Volume XI, Issue 6 ~ February 6-12, 2003

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Chesapeake Outdoors by C.D. Dollar

Handicapping Our New Leaders
It seems the winds of political change have also carried with them some curious — indeed controversial in some conservation circles — appointments to our state’s two most important agencies charged with restoring and protecting our natural resources. But controversy in politics is as necessary as Old Bay on crabs.

Earlier in January, Gov. Robert Ehrlich tapped Ron Franks, an Eastern Shore fly-fishing shop owner and dentist who served in the House of Delegates in the early ’90s, to lead the state’s Department of Natural Resources. Frank’s appointment is understandable given he’s a staunch Republican and he co-chaired the Ehrlich for Maryland finance committee for the upper Eastern Shore.

Recreational anglers take heart that Franks was instrumental in helping form the state chapter of the Coastal Conservation Association, which promotes conservation of fisheries mainly through reduced commercial efforts, and sometimes, bans.

His bio also says he’s been a member of the Maryland Farm Bureau for 26 years. That could make for interesting times ahead, considering that agriculture is the watershed’s single greatest source of nitrogen, which impairs water quality and, eventually, aids in the destruction of underwater grass beds, a crucial habitat for fish and blue crabs.

Conservation-minded recreational anglers are somewhat wary that Franks is joined by Pete Jensen, who returns to the Tawes Building after being ousted by former Gov. Glendening for supporting a waterman convicted of violating fisheries laws. Jensen’s four decades of natural resources management are laudable, and his ties to commercial interests are not necessarily a disqualifier. Still, some folks wonder if a person with a fresh perspective (and much less political baggage) might have been more appropriate.

Some observers opine that Franks was chosen to be a voice for the recreational users of the Bay’s natural resources, while Jensen was picked as ballast for commercial interests, an olive branch of sorts to watermen communities which have long felt, at times rightly so, ignored by the powers in Annapolis.

But it’s Ehrlich’s choice to head up the oft-embattled Department of the Environment, Lynn Buhl, that is causing the most flak. Buhl hails from that environmentally forward-thinking state of Michigan, which, according to environmental watchdogs in that state, has done much to weaken the Clean Water Act. Does Lake Superior ring a bell?

Her experience in government and the corporate sector — as an environmental attorney for Chrysler Corp. and with the EPA and Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality — fit well with Ehrlich’s plan to create a more business-friendly atmosphere.

Buhl’s main connection to the Bay, apparently, is her mother’s residence on the Eastern Shore. She is quoted as saying, “I think that water is an increasingly precious resource, and I am committed to protect it. … I know the former governor touted Smart Growth quite a bit. I’ve never really had that explained to me in detail, but I think clearly land-use decisions have a big environmental impact.”

Wow! Is that a clear vision for a healthy Bay or what? And nobody from around the state, or even the watershed, could compete with that insight?

So the big question from this desk is not whether a less combative environment in the two key agencies will help move efforts forward to bring back the Bay. It will, of course. But are these the best people to lead us? Time will tell.

Fish Are (not quite) Biting
Department of Natural Resource’s Fisheries Service has proposed that recreational regulations in 2003 for summer flounder be set at a minimum size of 17 inches with a creel of eight fish and no closed season. Landings last year were below the target, leading to the proposed changes. The regulations will be enacted later this month. DNR also reports that public opinion ran overwhelmingly in favor of eliminating the mid-season closure of last summer.



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Last updated February 6, 2003 @ 3:13am