Changes in Land Use
As Maryland's population has grown, so has the challenge of appropriate land use planning. Exceeding early projections, the developed area of Maryland grew by 3.9% per year, or 144,500 acres from 1985 to 1990. This is an area roughly the size of Howard County or three times the size of Baltimore City. One half of this land was forested. The rate of development from 1973 to 1981 averaged 1.6% per year, and 1.2% per year between 1981 and 1985, periods when economic growth was relatively slow. These statewide rates of development and loss of forests may be misleading because development is concentrated in the counties around the Chesapeake Bay. These lands are more vulnerable to threats to forest health since they are already stressed. From 1985 to 1990, the five counties that lost the most forests to development were Charles, Prince George's, Anne Arundel, Montgomery, and Calvert.
Projections by the Maryland Office of Planning estimate that between 1990 and 2015 the area dominated by urban development will increase to a total of 1.5 million acres. This is an increase of 48%. The total area developed may be 25% of Maryland.
Past studies clearly show that the absence of a comprehensive forest retention and reforestation program has compromised the distribution of forests throughout the State. Without changes in land use planning, an additional 274,000 acres of forests could be lost to development. Appropriate planning for land use and resource-specific controls such as Maryland's Forest Conservation Act may reduce this acreage.
In addition to the number of acres lost, the location, size, and number of owners of forests is important. Forest land is fragmented into smaller and smaller blocks by residential homes and developments. Forest fragmentation adversely affects many wildlife species. Animals that require large areas of forests, or forest interior species, often can not compete and survive in forest edges and non-forested areas. Further, habitats required to support rare and endangered species may be fragmented or destroyed by development. As a result, the number and diversity of songbirds and other animals that require large areas of contiguous forest are declining.
Forested areas are parceled as increasing numbers of owners control smaller portions of forested areas. Benefits from forests are compromised and management options to ensure these benefits become more limited and difficult to implement. Further, parcellization and fragmentation of forested areas often correspond with decreases in the percentage of forest lands actively managed. Without management, forest health is often overlooked, and benefits become less predictable and sometimes incidental.