David G. Burke
Chief, Nontidal Wetlands Division, Department of Natural Resources
Annapolis, Maryland

David G. Burke, an award winner in the state government category, has distinguished himself by the magnitude of his impact on Maryland’s wetlands. Since joining the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in 1980, Burke’s most outstanding achievement is his start-to-finish involvement with Maryland’s model Nontidal Wetlands Protection program.

In 1982, he persuaded the DNR that local governments could play a substantial role in protecting nontidal wetlands if more was known about the ecological importance of nontidal wetlands and how to protect them. With the assistance of Jon Kusler, executive director of the Association of State Wetland Managers, and the Environmental Law Institute, Burke served as project manager and co-author of Nontidal Wetlands Protection: A Handbook for Maryland Local Governments. Armed with a slide show, Burke talked to any local government officials who were willing to listen.

By 1985, the program had developed into a full-blown training and education series funded as part of Maryland Governor Hughes’ Chesapeake Bay initiative. Maryland’s DNR and Burke were subsequently awarded the National Planning Award by the American Planning Association for the handbook and its associated program.

In his role as the state’s principal technical expert for nontidal wetlands, Burke was in a position to influence the development of Maryland’s new critical areas program and help compile criteria and guidelines for protecting nontidal wetlands in the critical areas. Although this program established a solid base for protecting nontidal wetlands, its jurisdiction was limited and much of Maryland’s nontidal wetlands resource base was not protected.

Hoping to establish a strong statewide nontidal regulatory and management program, Burke moved to the regulatory arm of the DNR in 1987. Shortly thereafter, he became the principal staff person supporting the formal Nontidal Wetlands Task Force organized by the DNR under the auspices of the governor. Over six months, the task force held several intensive workshop sessions. Burke was responsible for coordinating and compiling background issue papers and pushing the participants to reach consensus.

In January 1989, the task force’s final report became the basis for a comprehensive nontidal wetlands bill sponsored by Governor Donald Schaefer. Burke provided substantial technical support and policy advice on all aspects of the proposed bill to DNR and administration officials. Upon the bill’ s enactment, Burke and his staff immediately went to work developing the program’s regulations. This involved many statewide town meetings, proposing regulations the public, and soliciting their views. After several iterations, the regulations were adopted.

Burke then turned his efforts toward negotiating a statewide general permit—an essential ingredient of the program-from the Army Corps of Engineers. During the legislative debate, the governor’s office representatives and DNR officials had promised the program would closely coordinate with the Corps to expedite and streamline the permit process. With Burke’s technical assistance, a general permit was secured shortly after the program’s start-up date. After one year of operation under his direction, the program was able to cut the rate of nontidal wetland losses substantially and balance permitted nontidal wetland losses with required acreage gains.

Through his decade-long efforts to establish a model nontidal wetlands program in Maryland, Burke has contributed to natural resources conservation and served as an example of innovation and dedication for the Maryland DNR, the rest of the Chesapeake Bay region, and the nation.

— Craig Potter, Partner, Oppenheimer, Wolff & Donnelly