Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening unexpectedly fired state Natural Resources Secretary John Griffin on July 9, and named Assistant Secretary Sarah J. Taylor-Rogers to replace him.

Glendening gave no public explanation for the firing, although the two were said to have had policy differences. Glendening spokesman Michael Morrill said the governor “wanted to energize the department and refocus it on Smart Growth, land conservation and green infrastructure preservation.”

The action surprised environmentalists. Will Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation which named Griffin its “Conservationist of the Year” in 1998, said he was “shocked, saddened and disappointed.”

In August, Griffin, 53, was hired on a temporary basis as a special assistant to U.S. Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-MD, to help identify future legislative priorities and make recommendations about what the federal government’s role should be in addressing environmental needs in the Chesapeake and coastal bays.

Griffin will not deal with any matters related to dredging the Bay, according to a spokesperson for Gilchrest’s office. Gilchrest has criticized plans by Gov. Parris Glendening’s administration to dump dredge spoil from the Baltimore Harbor shipping channels at a site off Kent Island.

Griffin, who was appointed by Glendening as secretary of the Department of Natural Resources in 1994 and reappointed in January, had been a been a top official in the agency for the last 15 years, serving under three governors.

He was Glendening’s point man for dealing with the pfiesteria issue two years ago, and had played major roles with the state’s tributary teams, oyster recovery efforts, the state’s Rural Legacy land preservation program and ongoing efforts to improve Baywide management of blue crabs.

Taylor-Rogers had served as DNR’s Assistant Secretary for Resource Management since February 1994. In that role, she managed the department’s Forest Service, Wildlife and Heritage Divisions, Fisheries Service, Licensing, and Registration Service and had oversight responsibilities for the Chesapeake Bay Critical Areas Commission.

Previously, she had served as executive director of the Critical Areas Commission since its inception in 1984. From 1979 to 1984, she was the DNR’s director of Coastal Resources. For the five years before that, she worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Taylor-Rogers received a Ph.D. in 1976 from the Maxwell Graduate School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, with courses from the New York State College of Environmental Sciences and Forestry specializing in water resources, natural resources administration and organization development.

Glendening said Taylor-Rogers had “achieved national prominence for her innovative and successful work to protect the Chesapeake Bay, Maryland’s forests and streams and vital wildlife habitat. She will lead an aggressive effort to preserve our remaining green infrastructure, a key component of our Smart Growth program.”

The DNR is responsible for managing the state’s land, water and wildlife resources. It has an annual budget of more than $200 million, 1,600 employees, and manages 365,000 acres of public land.