The Maryland Forest Action Plan lays out a five-year plan based on a long-term approach to desired conditions for Maryland’s future forests. The plan characterizes a maturing forest base in Maryland that supports considerable biological diversity, expanding potential for sawtimber and other wood products, greater tree growth than removal, net gains in carbon sequestration, and protection of water quality. Forest land conversion to other uses is considered the greatest threat to many of these forest benefits, since forest land is being lost at almost 3% per decade, a loss much greater than the modest but increasing rates of land conservation. The plan also identifies five major areas for action: Sustaining/Restoring Forests on the Landscape, Ensuring Forest Health, Ensuring Clean and Abundant Water, Creating Jobs and Sustainable Communities, and increasing Resilience to Climate Change. Sustaining Forests is consistently identified as the highest priority, since all the forest benefits depend on forests remaining on the landscape. Priority areas focus on supporting forest benefits such as clean water, clean air, and community forests.
Ensuring Healthy and Resilient Forests: The incredible range of benefits from forests relies on maintaining the health of the trees and forest communities over time, but the stresses on the forest have dramatically changed. Maryland’s landscape has been settled for centuries. This comes with an altered fire regime that demands widespread suppression, an invasion of many damaging non-native plants and insects, and an unprecedented large population of white-tailed deer. Keeping the natural resilience of the forests in the face of storms, pests, and other threats requires addressing both sudden events and chronic stresses. The plan identifies priority areas to focus particular responses for reducing wildfire risk and treating new infestations of invasive pests and lays the groundwork for more comprehensive and integrated approaches to respond to threats, particularly efforts to target invasive plants that increase the amount of fuels in areas with high wildfire risk. Furthermore, climate change creates additional stresses and needs for resilience and adaptation. Specific management approaches include planting more diverse species, conserving animal migration corridors, and assisted migration of species.
Expanding Forest Benefits: Two significant issues for Maryland are meeting commitments for restoration of the Chesapeake Bay and supporting urban and community forestry to make our neighborhoods more desirable places to live. Priority actions for Chesapeake Bay restoration include riparian forest buffers, targeted forest conservation for water quality, and expanded urban tree canopy. For community tree and forests, Maryland will continue to assist jurisdictions with assessing urban tree canopy, setting expanded forest canopy goals, supporting tree planting programs, recognizing good urban forestry programs, and implementing the Maryland Forest Conservation Act and other laws and regulations that protect trees in developed areas. The restoration and conservation of forests and working lands can provide jobs and support sustainable communities, generating economic value by sustaining green jobs, and producing timber and other forest products, food, and energy. Our forests are of immense social importance, enhancing rural quality of life, sustaining scenic and culturally important landscapes, and oftentimes defining the essence of a community.
Restoring and Sustaining Forest Landscapes: None of the other benefits of forests can be provided if the forests themselves do not remain, a tenet of Maryland’s Sustainable Forestry Act of 2009. The greatest threat to biodiversity in Maryland’s forests has been and continues to be land development. Maryland lost 151,500 acres of forest between 1986 and 2008, leaving Maryland only 39% forested. When the health and integrity of our lands deteriorate, so do the environmental, economic, and social benefits they provide, with enormous impacts on drinking water, carbon emissions, climate, wildlife, recreation, community health, and prosperity. Maryland is working with a variety of partners and programs to encourage retention of the 76% of forests privately owned, supporting technical and financial assistance for landowners, forest data for local land use planning, and affordable seedlings. Markets are seen as critical tools to enable good forest management, and actions to reverse declines in traditional markets and develop ecosystem markets are included. Additionally, State Forests are becoming certified as sustainable to further improve their role as models for sustainable forest management.