- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 6, 2016

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland has a state bird, fish, reptile, fossil shell and dinosaur. Now state Sen. Robert Cassilly is looking to add a duck to the list.

The Harford County Republican is pushing to make the canvasback, a duck with deep ties to the Havre de Grace culture and economy, one of the state’s official symbols to celebrate its contributions to that region of the state.

Mr. Cassilly stressed the importance of the canvasback to the Harford economy Friday during a Senate Education, Health and Environment committee hearing. The region is known for its Decoy and Wildlife Art Festival, its decoy museum and the many businesses centered around hunting and waterfowl.

“This was a working man’s industry. Anybody could go out and hunt,” he said. “You didn’t have to be the rich guy, you didn’t have to be highly educated. This was an everyman’s industry so that’s what was really neat about this industry.”

Jim Taylor, who painted a picture of canvasbacks set to appear on the 2015-2016 Maryland waterfowl stamp, said the state could never have enough symbols of conservation to bring awareness to the Chesapeake Bay’s water quality.

“The canvasback is the perfect duck for that symbol,” Mr. Taylor said.

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The canvasback is a large diving duck that thrives in the Chesapeake during the winter months. The bay’s Susquehanna Flats used to be the winter home for about half of North America’s entire canvasback population, according to legislative analysts.

It was an extremely popular bird to hunt going back to the 1870s, when market hunters would bag as many as 15,000 per day and ship them to cities like Chicago, New York and Boston. The high market demand for the birds drove them “damn near to extinction” but also sparked a nationwide awareness for conservation awareness, Mr. Cassilly said.

Since the 1980s, their populations have grown enough to alleviate conservationists’ concerns, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Supporters of the measure include the Harford County Council and county executive, the Havre de Grace City Council and mayor, Waterfowl Chesapeake, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation and the Maryland Hunting Coalition.

Lawmakers last designated new symbols in 2008, when they approved the state dessert (Smith Island cake) and the state exercise (walking). The Black-eyed Susan flower, Maryland’s first symbol, was designated in 1918.

Not every lawmaker was enthusiastic about designating what would become the state’s 24th symbol.

State Sen. Cheryl Kagan, a member of the Senate committee considering the bill, said the legislature needs to focus on serious issues like the budget, not on symbolic gestures with no economic value.

“I voted against the state cat, dinosaur, all of that,” the Montgomery Democrat said, and wondered how many symbols the state needs.

She sponsored a bill to repeal and replace the state song, “Maryland My Maryland,” but said she only delved into the issue because of its “offensive nature” to many Marylanders who feel the song does not represent them. (Some of its lyrics refer to Abraham Lincoln as a “despot” and Union troops as “Northern scum.”)

Delegate Dereck Davis, Prince George’s Democrat, said it is unlikely the bill would pass the Senate and make it to the House.

“All the other stuff, the state cat, a state rock, it makes it look like we don’t have anything better to do,” Mr. Davis said. “And we all sort of get blamed for it, not just the sponsor. If somebody puts a bill in, we have to consider it and take all the time and all that, so now it reflects upon all of us.”

The committee also considered a bill to designate the second week in June every year the Chesapeake Bay Awareness Week, from state Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton, Charles County Democrat. He said the entire region, including Virginia and Pennsylvania, needs to come together to make people aware of the importance of conservation.

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