by Dave Reinecke and Steve Koehn
The CFL include portions of 23 separate
watersheds, many of which have been given a high priority for conservation under
the Maryland Clean Water Action Plan. These often remote and unspoiled areas
provide essential habitat for established populations of threatened and
endangered species, including the Delmarva fox squirrel,
bald eagle and some 150
other species that have been identified as rare, threatened or endangered. In
addition, abundant populations of deer, turkey and waterfowl have traditionally
presented a fantastic array of hunting opportunities.
In December 2000 the final 29,935 acres were officially transferred to the state under the purview of a 3-year contract with a private forestry firm to carry out day-to-day operations. The result is more than 58,000 acres of state-owned public forest, half of which is managed by a private firm that works with DNR forest managers to carry out a conservation-oriented sustainable forestry plan. This unusual arrangement has created new challenges and opportunities for the DNR Forest Service, and the lessons being learned may transfer well beyond these forests.
So why did the state and The Conservation Fund buy these lands? For many reasons, chief among them to protect Marylandís natural resources and to maintain the rural character, economy and heritage of the Eastern Shore. All totaled, the properties include more than 11,000 acres of wetlands and 53,000 acres of forests, important habitat for the federally endangered Delmarva fox squirrel. Wood from these forests is also invaluable to the Shoreís forest products industry, the regionís second largest, generating $349 million for the stateís economy while employing more than 2,000 people.
Preserving these lands goes a long way toward
securing the regionís water quality. The CFL properties protect shoreline on
five river systems and offer countless opportunities for wetland creation,
streamside buffer enhancement, and restoration of native plant communities. They
also provide the largest collection of properties for upland game on the Eastern
The preservation of these working forests translates into significant benefits for Marylanders. Their protection is critical to keeping the Shoreís beloved landscapes from being fragmented by development, supporting the rural economies through the proceeds of hunting and fishing revenues, and expanding opportunities for public access by making new areas available for outdoor activities like hunting, fishing, hiking, birding and canoeing.
A 10-person technical team was assembled to
develop the Sustainable Forest Management Plan for the CFL properties, with
oversight from a steering committee with representatives from DNR, The
Conservation Fund, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and the local forest industry.
However, developing the plan came with its share of challenges: Time to develop
the plan was relatively short; existing data lacked a complete stand-by-stand
forest inventory; and only two of the five counties had a modern soil survey.
Just as the Chesapeake Forest Lands are part of
a vast ecosystem, their management is not clearly defined but carefully
intertwined among staff from several DNR units. Wildlife and Heritage personnel
are tasked with identifying and developing restoration projects, reporting and
mapping potential Ecological Significant Areas (ESAs) and overseeing release
programs for game and non-game species. Chesapeake and Coastal Watershed Service
employees are charged with developing watershed improvement projects and
assisting in the design of forest monitoring programs.
Resource Planning experts
and State Forest and Park Service staff are working to create
Information System maps for public review and conducting deed research and
boundary recovery; and the Natural Resources Police are on hand to enforce laws
and regulations on the properties. Finally, Maryland Conservation Corps members
assist in painting boundary lines, installing gates and coordinating trash
One of the most difficult management issues to
be addressed during the formal planning process is achieving the proper balance
between public hunting and leased hunting on the forests. The department is
developing decision criteria to identify which tracts are best suited to these
uses and continues to work with interested stakeholders to define a reasonable