The natural resources of Maryland were described early. In 1634, Father Andrew White wrote of Chesapeake Bay as "the most delightful water I ever saw, between two sweet landes." Seventeenth-century settlers were impressed by woodlands, wildlife, and waters teeming with fish. When the abundance later ebbed, the General Assembly enacted a multitude of laws to protect natural resources, particularly those of Chesapeake Bay. Indeed, for the past two centuries, much of Maryland's concern with natural resources has focused on the Bay.
America's first formal interstate agreement concerned the Bay and other waters, boundaries, fisheries, and navigational rights. The Compact of 1785 between Maryland and Virginia set a precedent for negotiating interstate differences over Bay matters. The Compact was ratified by the Maryland Legislature in 1785 (Chapter 1, Acts of 1785).
Thereafter, in the nineteenth century, the General Assembly acted to safeguard Bay oysters, clams, and fish, and during the twentieth century, crabs. Inspectors of salted fish were appointed to improve the quality of exports (Chapter 114, Acts of 1817). Measurers of oysters were licensed to gauge the size of oysters in the shell and the tubs from which they were sold (Chapter 406, Acts of 1868). When New England watermen raided Chesapeake oyster beds in the early 1800s, the Legislature passed "An Act to prevent the destruction of Oysters in this State" and sounded the alarm that "well grounded apprehensions are entertained of the utter extinction of oysters in the state" (Chapter 24, Acts of 1820).
Fisheries also required protection. In 1820, the Legislature sought to stop vessels from anchoring in the fisheries of the Susquehanna River and at the head of Chesapeake Bay (Chapter 199, Acts of 1820). Following an address by conservation pioneer, Robert B. Roosevelt (uncle of Teddy Roosevelt), the General Assembly authorized commissioners to inspect and report on the "bay, marine and river fisheries of the State" (Chapter 297, Acts of 1870; Resolution 2, Acts of 1870).
By 1868, the State Oyster Police Force was created to enforce oyster laws. The Governor, Treasurer, Comptroller, Superintendent of Labor and Agriculture, and Clerk of the Court of Appeals were constituted the Commissioners of the State Oyster Police to oversee the Force. Reorganized as the State Fishery Force in 1874, it was placed under the Commissioner of Fisheries and, in 1880, under the Board of Public Works. The Force constituted the "Maryland Navy" in the Bay oyster wars fought between Maryland and Virginia watermen at the end of the century. By 1886, the State Fishery Force also was assigned conservation duties, buying oyster shells to be planted or sown in the Bay "for the purpose of catching spat and experimenting in the propagation of oysters" (Chapter 314, Acts of 1886). In 1892, county commissioners were authorized "in their discretion" to supplement the Force with boats and officers at county expense (Chapter 643, Acts of 1892).
Yet, the earliest origins of the Department of Natural Resources trace to geological and mapping functions of the first State Geological Survey, which operated from 1834 to 1841. In 1896, the State Geological and Economic Survey was formed (Chapter 51, Acts of 1896). That same year, the State Game Warden's Office was created (Chapter 293, Acts of 1896). State programs for woodlands were initiated ten years later, when the State Board of Forestry was established (Chapter 294, Acts of 1906).
Conservation Commission. The State Fishery Force, the State Game Warden, and the Engineer became part of the newly formed Conservation Commission in 1916 (Chapter 682, Acts of 1916). The Commission was charged with oversight of oysters, clams, fish, crabs, terrapin, wild fowl, birds, game, and fur-bearing animals. In 1922, the Conservation Department was formed, governed by the Conservation Commission (Chapter 29, Acts of 1922; Chapter 523, Acts of 1935).
Board of Natural Resources. Conservation agencies were reorganized in 1941 under the Board of Natural Resources. The Board oversaw five departments: the Department of Tidewater Fisheries; the Department of Game and Inland Fish; the Department of State Forests and Parks; the Department of Geology,Mines, and Water Resources; and the Department of Research and Education (Chapter 508, Acts of 1941). In 1969, these agencies were consolidated to form the Department of Natural Resources (Chapter 154, Acts of 1969).
Department of Natural Resources. The Department oversees Chesapeake Bay and Watershed Programs; the Management Service; Public Lands; and the Resource Management Service. The Department also is responsible for the Maryland membership units of five interstate bodies: the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, Coastal States Organization, Ohio River Basin Commission, Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin, and Potomac River Fisheries Commission (Code Natural Resources Article, secs. 1-101 through 1-104).
July 10, 1998
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