- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 6, 2002

What's happening at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources? Ever since J. Charles Fox became the secretary (a state cabinet post) at the DNR a few months back odd things have been happening. Is it coincidence or design?
For starters, it appears that nobody is at the helm of the state's freshwater fisheries section. Its director, Bob Lunsford, who enjoyed the kind of trust from the state's sportsmen that most department heads would kill for, has been put into the bureaucrats' version of purgatory. Lunsford apparently a team player to the end will not comment on the situation or say a bad word about his boss, Eric Schwaab, who oversees all the state's fisheries, fresh- and saltwater.
One thing we know for sure is that Lunsford's personal secretary was reassigned, his former duties and authority reduced and his staff cut to the bone.
So what happens now if a freshwater fisheries problem arises? Your guess is as good as mine. What really puzzles us is that Lunsford did a wonderful job with an additional duty placed on him some years ago, the management of the tidal water bass in Maryland. What now?
During an apparent "reorganization" of the DNR, Fox had to tackle the ticklish problem of studying the possibility of a black bear hunting season in Maryland. Not everybody wants bear hunting, but the bruins have increased in number, and some of the people who live in the bears' major home area, Garrett County, have asked that a carefully managed, limited hunt might reduce recent encounters between bears and humans.
So what does the new appointee by Gov. Parris Glendening do? He names a study commission on which at least three people are bona fide members of animal rights organizations.
Let's be perfectly honest. If you want to talk about the possibility of a bear hunting season, sport hunters will discuss the situation, even agree not to have a hunt if the slightest possibility exists that the bear population would be irreparably damaged.
There are numerous examples that show how modern-day hunters not to be confused with old-time market hunters voluntarily curtail or ask for an official halt the hunting of a species to stop a decline in its numbers. In the past, this has happened with waterfowl, grizzly bears, Rocky Mountain goats, dall sheep and wild turkeys. In other words, the hunter members of a study commission on a western Maryland bear season might say no to such a hunt if they believe it to be harmful to the survival of the species.
However, animal rights organization members on the same commission most assuredly will say no. They are automatically against all forms of hunting. There'll be no studying, no sensible dialogue. So why appoint individuals whose minds are already made up before they agree to "study" anything?
We believe a nail is being driven into the coffin of a department that is hell-bent on changing the way things have been done, even when some of the old ways were perfectly acceptable and useful in the preservation of our natural resources.
Also let's not forget that the state's licensed hunters and anglers are responsible for supplying much of the financial requirements of the very department that, if not in fact, at least has the appearance of being hostile to them. Besides resident license fees that rank among the highest in the nation through federal matching funds like the Dingell-Johnson and Pittman-Robertson programs, hunters and anglers bring lots of money to the DNR. Whenever hunters and fishermen spend their bucks on equipment, special excise taxes are placed on the item and such cash is later shared with the states.
What do the nay-sayers, the animal rightists, bring to the table? Nothing but complaints, certainly no money.
One final item. Take a look at the crab preservation program that the DNR supports. Look real hard and you'll see that only the recreational "chicken neckers" have been punished for the decline in the crab population. In 2002, a hand-liner using a piece of chicken as bait from a dock can keep only two dozen crabs. That's it.
Commercial crab potters? Well, they're asked to take one day a week off while their tens of thousands of crab pots keep right on attracting crabs.
Way to go, reorganizers.

Look for Gene Mueller's Outdoors column every Sunday and Wednesday, and his Fishing Report every Friday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: [email protected]washingtontimes.com.

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