Maryland's forests are resilient, valuable and renewable. They protect water quality, enhance wildlife habitat, and add beauty to our cities and countryside. These benefits, as well as wood products and other commodities, come from sustainable, environmentally sound management of the forest.
While forests have few of the costs associated with other land uses, they are vulnerable to a variety of threats. These threats include natural events such as fires and ice storms; outbreaks of forest insects, diseases and other pests; mis-management; and land development that removes, fragments, or parceles forests. These factors work individually or in combination to threaten the health, diversity, long-term viability and productivity of our forest land. Declines in forest health or losses of forest land lead to lost opportunities for our citizens and communities.
Maryland's forests face many of the same pressures as agricultural lands. Rising property values of potential development sites limit options for retaining traditional land uses. Additionally, fragmentation and parcellization decrease the number of management options available to landowners. Finally, introduced plants, animals, insects, and diseases invade natural communities.
Good stewardship by landowners and sound public policies are critical elements in providing sustainable benefits from forests. Policies designed to promote forest retention include tax incentives and cost-sharing programs for landowners. Further, direct payment programs like the Buffer Incentive Program, and regulatory initiatives such as the Pine Tree Reforestation Law also encourage landowners to retain forested land.
As Maryland continues to develop rapidly, easement programs may be necessary to compensate landowners for differences in values between forest uses and developmental uses. Where development does occur, planning is necessary to conserve forests within the developed area, and to ensure protection of forest values.
Maryland's Forest Conservation Act is an innovative approach to reducing the number of forested acres lost to land development. It requires developers to conserve, and in some cases replant forested portions of sites that are undergoing development. It was created in response to significant losses of forest land resulting from rapid urban development of Maryland.
Education is a key element in any effort to retain forest resources. Landowners must have access to accurate information if they are to make informed decisions about their forest land. People who directly benefit from forests have personal incentives to retain forest land. Also, informed citizens and policy makers can advocate reasonable public policy decisions.
Finally, all citizens must have a clear understanding of benefits and costs of forests if rational and effective choices are to be made. This Forest Health Report provides information to help Marylanders take appropriate actions to enhance forest resources for the present and for future generations.