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Maryland natural resources secretary Mark Belton leaving Hogan administration for Charles County post

Maryland natural resources secretary Mark Belton leaving Hogan administration for Charles County post
Maryland Department of Natural Resources secretary Mark J. Belton is resigning to return to his former post as Charles County administrator. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

Mark Belton, secretary of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, submitted his resignation to Gov. Larry Hogan on Tuesday as he returns to his former post as Charles County administrator.

Belton has been leading the agency — responsible for state parks, crab and oyster fisheries and hunting and boating regulation — since February 2015, early in the Republican governor’s first term.

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He did not specify the timing of his departure, saying he would choose a date “that provides for a smooth transition for my successor.”

In Belton’s letter, he said his department’s accomplishments include preservation of 33,000 acres of ecologically sensitive land, attendance records at state parks, management of challenging winter ice conditions and improved customer service for various licensing processes. He managed an agency with a $278 million operating budget and more than 1,300 full-time employees.

“I remain personally committed to support your efforts in governing this great state, and to DNR’s noble mission, in whatever ways I can be of service,” he wrote to Hogan.

Hogan spokeswoman Amelia Chasse said the governor thanks Belton for his service to the state and wishes him luck in his new position. The administration did not provide details on a search for his replacement; Chasse said an announcement would come before Belton leaves his post.

Belton is the second member of Hogan’s cabinet to leave the administration since his re-election in November. Department of Commerce Secretary Michael Gill stepped down in December to return to his former career in the private sector. Hogan named former state Labor Secretary Kelly Schulz to replace him; Hogan appointed former Anne Arundel County Del. James Rzepkowski as acting secretary of the labor department and launched a search for a permanent secretary.

Belton oversaw some controversy in his tenure tied to the state’s most treasured aquatic life — oysters and crabs.

Democratic lawmakers and environmentalists criticized him in 2017 when he fired the state’s longtime top crab scientist. And he has overseen oftentimes contentious debate over how to boost the Chesapeake Bay oyster population and whether oyster sanctuaries should be opened to periodic harvesting.

With both fisheries, Belton stressed the importance of balancing ecological recovery with the viability of the state’s seafood industry.

“He treated the watermen fairly,” said Robert T. Brown, president of the Maryland Watermen’s Association.

Belton also recently joined Attorney General Brian Frosh, a Democrat, in announcing a lawsuit over the Trump administration’s decision to allow energy companies to use seismic testing to search for resources off the Atlantic coast.

Belton, a retired rear admiral in the U.S. Navy, previously served as Charles County administrator from 2012 to 2014. He was an assistant secretary at the department from 2003 to 2005, under Republican former Gov. Robert Ehrlich.

His successor, like any member of the governor’s Cabinet, will require a vote of confirmation by the state Senate, which convenes for its annual 90-day legislative session on Wednesday.

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