Address by Steven W. Koehn, Maryland State
Can you imagine Maryland without a state forest or state park? Well, a little less than one hundred years ago, in 1905, there was such a time.
John and Robert Garrett made a generous donation of 1,917 acres of forest land in Garrett County to the State of Maryland. The Garrett brother’s original donation consisted of 3 parcels:
Records show that the Garrett deed was prepared on January 30,1907 and later recorded by Fred. W. Besley on April 10th, 1907 at 8 AM, "For the purposes mentioned in Sec. 3 Chap.294 of Acts of MD 1906" – what we call today the Forest Conservation Act of 1906. (Note: Governor Edwin Warfield signed it into law on April 5, 1906.
During the preliminary discussions with the State, the Garrett brothers imposed several conditions before they deeded over the land to the State. Some of these conditions were written into law in the Forestry Conservation Act of 1906.
The law in essence declared war on the Age of Forest exploitation. The law made it clear that the science of forestry would be the tool to heal Maryland’s devastated landscape. The 1906 Forestry Conservation Act was so progressive and pioneering, that it quickly put Maryland in the forefront of the national forestry conservation movement at the State level. The law called for a “State Forester” to be in charge of carrying out its mandates. The first to fill that position was Fred W. Besley (1906-1942).
As a result of the passing of the 1906 Forest Conservation, Maryland became third state in the country to have a State directed forest management program pioneering many scientific forest management programs that were later adopted across the country (the other two states were Wisconsin and Pennsylvania).
To fully appreciate the 1906 Forest Conservation Law, it is important to remember what the condition of the forests was like in the early 1900’s.
The 1906 Forestry Conservation Act addressed a variety of additional environmental concerns of that time: over-cutting of timber, livestock grazing in woodlots, and wildfires. All of the above activities had a negative impact on forest regeneration.
The Law also provided guidelines for purchasing additional public lands. For example, in 1906 the State could spend no more than five dollars per acre when purchasing additional public lands.
Just consider one accomplishment of many resulting from the Garrett Brother’s initial benevolence.
There were zero acres of state public land in Maryland before their donation in 1906; outdoor recreation did not exist on state public lands, simply because there were no state public lands in Maryland.
Today, as we celebrate the Centennial of the Maryland Forest Service and the Maryland State Park Service, there is just a little less than 500,000 acres of state public land, making up about 10% of Maryland’s land base.
At the same time the forest land base throughout the state increased from a little less than 30% 100 years ago to 40% today. That’s incredible, especially when you recognize that during the same time the population of Maryland tripled in size in 100 years, from about 1.8 million in 1906 to about 5.6 million people in 2006.
The Forest conservation leaders of the past proved that it is possible to have
economic growth while at the same time improving the forest resource base and
quality of life issues. Somehow, they figured out that delicate balance.
We can ask, "What will Maryland’s forested landscape look like 100 years from now?" Well, what Maryland’s forests will look like 100 years from now is up to us!
If the history of state and private forests in Maryland reveals anything, it is that land and people are intertwined throughout that history. It took 100 years of selfless dedication by a series of charismatic and influential forest conservation leaders to help restore the forest and develop a suite of forestry programs and services targeting our nation’s state and private forestlands for improvement. In the past 30 years, user demands on State-owned forestland have dramatically increased as have the threats to the continued viability of privately owned forested lands. This is a pivotal time in the history of the state and private forestlands. It is a moment that cries out for a new cadre of charismatic and influential forest conservation leaders.
Now is the time for all of us to step forward and become the catalyst to lay the foundation for the next century of progress.
There’s much work before us. We can’t always depend on personalities to appear like John Garrett or Robert Garrett, or Fred W. Besley to bail us out. We have to get involved ourselves if we are to make a difference and have healthy and sustainable forests for today and tomorrow. Now, let’s get to work!
Note: This centennial event was celebrated 100 years to the day Fred W.
Besley filed the Garrett land gift in the Garrett County Court House.
Photographs (top to bottom):
Garrett State Forest - Cradle of Maryland Forestry