Hunting for state budget answers isn't sport for which DNR funds were intended


ANNAPOLIS -- Forget about the Department of Natural Resources' delay yesterday in proposing details of a spring rockfish season. That was just a pause in the complicated process to provide fishing at a time when the big ones are running.

Relatively speaking, only a minor disappointment was the postponement for several days in outlining when, where and how we can fish for stripers in May, but ominous are proposals of a legislative budget analyst to plunder some very important DNR special funds to help the state fight budgetary woes.

DNR Secretary Torrey C. Brown virtually promised us a spring rock season -- and without threatening brood stock -- but he can make no assurances about safekeeping for us monies we expressly contributed for conservation projects.

He had no comment on the suggestions legislators could consider this week, but his glum look when they were reeled off to 35 media representatives and conservationists told the story.

Absolutely scandalous would be the dipping into special project funds paid by we pitiful outdoorsmen who assumed there was virtue and security in saving up for a rainy day.

Shooters, bird-watchers, boatmen, bowmen, muzzleloaders, bay watchers, tree-lovers and other conservationists have suddenly become vulnerable to the tune of $3.5 million in the scramble to offset anticipated general fund deficits.

Alas, this won't be a loan, just downright theft. We expected to have $11.3 million available for our DNR projects at the end of fiscal year 1992, but a fiscal watchdog proposes 30 percent of it is "available to be used as an offset to general fund reductions."

As income tax forms are being prepared, what are potential donors going to think when they learn monies they designate for special conservation projects could end up in the general fund? Many could decline to check off that box on the state tax form, which would compound our losses.

Endangered is $524,000 in the Maryland boat act account, money needed and statutorily dedicated for waterway improvements. How about the $194,000 in the deer stamp (muzzleloader-bowhunter) account? We anted up in good faith for projects to improve future hunting, not to help balance the state budget.

We buy a state duck stamp assuming proceeds will help solve mounting problems of ducks and geese, and now we can lose $83,000 saved for a rainy day. The Chesapeake Bay endangered species and Deep Creek Lake recreation funds could lose more than $500,000 each; the reforestation fund, $138,000; the woodlands incentive fund, $301,000.

Other potential losers; coal mining funds, $800,000; Maryland Geological Survey, $144,000; wetlands compensation fund, $185,000; and DNR publications sales account, which finances our Cruising Maryland Waters Guide, $137,000.

Don't blame the DNR. It didn't want to spend compulsively like some other state departments, which we could end up bailing out.

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