One means DNR uses to foster biological diversity is to designate some parts of some of its own land holdings as Wildlands. The Maryland General Assembly has formally designated these areas of land and water to retain their wilderness character under the 1971 Maryland Wildlands Act. The law provides for three types of Wildland: one is a primitive area which by its size or location is, in effect, untouched by urban civilization; a second is a scientifically important unit, especially for ecology; the third is not of particular ecological or primitive stature but has the appearance of being in an untouched natural state, or could attain that appearance if held and managed for such a purpose. None of the presently designated Wildlands falls into this type; most are of the second type, while six in Western Maryland are of the first.
The Wildland designation, once enacted by the General Assembly, is an overlay on existing DNR land unit designations (e.g., State Park or Natural Environment Area), protecting the designated area from such landscape modification as road or building construction and limiting the natural resource management activities that can be practiced. Some non-intrusive recreational use of Wildlands may be allowed. There are currently over 39,000 acres of designated Wildlands in the State. As shown, a number of them are found in watersheds that are not heavily forested and may be held in particular esteem for that reason.
Wildland designation carries implications for the management of the lands and for public expectation of how they will be used - they represent an effort to maintain some wilderness values in a heavily urbanized State. The presence of Wildlands in a watershed indicates a need for added caution in landscape manipulation in their vicinity that could alter ecological processes, such as hydrology, that are necessary to maintain the natural system.