ANNAPOLIS – A new commission will pinpoint ways to sustain Maryland’s forests and the timber industry under one of two related executive orders announced by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Friday at one of the state’s largest sawmills.
“The concern is that the base of working forests is being eroded by development,” said Mike Slattery, assistant secretary for Forests, Parks, Fish and Wildlife at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
Ehrlich announced the Governor’s Commission for Protecting the Chesapeake Bay through Sustainable Forestry at JV Wells Lumber Co., part of Maryland’s $2.2 billion timber industry.
“This sort of takes a look at it from a 30,000-foot view,” said Slattery, who added that the state wants to keep its forests from fragmenting. The second order, signed earlier this year, requires certification from two forestry councils for state timber projects.
The intention of the orders is twofold, said Slattery: One, better management will sustain the economic and ecological benefits offered by forests. Two, this concerted effort makes Maryland more competitive for federal funding through the Forest Legacy Program money.
“We’ll have research, we’ll have dual certification and we’ll have essentially a strategic plan for conserving our working forests,” he said. In 2004, Maryland received $1 million from the Forest Legacy Program for land acquisition.
“Obviously, forest management is better than development,” said Dan Boone, conservation chairman for the Maryland Sierra Club. However, he said the timber industry relies mostly on private land, and so public land conservation, as pursued by the governor’s certification order, may have little impact.
“It’s kind of ridiculous to suggest that the public lands in Maryland are needed to sustain the timber industry in our state,” said Boone.
He said he’d like to see public land devoted to other purposes, and not treated like row crops.
“We’re managing our forests for less-than-optimum conditions,” he said.
Though 40 percent of Maryland remains covered by trees, the timber industry relies on more than 90 percent of that land, according to Slattery.
“We’ve got to try to protect open space,” said Lewis Riley, secretary of the Maryland Department of Agriculture, “. . . and the best way to protect it is to have a successful industry.”
Riley said the state’s timber industry, which provides 14,000 jobs, has done a commendable job of replenishing the land it uses. Friday’s initiatives, he said, take that stewardship one step further.
“It shows,” he said, “that the state government and the forest industry are certainly partners in reproduction and protection of the forests and protection of the environment.”