Shortfall could mean game over for Bay Game


April 11, 2010|By Candus Thomson |

What's one thing Martin O'Malley and Bob Ehrlich agree on?

That the Bay Game is a great way to teach children about the importance of the environment and our connection to it. The activity booklet is filled with facts, coloring pages and puzzles about critters and their habitat, geology and agriculture.But don't take my word for it.

"Increasing opportunities for children to connect with nature is the key to creating a more sustainable future," O'Malley told Chestertown youngsters two years ago. "With the 2008 Maryland Bay Game, we aim to encourage young people to learn about and enjoy their outdoor surroundings through fun, creative, educational activities."

Four years earlier, Ehrlich told Annapolis schoolchildren, "By helping us learn about the [Chesapeake] Bay, the Bay Game also helps us learn how to protect and restore the bay."

So why is the little booklet with the bipartisan support facing extinction?

No money. Big surprise, eh?

Created in 1998 during the Glendening administration, the Bay Game is produced by the Department of Natural Resources and paid for by donations from state agencies and private sponsors. Originally it was handed out at the Bay Bridge tollbooth each summer - a pleasant diversion for the little people in the back seat on their way with mom and dad to Ocean City. It also was used during the year in classrooms and by youth groups.

With the advent of E-ZPass, distribution made the transition to the Web, public libraries and visitors centers across the state and tourist spots such as the National Aquarium and Maryland Science Center.

In 2004, the Bay Game had 19 sponsors that ponied up $75,500 to cover expenses and printing costs. Last year, it was just $30,000, enough to print 250,000 copies, which just ran out.

This year, the agency has raised $13,000, and "we've had a bunch of 'nos,' " DNR spokesman Josh Davidsburg said. "We're afraid this could be the end, and we don't want to lose this Maryland tradition."

This year's edition is ready to roll. Orders are coming in. All that's needed is about 17 grand, maybe less if pages can be cut. Times are tight, but some group must have spare change under the sofa cushions. With more than $20 million in annual revenue, assets totaling $87 million and a mission geared to environmental education, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation seems a logical partner, eh?

If worse comes to worst, parents can still download the 2009 version at dnr.mary

Talking turkey

Turkey season begins Saturday with the annual youth hunt and moves into the grown-up phase April 19.

Hunters 16 years of age or younger may participate if they have a Maryland license and are accompanied by an unarmed person over 21 who has a Maryland license. A Maryland resident and landowner and his or her children and grandchildren who hunt only on that property are exempted from buying a hunting license. Also, resident Junior Hunters who complete a state Hunter Safety Course are entitled to one free annual hunting license, bow stamp and muzzleloader stamp.

The Department of Natural Resources will send successful Junior Hunters a certificate of accomplishment. Just follow the instructions on the agency Web site.

What more could you ask for? An abundance of turkeys?

That might be a tough order to fill this year. State wildlife managers say breeding numbers have been below average in four of the past five years. And while the population is stable or increased in Southern Maryland and the upper Eastern Shore, numbers have declined on the lower shore and in the western part of the state.

They don't have to worry about me. As hard as I've tried, turkey hunting and I have never meshed. The truth is, gobblers have great hearing and all the time in the world, and I came into the world 56 years ago equipped with OK hearing and no patience.

My dad and granddad threw up their hands in disgust. A decade ago, the late, great turkey man Chuck Lewis of Pasadena uncovered the truth: I give the birds about 30 minutes to turn themselves in before my attention begins to drift and I start fiddling with my camera. Luckily, he was a shutterbug, too. Even experts from the National Wild Turkey Federation, who insisted they could turn me into a turkey hunter and took me out for a day, came to realize I was a lost cause.

Some things just weren't meant to be.

I could go on, but Bill Heavey explained the problem much better than I could in his "A Sportsman's Life" column in the April edition of Field and Stream. A quick excerpt:

"Pop quiz: Wild turkeys exist in 49 of the 50 states. Which state has none?

"The correct answer is, 'Whichever state I'm hunting in now.' "

Anyway, I highly recommend his explanation.

The season ends for me April 19. For the rest of you, it's May 24.

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