When Fish and Wildlife Board Chairman George (Gige) Darey of Lenox began the July Board Public Meeting, he was loaded for bear (pardon the pun).
"I am beyond ticked off," said Darey.
His anger was caused by the recent news that Assistant Director of Wildlife Dr. Thomas O’Shea resigned to take a higher paying job with the Trustees of Reservation. This news was not taken well by the other board members, nor the public that was in attendance -- especially Massachusetts Sportsmen’s Council President Mike Moss, who made some audible remarks.
Dr. O’Shea was a highly regarded wildlife biologist who was well known across the state, including the Berkshires. He oversaw habitat projects, game populations, the new licensing and game check systems, and pheasant stocking programs, among other things. He came out to the Berkshires to make several presentations over the years. He was a bright young biologist, one that the F&W Board invested heavily in training. Quite possibly, he could have become a future director of the Division some day.
"The medium raise in the last 10 years for management positions has been the cost of living raises," Darey said. "This, for the best science based fish and wildlife expertise in the country.
"The board hires the staff, but does not have the power to adjust their salaries. This board is extremely frustrated and ashamed that it has to spend so much time on salaries just to maintain the quality of staff instead of dealing with other important issues."
Board member Dr. Joseph Larson also weighed in by saying that such matters have to be handled at a higher level.
"The F&W Board does not have the power to change or to adjust salaries. That comes down from above," he said. The [Fish and Game] Commissioner and Secretary [Environmental and Energy] need to be putting full time on issues like this. This agency has a serious problem. This has got to be handled by higher levels of the Administration."
According to DFW Director Wayne MacCallum, "Massachusetts is the third most expensive state to live in, and the DFW headquarters is located in the eastern part. On top of that, the DFW is not competitive with its sister agencies. The DFW managers have been stuck in the same positions since 2003 and all step increases were eliminated. The union employees, however, did get raises every year as well as cost of living (raises. The average raise to a manager in the DFW has been equal to the COL. Managers not only have not kept up with the COL, but in those years with no raises at all, they have fallen below.
"The Assistant Director position deals with a lot of people: sportsmen, non-profits and citizens throughout the state. Nobody is looking to get rich [in DFW] because they won’t, but wildlife conservation is a huge motivation. The F&W Board has always supported the scientists and biologists. We have the best science based program in the country for deer."
Until the position is filled, O’Shea’s workload will be handled by Division Director MacCallum and Rob Deblinger, deputy director of field operations.
Fish & Game Commissioner Mary Griffin, who was present at the board meeting, agreed with the characterization of the loss of O’Shea. She said that she was "incredibly frustrated" losing O’Shea, who attended Harvard and Yale and was very well liked.
"At first I became very angry, and then very sad, not toward Tom but because we have basically been trying for the last four years to have his salary adjusted or a salary reclassification of his job," she said. "We are facing compression issues, and I am glad the board is looking at it, for it needs to be addressed."
There is a new campaign to inform the public about the importance of hunting, fishing, wildlife watching and boating to our economy. Sportsmen and women, environmentalists and conservationists are spending over $2 billion annually in Massachusetts. That’s a significant contribution to its economy.
Also, over the last seven years, approximately 40,000 acres of land has been acquired and more placed under conservation easements, all managed by the same number of people. One would think that those biologists, scientists and managers who oversee our natural resources would be better treated.
It’s about time the administration woke up, don’t you think?
Tom Tyning, naturalist, author, and professor at Berkshire Community College, has developed a great news website, Western Mass Naturalist. Tom is an expert on snakes, and the new site has lots of information about all the snakes found in western Massachusetts, including: how to identify species of snakes, what they eat and how they eat it, common myths about snakes, etc. You are encouraged to check westernmassnaturalist.org often, and watch it grow to include other groups besides snakes.
The Berkshire Beagle Club in Richmond held field trials last weekend. A couple of our local dogs did very well. Applewynd Mash-Po-Tater finished third at the bench show for 15-inch male dogs, beating out 17 other entries. He finished second on Sunday’s small pack option trial (15-inch all age combined) and was awarded the 15-inch high scoring all age hound. Bob and Kim Jones of Lee are his owners.
Chika finished second in the bench show (15-inch female class), beating out 11 other entries, and third in the 15-inch all age SPO trial, which drew 23 entries. She is owned by James Larimore of Pittsfield.
Congratulations to these owners, whose dogs were up against some of the best dogs in the Northeast. The field trial drew 133 entrants from most New England states, Pennsylvania and New York.
To reach Gene Chague:
or (413) 637-1818.