When he started working for the Maryland State Wildlife Administration last year, Keith Van Ness was naive.

"I had what they call the Bambi Syndrome," the 31-year-old Silver Spring native says. "I thought all animals were cute and cuddly and I wanted to do as much as I could to protect them."

Nowadays Van Ness is less innocent about the ways of the wilderness. At Seneca Creek State Park in Gaithersburg, he has cornered rabid raccoons, seen wild dogs hunt and devour deer, and helped remove the caracasses of animals killed on state roads.

Despite that initiation, Van Ness, a wildlife technician, says he has retained his idealism and is even more concerned about environmental protection than when he started. "It's a public service and I love the work," he says. "I sure don't do it for the money."

Van Ness earns $11,200 a year counting bald eagles, tagging wood ducks and sundry other creatures, and responding to animal nuisance calls from the public--"everything," he says, "from mockingbirds flying into house windows to raccoons tipping over garbage cans."

He says he derives his greatest job satisfaction from explaining to city dwellers why wild animals behave as they do. "People brought up in the city lose touch with the natural world and how delicate the balance is between nature and man," he says. "It's a challenge teaching and working to maintain the balance."

Van Ness worked for several years as a potter and says he was quite successful at it but entered wildlife management because he was inspired by the environmental protection movement.

He says he isn't worried about being laid off because state wildlife employes have not suffered nearly as many reductions in force as have their counterparts in the federal government.

"I'll stay in public service for quite a while," he says. "I enjoy the work too much to leave."