Maryland State Sen. Frederick Maikus calls it victory for the people.

Robert I. Smith, the Interior Department's man on the scene, says it "threatens the concept of wildlife management by professionals. Elected representatives are making natural resource decisions instead of the experts who were hired to do it."

They are talking about the same thing -- decisions by state legislatures in Maryland and Wisconsin to ban enforcement of steel shot hunting regulations in both states.

Unless there is a drastic and unexpected turnabout in federal law there will be no steel shot rules in effect in Maryland this year. For the first time in four years waterfowl hunters will not have to concern themselves with what zones they are hunting in. They will not have to pay extra for steel shotgun loads. Lead shot is now back in service.

The steel shot law, one of the most controversial hunting regulations in years, was instituted by the federal government in 1976 in an effort to halt deaths of waterfowl from lead poisoning. Interior estimated that about 2 million ducks -- 2 percent of the wintering U.S. population -- died every year from ingesting spent lead pellets, which lodge in their gizzards and poison their bloodstreams.

In painstakingly laborious fashion, Interior began establishing steel shot zones in all four flyways, areas where waterfowl hunting had been intensive and where waterfowl were thought to be most susceptible to poisoning by feeding on marsh and swamp bottoms loaded with spent lead shot.

There was great opposition among hunters, who contended the new steel loads were not powerful enough to bring down ducks and geese, that the hard steel pellets damaged their treasured old shotguns, that steel crippled birds instead of killing them.

Hunters in Maryland, the Eastern flyway's Canada goose hunting capital, were among the most vocal opponents. But federal law is federal law, or was, and there was little they could do about the regulations.

Then in 1978 a congressional rider was attached to the Interior Department appropriations bill. The amendment, sponsored by Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, barred Interior from enforcing steel shot regulations in any state that did not approve of the regulations.

Seven or eight states, mostly in the West, dropped out of the program. Their natural resources officials felt it wasn't necessary.

Maryland's DNR thought it was a good program, and still does.

But Malkus, a goose hunter who represents a goose hunting area on the lower Eastern Shore, disagreed. He introduced a bill calling for the state not to enforce the steel shot laws and to notify the federal government it was not welcome to enforce the laws on Maryland territory, either.

The bill passed the state legislature but was vetoed by Gov. Harry Hughes, who cited "compelling scientific evidence that ingestion of lead shot pellets is responsible for the annual lead poisoning of hundreds of thousands of bottom-feeding waterfowl." Last January the veto was overriden by the legislature.

End of steel shot regulations in Maryland. Much the same scenario was played out in Wisconsin.

What bothers Smith, who has been overseeing the steel shot program for Interior since its inception, is the precedent of politicians overriding the judgment of natural resources specialists.

It bothers the resource specialists, too.

"There's no question that the department supports steel shot," said Bud Halla, director of Maryland's Wildlife Administration. "The evidence is overwhelming that birds are dying from ingestion of lead shot.

"But we are no longer able to enforce steel shot and the federal government can't enforce it here, either. If that rider comes off (the federal appropriations bill), watch out.

"With ducks, where you have a declining population, it's hard not to be concerned," Halla added. "Did they care about whooping cranes in the 1900s, when they had thousands of them? That's the stage we're at now, in my opinion, with ducks."

Malkus disagrees. "If steel shot is so bad, why didn't they put the regulations in effect everywhere?" he asked. "Why do they have a steel shot zone on the Eastern Shore, where we have muddy bottom and the lead sinks right in, but on the Western Shore right across the Bay they can shoot lead? r

"I'll tell you why. If they made it everywhere, they'd never pass this silly proposal. And it is a silly proposal."

Malkus maintains decline in bay grasses and other waterfowl foods has led to the drop in duck populations. "But they just blame everything on the hunter. Food. Food is the answer.

The people won this one," he said. "I couldn't have won it without the people's support."

Vern Stotts, who runs the waterfowl program for Maryland and who intends to keep shooting steel shot himself, whatever the law says, figures that in time, "If we are right the habitat and the birds themselves will show the error of this decision. Mother Nature eventually will sort things out. Only trouble is, we may be gone by then."