interview last fall.

"I don't want to belittle wildlife and forestry, but we can't accomplish everything," he said. "We can't have 10 priorities, because then you don't have priorities."

Fair enough. But if the governor wants to use DNR as a real estate agent, he should give fish and game management to an agency that won't exploit it.

It's no secret that in the areas that matter to sportsmen, DNR is a shell of its former self. Fish and game positions have been left unfilled. Ancient trucks with springs coming through the seats, doors that won't stay shut and heaters without heat are common. Biologists dip into their own pockets to cover expenses. Staff members drive home from Ocean City after a late-night meeting rather than stay in a motel.

And then there's the Glendening revolving door. Four changes in DNR secretaries, five changes in fisheries directors and a like number of changes in wildlife directors.

Just recently, freshwater fisheries chief Bob Lunsford - a champion of local anglers and local waters - was "restructured" out of a job that he will have to reapply for.

Then last month, Glendening dumped the chairman of his wildlife advisory commission, the much-respected Spaulding Goetze, for unspecified reasons.

All of that, as my grandmother used to say, "is a sneaker full of poop."

"There's no consistency, no stability," complains Jim Gilford, a biologist who has served on the Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council, the Maryland Sport Fishing Advisory Council and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission Striped Bass Advisory Panel.

Gilford notes that while DNR's budget has increased 70 percent during the Glendening years, the budgets for freshwater fisheries and wildlife and heritage have increased about 6 percent.

And the wildlife resources DNR is supposed to "manage," it flat-out has not.

Maryland has too many deer, nutria and mute swans and not enough crabs, yellow perch and quail.

The biologists are doing the best they can, but they're being undercut by politics at the top. The governor's Non-Lethal Task Force is People's Exhibit A of fiddling while Rome burns.

Nothing in that report will efficiently and effectively deal with the state's deer population, which is about 250,000, more than double what the land can support. Not contraceptives, not roadside reflectors, not bus tickets to another state.

"You can't manage wildlife as a popularity contest," Gilford says.


The Taylor bill has the backing of the Maryland Coalition for Responsible Wildlife Management.

The president, Steve Palmer, says it's shortsighted to believe sportsmen's problems will be over once Glendening's term expires at the end of the year. A new governor could continue those policies or do worse.

The coalition began a year ago as a response to "a lot of little things," Palmer says.

"The one thing that made us crazy was the general direction of the department, the way the current was flowing. We were swimming upstream and the guy paddling the boat was going the other way," he explains.

Palmer was a founding member of the Maryland Sportsmen's Association but left the group almost two years ago.

"I have nothing against the MSA. The people there are good people, but they have a misunderstanding of what it takes to make changes," he says. "The MSA has chosen to try and negotiate resolution. We have found that negotiation doesn't work."

Palmer's group has its roots in Western Maryland and Frederick County, but it's branching out.

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