The recession-wracked economies of all three Bay states have forced cutbacks in many environmental programs as officials try to shore up deficits.

In the current 1991 fiscal year, Pennsylvania must cut spending to avoid a $1 billion budget deficit; Maryland is cutting back to avoid a deficit of more than $400 million; and Virginia — which operates on a two-year budget — has had a funding gap of more than $2 billion.

Generally, officials in all three states say they have sought to avoid the wholesale elimination of programs, but some activities are being put off — the purchase of open spaces in Maryland, for example — and some services are being cut.

In Virginia, many agencies are absorbing budget cuts of as much as 15 percent, although the exact impacts of the cuts will not be known until agencies determine how to absorb the reductions.

A few programs have been eliminated, such as the Youth Conservation Corps, but the most significant effect of cuts appears to be staff vacancies and delays in program implementations.

Examples of programs being delayed include the oyster repletion program, James River fish passages, and grants to localities to repair leaking sewer lines. Several positions approved by the State Water Control Board for the 401 (wetlands, instream flow) Program, Stormwater Program and Bay Program, are going unfilled. Also, state funding for the Virginia Institute for Marine Science is being reduced 11 percent, by $1.4 million.

However, Gov. Douglas Wilder has specifically exempted from cuts state grants to local governments to implement the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act.

In Pennsylvania, the Department of Environmental Resources recently laid off 115 workers, though a few may be brought back thanks to federal Clean Air Act funding. Also, DER plans to eliminate most internships, which average between 250 and 300 a year.

Prior to the layoffs, the agency had about 560 unfilled positions, a vacancy rate of 13 percent, according to recent reports.

No specific programs have been targeted for elimination.

Helen Wise, the governor's deputy chief of staff for programs in Pennsylvania, said she anticipated that "most, if not all" Bay related contracts would be approved.

But, during a recent address in Harrisburg, Wise warned that "we have not yet seen the bottom of the barrel. I hate to tell you all that, but I think it¹s going to get worse before it gets better."

Maryland is not filling more than 3,000 vacant state jobs, and is transferring money from some funds into the state's general treasury to balance the books.

The administration, for example, has proposed transferring $40 million in funds that had been earmarked for the purchase of parks, open spaces and farmland preservation to the state's general fund.

In the Maryland Department of the Environment, the 1991 budget of $56 million is being reduced by about 10 percent, with reductions being made through reduced travel, not filling vacant positions, not renewing some contracts, and delaying replacement of some equipment such as vehicles.

The Bay Program in Maryland's Department of Natural Resources is also taking a cut of about $1.86 million from its $19.6 million budget. The only program being cut, according to officials, is for urban forestry grants though the department is seeking federal funds to continue it. Several other positions have not been filled, but DNR has filled all the wetlands positions needed to implement the state's new wetlands law which went into effect Jan. 1.