Last week, Outdoors Girl posed a batch of outdoors-related questions to the two gubernatorial candidates, and welcomed Robert Ehrlich and Martin O'Malley to reply. I promised to publish those answers. O'Malley has responded. Here are his unedited answers.
To the Ehrlich campaign, my offer remains.
Dear Candy –
Thanks for the questions posted on your blog. We’ve made tough decisions over the last four years to get our State through this national recession, but we have tried always to stand firmly on the side of our State’s hunters and anglers. While there is so much more to do, I’m proud of our record protecting our waterways, our open space, our fish and wildlife, and the rich cultural heritage and economic impact these sporting opportunities support. I’m especially proud of the progress we’ve made on Bay restoration, setting 2-year milestones and efforts to bring back the iconic blue crab and native oyster.
I’m pleased to have the opportunity to respond to your questions, but I hope folks will take a look some of the other work we are doing to preserve and restore our environment.
Question: You borrowed millions from the "flush tax" fund--the Ehrlich initiative to help the clean Chesapeake--to balance the budget and put an IOU in the cookie jar in the form of bond money that will have to be paid back with interest. In effect, you created a "We Owe Us," forcing taxpayers to replace their money with more of their own money. Why should we trust you to be a good steward of that fund?
Answer: Just as every family and small business has had to tighten their belts, we have cut state spending by $5.6 billion over the last four years. Today in Maryland we are spending less as a state government then we were spending four years ago – the first time that has happened in decades. At the same time we have protected critical investments in public education and public safety. We have also protected Chesapeake Bay restoration funds. We did, as you point out, change the funding source. It was not something we wanted to do, but it was necessitated by the global recession and continuing shortfalls in our operating budgets. By swapping out Bay Restoration Fund cash for bonds, we were able to use money we had in hand where it was needed at the time, while maintaining our Bay commitments without impacting current or future projects.
Q: Under your administration, the size of Natural Resources Police has continued to shrink. The shell game to hide that fact appears to be changing the "authorized strength" of the agency downward to match reality. Graduates from the one academy class didn't even cover the number of retirements and resignations, and a proposed class has been delayed. To add insult to injury, you cut the NRP helicopters--tools that helped officers do more with less--and gave them nothing in return. What will you do to restore NRP so that people feel safe on the water and in the woods?
A: First I want to commend our Natural Resource Police officers for the tremendous job they do in enforcing conservation law and protecting our citizens – despite the fact that their numbers have diminished over the past two decades through a series of budget reductions. Marylanders are safe pursuing sporting opportunities in our State. I am committed to increasing the number of NRP officers as our economy and state revenues improve. In fact, the academy class you referred to is scheduled to begin in January. Through an analysis of our law enforcement air reconnaissance needs, we determined it would be more efficient and less costly to taxpayers to have the NRP’s aviation needs met by the State police.
Meanwhile, we have actually done a great deal to improve the ability of our NRP officers to do their jobs: We have increased penalties for conservation law enforcement infractions, launched a pilot program in Anne Arundel County to increase judicial focus on conservation cases, and have launched the Maryland Law Enforcement Information Network (MLEIN). Using radar technology and information sharing among jurisdictions, MLEIN will increase enforcement capabilities on our waterways well beyond the benefits of the NRP’s small, aging helicopter unit.
Q: Over the four years of your term, you purchased 28,000 acres with Program Open Space funds to be preserved as outdoor space. Yet the number of people to manage our lands and protect them from poachers, encroachers and illegal dumpers continues to shrink. Why buy something with our money if you're not going to take care of it?
A: Protecting our open space and continuing to expand the public’s green print has been one of my highest priorities. DNR’s dedicated public land managers do an extraordinary job in giving management of these lands the highest priority with available resources. Despite the national recession, we have continued to support their work through a number of avenues: A $4 million infusion has greatly improved our State Park system, which is serving record numbers of visitors. Our move to achieve dual certification of our Western Maryland State Forests will support green jobs. Just last week we announced creation of a statewide Trails Development Office to expand, improve and connect our system of trails. I’m also incredibly proud of the Civic Justice Corps program that we created to put at-risk youth to work restoring our State Parks.
Would we like to have more people to manage our public lands? Of course. However, once a piece of land is lost to development, it is lost forever. This is why I kept my commitment to fully funding Program Open Space — while my opponent shamelessly raided it during more prosperous times. With that funding, we have actually preserved 31,000 acres of Maryland landscape, more than three times that of our predecessor. Much of this expansion of the public estate has expanded public hunting and fishing access opportunities. One of our focus areas through our GreenPrint mapping system is targeting lands near or adjacent to those already in the public system, thus making them easier for existing staff to oversee. We will continue to use our full suite of conservation programs to preserve our heritage, our working farms and forests, and our public lands for recreation and sporting opportunities.
Q: Invasive species are pushing native creatures out of their habitat and altering Maryland's environment. From blue catfish and zebra mussels to emerald ash borers and nutria, the tide against "Made in Maryland" critters is overwhelming. What can be done to ensure the integrity of our outdoors?
A: This is one of the most challenging environmental issues of our time and one for which there is no easy answer given the increase in world trade. DNR’s team of experts work with sister agencies, the federal government, other states and local organizations to prevent introduction of invasive species and to control and contain existing populations. By supporting our biologists and scientists in their work, and we have had great success in eradicating some invasive species. We recently prevented the large scale introduction of a non-native oyster into our bay.
Science tells us that healthy natural communities are less vulnerable to invasive species--so again this means protecting our land base. All told, education is probably our most important weapon in awareness and prevention--getting the information out to our citizens--especially anglers, hunters and boaters--on how to recognize invasive species, what to do if they find one and how to help stop their spread. When it comes to invasive species, an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure.
Q: Many recreational anglers would love to see Maryland follow other East Coast states and make striped bass a game fish, placing them off limits to the commercial industry. Would you support such a move?
A: Allocation is ultimately guided by our State and regional commissions, our management plan and Maryland law, which prohibits discrimination for the sole purpose of economic allocation. Each of these directives also receives substantial public input.
JUMP BALL QUESTION: Through their license and registration fees, boaters, hunters and fisher folks in Maryland foot the bulk of the bill for managing critters on land and water. Others who use wildlife management areas and state forests don't pay a thing. And when people want government to respond to calls for hurt or nuisance wildlife, hunters pay the bill for that service. Is there a way to more equitably spread the cost of paying for biologists and managers and not dump it all on hunters, anglers and boaters?
A: We very much appreciate the advocacy of Maryland’s sportsmen and women, who contribute to wildlife management. As appropriate (and mandated by law), user fees paid by boaters, hunters and fisher folks are directed to supporting research and management of our living resources as well as some of our public lands. However, these efforts are also well supported through the general fund and supported by all Maryland taxpayers. For example, we have maintained our commitment to match recreational fishery license fee increases to enhance fishing opportunities. It is also important to note that the Natural Resources Police — who enforce conservation law and protect the public on our lands and waterways — are generally funded.
When it comes to protecting our natural resources, we are extremely fortunate to have an army of 6 million Marylanders working with us. Outdoor activities--hiking, camping, fishing, hunting and boating--are proven to inspire stewardship. Under our Smart, Green & Growing initiative, citizens have planted and registered 49,000 trees and are growing oysters in 19 Bay tributaries. The Maryland Fishing Challenge has expanded to reach anglers of all ages across our State. This summer, 750 family teams engaged in outdoor activities through ParkQuest. And our Maryland Partnership for Children--which includes a summer conservation work program for at risk youth--is expanding opportunities for young people to experience nature and learn about their environment.