Seeing the Forest through the Trees
Forests and trees...natural resources that can be cared for thoughtfully to enhance our quality of life and can be used, protected, and replanted for the future. But is planting and caring for trees an easy task or a daily challenge?
When Lord Calvert first landed on Maryland's shores in 1634, the state was nearly 95% forested. There was a gentle balance between rain and earth. Forests acted as a protector for the fragile soil. Tree crowns broke the force of the falling raindrop (rain falls an average of 30 feet/second - enough force to break bonds between unprotected soil particles.) Roots fasten themselves to the earth, securing it in its place. And, the litter layer of fallen leaves and branches act like a sponge, absorbing rain, slowing it, allowing rain to soak into the ground. Water was clean; marine and aquatic life and forest wildlife flourished.
As the colonists settled in Maryland, forests were cleared for cropland and the wood used for houses, lumber and firewood. As more people moved into Maryland, more forest land was lost. More homes were built, more land was converted for crops and more unprotected soil was exposed.
This conversion was most dramatic in the central part of the State with its well drained, rolling hills. This mountainous west was often too steep and rocky for fields, so more trees survived there. The lower Eastern Shore was too wet to be plowed, but not too wet for certain tree stands to flourish.
Today Maryland is about 42% forested. Areas in Central Maryland average less than 30%. Competition for our forest land for conversion to farming, development, strip mining and highways is increasing. We know that with less forest land, our water quality has declined. While much forest land had been permanently lost, we can manage what remains, replant where possible and improve water quality with forest buffers.
Awareness of land conservation and forest management began in Maryland in the early 1900s when the Garrett brothers gave the state 2000 acres of forest land in Western Maryland. Since 1991, with the passage of the Forest Conservation Act, the protection of Maryland's forest cover has been part of the site planning process for development. The Forest Conservation Act works to maximize the benefits of forests and slow the loss of forest land in Maryland during land development. Forests retained after development improves the environment of both developed and undeveloped areas. Of course, the Forest Conservation Act represents only the most recent of a multi-faceted approach to conserving Maryland's forests and tree resources.
From the planting of tree seedlings grown at the John S. Ayton Tree Nursery to trees from the TREE-MENDOUS MARYLAND tree planting program, from a single shade tree in the backyard to a stand of trees in the field, from a nomination as the biggest tree of a species to the just planted Arbor Day seedling, from drinking water to fishing, boating and swimming in Maryland's streams, lakes and the Chesapeake Bay; or from using wood in our homes and hobbies to using forests for our recreation, income or wildlife - all people benefit from the planting, growing, protection and use of Maryland's trees and forests.
Since 1906, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Forest Service, has been providing a service to the people of Maryland by planting, growing, protecting and using Maryland's most renewable natural resource - trees. A variety of services is available from the Forest Service designed to ensure a viable tree resource for Maryland, now and in the future. Part of the challenge is to foster an awareness and appreciation of the value of trees and forests to the enjoyment of life. Homeowners, forest landowners, community organizations, local governments, industry, and rural and urban dwellers are all recognizing the need to manage and care for our precious forest and tree resources to stem the tide of environmental damage.
So, how does the Maryland DNR Forest Service persuade people to sustain healthy forests, trees and green space for the well being of all? How can one get people to really see that there is more to our forests then just trees?
The Maryland DNR Forest Service is headquartered in Annapolis and has field offices throughout the State. A division of the Department of Natural Resources, the Forest Service provides technical assistance to private landowners, municipalities and other governmental departments on the management of their forests and individual trees. With three organizational components - Urban and Community Forestry, Forest Stewardship, and Program Development - the Forest Service touches all individuals or communities who work to conserve and enhance trees and forest cover to improve livability and environmental quality in Maryland. Partnerships, such as the Forest Conservation Act, with local governments to stem the loss of Maryland's forest resources are necessary to conserve, protect and enhance the quantity and quality of our forest land base. Another critical forestry issue is the importance of forest cover in our watersheds to enhance wildlife habitat and water quality as part of the overall restoration of the Chesapeake Bay and surrounding watersheds.
One Forest Service outreach program is "PLANT," People Loving and Nurturing Trees. The first PLANT Community in Dundalk recognized hundreds of community residents planting and caring for their community's trees. PLANT Communities are neighborhoods where the residents believe trees are valuable and important and worthy of care.
A landowner may want to purchase seedlings from the State Nursery to plant 1/4 acre for windbreak or soil erosion protection. Another landowner may want seedlings to plant, to reforest after a pine harvest. Forest stewardship plans are specifically designed to meet the goals and objectives of an individual landowner. Private landowners are encouraged to practice stewardship and leave the land and its resources in better condition for future generations. Landowners managing their woodlands often are able to realize tax benefits and income that enables them to keep their forest land intact, thus providing environmental benefits to many.
Through the TREE-MENDOUS MARYLAND program, you can give the "gift of trees" to celebrate life or a memory. All trees purchased are planted on public lands in designated areas where they will increase greenways and natural habitats. A gift certificate is available. The planting of trees on public lands is just another way to ensure a better quality of life for us all.
Roadside trees and trees in public rights-of-way are protected by the Maryland DNR Forest Service. Roadside beauty, safety, and the health of the tree are considerations in the care of roadside trees.
Individuals can make a difference in our environmental quality. Trees in backyards, along streets and on school grounds are all part of the urban forest and make important contributions to moderating temperatures, reducing noise levels, modifying storm-water runoff, softening architectural harshness, increasing property values and beautifying the surroundings.
Maryland has a population of about 4.8 million people. With only 42% of the land area forest covered, the trees we have require and deserve good stewardship so that we and others may enjoy their benefits. More than 2500 products come from trees and forests including food, cosmetics and medicines. We each must work as individuals to take care of our forests and trees to provide benefits for today, never forgetting the needs of tomorrow.