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Fish & Wildlife needs new director

Monday, December 26, 2005 trenton times
J.B. KASPER

Thursday I got word that Martin McHugh, the Director of the Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW), resigned effective Jan. 3. McHugh spent about three years in office, which is one of the shortest, if not the shortest, of anyone who has held the position.

In his farewell letter to the division, McHugh said, "As we approach the end of another challenging and successful year at the Division of Fish and Wildlife, I want to convey my heartfelt thanks and appreciation to all of you for your hard work and dedication. This will be my last message to you as director of the division, as I have accepted a position with the department's compliance and enforcement program. I will assume my new position on Jan. 3 and I look forward to supporting conservation and environmental protection as part of assistant commissioner Wolf Skacel's team."

In sports, if a team finishes in last place for three years, the manager either resigns or gets the ax. During his tenure as director, I had the opportunity to speak with McHugh about different matters on several occasions. Likewise, in the 25-plus years that I have been an outdoor writer I have had the opportunity to interview and talk to several directors of fish and wildlife departments, not only in New Jersey, but in several other states as well. McHugh was a likable person, but the job seemed overwhelming for him.

McHugh was not the first choice to take over the director's position when the former director Robert McDowell announced his retirement after a long distinguished career with the division. He was transferred to the division and given the position of assistant director prior to McDowell's retirement. The Fish and Game Council, which is responsible for choosing and appointing the director, was asked by the McGreevey Administration to forego its first choice in favor of McHugh, which they did. New Jersey politics at its best.

When McHugh took office, the division was one of the best in the country, and was operating solely off hunting and fishing license money, along with federal money from Dingel-Johnson and other federal funding laws. The division is now about $6 million in the hole, and this past year had to go to the legislature from money stay afloat. While no one can blame McHugh for the funding and other problems that have befallen the division the last three years, he was its director. And, like a sports manager, he paid the price.

In today's world, Fish & Wildlife Management is a complex business. Very seldom can you take a person who does not have practical experience, in the case of McHugh, a lawyer, put him in the director's job and expect him to succeed. I've said this before, and nothing illustrates my point better than the resignation of McHugh. Politics does not belong in fish and wildlife management; it's best left to the biologists and the people who have the proper training and experience.

The Division has plenty of good, qualified people, and the appointment of the new commissioner should come from the ranks of its senior members. This is how it has been done in the past, and for good reason. There are people who have been working for the Division for a long time and are career fisheries and wildlife management personnel who have the education, training and on-hands experience to handle the job.

In other states, when a director retires or resigns, an assistant director often steps up into the position. In most states, assistant directors are responsible for the every day running of their respective divisions and in doing so have time to learn their jobs inside out. This hands-on experience is more valuable than all the college degrees a person can earn. It teaches him the complex nature of the job and gives him first-hand experience in dealing with financial issues, public relations, personal problems, and a whole host of issues that are unique to fish and wildlife management.

The Fish and Game Council must now pick a new director, and I don't envy anyone who is asked to take the reins of a FWD with all its problems and complexities. Putting the division back on the right track is not going to be an easy proposition.

Each week, I talk to numerous people involved in outdoor businesses and sportsmen. To say the majority of them don't like what is going on in the division and no longer trust the Division to do the right thing by sportsmen is an understatement. It's going to take a person who knows the division inside out, knows how to deal with the different federal agencies and knows how to get the respect of the outdoor sporting community back. NOTE:

You can reach us with your fishing or hunting reports, comments or questions by e-mail at [email protected] or [email protected]; or by mail at J.B. Kasper c/o The Times, 500 Perry St., Trenton, NJ 08605.
 

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Unfortunatley, I think the DEP commissioner will be calling the shots for the Division of Fish and Wildlife.
My concern is that Corzine will appoint a new DEP commissioner who is less supportive of hunting than Campbell is. I'm not a fan of Campbell but, I think we could do a lot worse.
The best thing for sound wildlife management would be to get A3606/S2148 passed. The bill would require the DFW and The DEP to implement the State Fish and Game Code exactly as adopted by the Fish and Game Council.
Passage of this bill would put wildlife management in the hands of biologist and ensure the state's wildlife is not subjected to New Jersey's shady political process.
 
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Corzine will do everything he can to undermine the hunting, hunters, and those in the DEP that surports hunting. He will clean house within is 1st 3 months[mad][down]
 

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Ok Ok...point taken...I'll do it,I'll take the job.[up]
 

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Ok Ok...point taken...I'll do it,I'll take the job.
That would do it! [up]
 
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