ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland Department of Natural Resources either does too much or too little with its wildlife management programs, critics charge.
This year’s complaints revolve around management of the state’s deer and bear populations and regulation of blue crab fishing.
Now there’s a bill, pushed by House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., D- Allegany, to remove wildlife authority from DNR altogether.
The proposal, which would transfer management power to an independent wildlife and inland fisheries commission, comes before the House Environmental Matters Committee today.
The governor would appoint members to represent each county, and each member would be required to have “experience as a commercial guide for wildlife or fishing activities, or in recreational hunting or fishing.”
An executive director would be in charge of carrying out the commission’s policies. Commissioners would not be paid a regular salary for meetings held at least every two months.
DNR would be left to deal with regulations and programs related to the state’s bays, steams, forestry, parks and lands.
The department opposes the proposal, and Secretary J. Charles Fox is expected to speak at the hearing, said spokeswoman Heather Lynch.
A new state agency is needed because DNR has not done a proper job managing the state’s wildlife resources, Taylor said.
Pennsylvania has a separate game commission that regulates various hunting seasons and management programs, as well as a natural resources department.
“A commission is used in many, many states,” Taylor said Thursday. “Records indicate to me, if it’s done properly with the right balance of all interests, it’s a very effective way to manage our wildlife resources.”
Another measure to create a separate marine fisheries commission, sponsored by Delegate Ken Schisler, R-Talbot, also will be heard by the committee today. Wildlife management authority has been a point of contention between the General Assembly and the department, with the Legislature finally trying to dictate how deer, bear and crabs should be managed.
The House of Delegates recently approved proposals allowing deer hunting on one Sunday of the firearms season and a permit program allowing landowners to kill nuisance black bears.
The measures were born out of some lawmakers’ frustration with DNR’s inaction on human-animal conflicts, particularly the nuisance bear problem in Western Maryland.
Residents there have been reluctant to work with DNR officials because their concerns have been ignored, said Delegate George Edwards, R-Garrett, sponsor of the bear bill, which in its original form would have established a controversial limited black bear hunt.
Wildlife management decisions have become politicized and emotional, said Steve Palmer of the Maryland Coalition for Responsible Wildlife Management. An independent agency would better direct action based on proven scientific and biological methods, he said.
“There’s a carrying capacity of land or what the habitat can support,” Palmer said. “If you underutilize it, or overutilize it, it can get out of control, like deer in central Maryland.”
Not everyone agrees that a separate wildlife agency is necessary.
Some animal-rights activists see Taylor’s measure as “pro-hunting” in a state where hunters are just 2 percent of the population.
“As I understand, the motivation for this bill is the House speaker believes that the DNR has done a lousy job promoting hunting,” said Jeff Leitner of Fund for Animals. “And therefore, he wants to create a new commission to promote hunting as the primary wildlife management tool in the state.”
Taylor denies that assertion, calling the bill “pro-wildlife management.”
Creation of a new wildlife commission doesn’t make economic sense, said Pat McElroy of the Humane Society of the United States.
Under the proposal, funds dedicated to the Department of Natural Resources’ wildlife division would be transferred to the new agency. But it’s not known whether additional money would be needed; a fiscal note was not available Thursday.
The new agency would cost more taxpayers’ money and take funding away from the department for it to run effectively, McElroy said.
“Creating a wildlife commission would be creating another bureaucracy,” she said. “And taking more previous taxpayers money from the citizens and taking money from DNR which should be funneled there, so they could do the jobs they were commissioned to do.”