Ownership of Forested Lands

The Indicator

Far and away the majority, some 76%, of Maryland’s 2.6 million acres of forest land is privately owned, by 130,600 individuals and corporations. But 75% of these owners control woodlots of fewer than 10 acres. Division of large tracts of forest land among multiple owners is referred to as parcelization, and it has major implications for the protection and management of forests.

With parcelization into small ownerships, the reasons for forest land ownership are likely to shift away from management for forest products, wildlife and recreation. Coordination of multiple owners to deal with forest health issues, like invasive species of non-native plants or insects, is also complicated and may hold serious implications for long-term health and viability of the remaining forests. Finally, parcelization contributes to the forest fragmentation which has also become manifest in Maryland’s landscape, with its associated impacts on wildlife habitat, biological diversity, water quality, and the viability of resource-based industry. Increasingly forest land owners are among the older of the State’s citizens—the 65+ age group is increasing dramatically—which suggests an increasing rate of parcelization may be anticipated in the future.

A number of the largest contiguous blocks of forest land, as depicted in this indicator, are in public ownership, and thus likely to remain forested. Public lands, however, are intermingled in numerous cases with private lands that could be subject to parcelization and land use change in the future.

This indicator was developed by combining the public lands GIS data maintained by the Department of Natural Resources with the National Land Cover Data set (NLCD) of the U. S. Geological Survey.

Indicator Use

The very large number of forest landowners suggests the very wide variety of interests at play in forest management, from those seeking to maximize profit from timber harvests, to those simply holding lands preparatory to future development, to those protecting small remnants of forest for sentimental or recreational reasons. These less than fully compatible interests all play on the programs of the Department of Natural Resources designed to maintain forest health and vitality.

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