“Celebrating Our Past, Creating Our Future.”

The State Forests of Maryland

Jack Perdue, Public Lands Management Supervisor
Larry Maxim, Savage River State Forest Manager
Francis Zumbrun, Green Ridge State Forest Manager


In the 1800’s, the volume of forest removals in large-scale timbering operations greatly exceeded forest growth. By the 1900’s, only 20 percent of mature forest cover still existed east of the Mississippi River. The public naturally feared a timber shortage because of this obvious over cutting of the nation’s forest resources. Large, uncontrolled forest fires followed after the cutting, further damaging the environment and polluting the streams. By the early 1900’s, the forests of Maryland consisted primarily of large cutover tracts and regenerating stands of seedlings and saplings. It was very unusual to see a large tree unless it was defective and left by the logging operations because it couldn’t “pay its way out of the woods”.

To help reverse this destructive and environmentally degrading trend, one hundred years ago in 1906, two brothers, John and Robert Garrett, made a generous donation of 1,917 acres of forest land in Garrett County to the State of Maryland. This tract of land is known today as Garrett State Forest, Maryland’s first state forest.

The forests administered in 2006, by Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) are approximately 195,000 acres: Potomac Garrett and Savage River in Garrett County, Green Ridge in Allegany County, Pocomoke in Worcester County, and Chesapeake Forest crossing five counties on the lower Eastern Shore.

Resource Protection

Because of the existence of public lands and the responsible manner in which these lands are administered in Maryland, more than 10 percent of Maryland’s total land-base is protected from development by virtue of these holdings being in the public trust. Scientific forest management is practiced on State Forest lands, utilizing various harvesting techniques to create the early successional habitats so beneficial for a wide variety of wildlife, and to provide broad landscape diversity. At the same time, the forests continue to provide wood products for a society whose demand for forest products keeps growing. The more diverse the landscape is (forest types and age classes), the healthier the ecosystem. Beyond timber values, public lands are also managed for old growth (about half of the State Forests are managed for old growth objectives). These special areas are in Wildlands, natural areas, and special management zones where the perpetuation of natural forest processes is the featured and encouraged desired forest condition.

Wildlife is thriving on State Forests largely due both to protection as well as forest management activities. It is no longer uncommon to see deer, wild turkey, black bear, and beaver; these animals were nearly extinct from the Maryland landscape 100 years ago. The coyote, fisher and porcupine are also returning to the western Maryland forests along with the black bear which is already well established in Garrett and Allegany counties.

Forest management on public lands emphasizes the importance of clean streams and waterways. Woody vegetation is retained along all riparian areas, which protects thermal and vegetative characteristics of these areas and thereby improves or maintains water quality.

Planning & Practices

DNR employs a forest zone system, which includes a three-step review process for developing annual work plans that directs activities to appropriate locations. One difference is the Chesapeake Forest Lands, where an adaptive and flexible system for managing unique resources has been utilized. This system allows for management of unique species or habitats occurring within a specific area while allowing other forest management practices nearby.

State Forest management requires advanced planning and strict adherence to environmental laws. Forest managers formulate work plans 18 months before their implementation. An Interdisciplinary Team of natural resource professionals reviews each item in the field a full year before implementation. This team includes professionals in: water resources, wildlife, natural heritage, forestry, fisheries, recreation, and resource planning. Then, an advisory committee of citizen members reviews the proposed work plan. After this, the DNR staff hosts public informational meetings to present the annual plan of work for the upcoming fiscal year. Forest harvest sale contracts are then reviewed for approval by Maryland Board of Public Works.

Operators on State Forests must have a Maryland forest product operator’s license, be a certified Master Logger and have a sediment and erosion control training certificate to prove they are knowledgeable in the use of forestry Best Management Practices. The State Forest manager and staff carefully monitor ongoing harvest operations to ensure full compliance with all regulations and to ensure the sustainability of the resource.

Sustainable Forests

Maryland law requires that the State's public forest resources be managed for a diversity of purposes including wood fiber, recreation, wildlife, fish, and water quality. The Department must work to balance and harmonize these many interests that compete for the use of these State Forests while enhancing or maintaining the forest’s ability to produce these benefits.

Independent auditors under the Sustainable Forestry Initiative and the Forest Stewardship Council have certified the entire 58,000 acres of the Chesapeake Forest Lands as sustainable. The State Forests and the remaining Chesapeake Forest acreage will be moving toward achieving this special recognition as outlined in a recent Executive Order from Governor Ehrlich. Obtaining dual certification helps to assure Maryland citizens that their forests are being cared for in a sustainable manner.


Income from State Forest sales goes to two places. A percentage of revenues, determined by the level of DNR ownership on a per county basis, is given to county government where the forest is located. In Garrett and Allegany Counties, 25 percent of income generated on State Forests is given to the county. In other counties that portion is 15 percent. A small portion goes back to the State forests for protection of the resource from insects and disease, maintenance of roads and trails, and noncommercial silvicultural activities such as thinning to promote forest health. The majority of these timber receipts goes into the State Forest and Park Fund to, amongst other things, support State Park operations. These revenues represent monies that otherwise would be paid by Maryland citizens through taxes or user fees to support the activities of the Department.

From the four major State Forests (exclusive of the Chesapeake Forest), for Fiscal Years 2001-2005, total revenues were $12.6 million (annual average $2.5 million) involving a total of 4,400 acres (annual average 887) with a total board foot volume of 32 million board feet (annual average 6.5 million board feet).

Forests Forever

Our forests are a renewable resource that, with careful management, can provide us with many benefits forever. Each year less than one percent of the total area of the State Forests is touched by management activity. The forests put on new growth each year, which is calculated through scientific inventory methods. Harvest levels are carefully planned so as not to exceed annual growth. So we can say with great confidence that Maryland's State Forests will be there for the public to enjoy for many years to come. After each harvest, the area is regenerated by allowing new seedlings enough light to become established and increase vigor, or, if pine is the preferred species, planting is sometimes required using trees bred from only the best Maryland stock, usually the next spring. The wood harvested is used to make many products used in our homes everyday. These forests are not lost; they are harvested, regenerated, nurtured and protected to become the forests that will supply the functions, values and products to be used by our children and our children's children. Forests are renewable.

Celebrate the Centennial

Before the Garrett Brothers’ donation in 1906 there were zero acres of state forestland in Maryland. One hundred years later, as the Maryland Forest Service celebrates its Centennial, nearly 200,000 acres of state forestland exists in Maryland. This is an incredible achievement, especially considering that during the same one hundred year period, the population of Maryland tripled in size to about 5.6 million. The forest conservation leaders of the past proved that it is possible to have economic growth while acquiring state forestland to benefit the citizens of Maryland, thus significantly improving our collective quality of life.

The Maryland Forest Service’s adopted slogan “Celebrating Our Past and Creating Our Future” invites us to celebrate our conservation accomplishments together, and to create a future that guarantees a quality of life for our children and future generations. Conservation leaders of the past worked to restore the “devastated”, cut-over landscapes. One of the environmental challenges of our time is answering the ever present question of how to balance economic growth with conserving the forest land base at a time when Maryland is developing at the rate of 8,600 acres a year. Maryland has a 100-year proven track record of Conservation leadership to celebrate; it is now up to us create a future that will be celebrated 100 years from now during the bicentennial.