The Value of Maryland’s Forests
Maryland faces many challenges in sustaining healthy, ecologically functional and economically viable forests in the face of rapid urban development. Maryland's Strategic Forest Lands Assessment (SFLA) grows from a recognition that forests provide many ecological and socioeconomic benefits that may be lost to population growth and land development. Ecological value not only encompasses forest attributes such as biodiversity and wildlife habitat, but also includes processes that are critical to protecting our air, water and soil. From the perspective of human use, forests have tremendous aesthetic appeal and provide both recreational opportunities and economic value. In addition to the many natural resource-based industries, and activities like fishing and hunting, that are associated with or influenced by forested lands, the forestry and wood products industry is the fifth largest in the state. Together, forest benefits contribute to healthy, functioning ecosystems, of which humans are a part.
The Vulnerability of Maryland’s Forests--Fragmentation and Parcelization
Over the past 50 years, U.S. Forest Service statistics show, Maryland has lost an average of 7,200 acres of forest per year to non-forest uses. In addition to this outright loss of forest, a continuous threat to forest health and vitality is the fragmentation of large, contiguous blocks of forest into many smaller, isolated patches. Fragmentation both reduces habitat for wildlife that require interior forest conditions and promotes the spread of invasive plant and animal species. Parcelization, the subdivision of large blocks of land into multiple ownerships, is correlated with forest fragmentation. Small parcels of forest land are more likely to be converted to non-forest uses, such as residential or other urban types of development. Assessing the causes, consequences and patterns of fragmentation and parcelization is critical to developing management plans that maximize economic and ecological benefits.
Forests as Renewable Resources
Sustainable use of our forest resources requires planned management in such a way that the needs of today are met without hurting the ability of future generations to meet their needs. It implies a stewardship of the environment and living within limits. Enlightened management of forest land ensures continuity and promotes enhancement of the irreplaceable ecological and economic benefits of forests. Maryland’s Strategic Forest Lands Assessment offers a baseline of information about the current status of the State’s forest land, as well as criteria and indicators that can be used to measure changes—an important step toward managing forests sustainably.
What are Strategic Forests?
Strategic Forests are key blocks of forest providing the optimal mix of ecological and socioeconomic values necessary to support natural resource-based industries and maximize ecological benefits. SFLA uses Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to identify where forest conservation efforts would make the greatest contribution towards achieving a sustainable forest resource land base. To accomplish this goal, the SFLA approach seeks to assess and evaluate where multiple ecological features and processes are co-occurring. It also attempts to understand the socioeconomic variables that support and will continue to sustain forest resource-based industries. The vulnerability (threat of conversion to a non-forested use) of specific forested landscapes, especially those of high ecological and/or significant economic benefit, is then determined. Finally, understanding the capabilities of Maryland’s forest conservation and restoration programs helps to provide a framework for focusing resource management actions.
Uses of the Strategic Forest Lands Assessment
The identification of Strategic Forest Lands is critical to establishing forest conservation priorities. Such a “place-based” approach allows us to geographically align conservation strategies to address areas with high ecological and economic resource values and high or moderate vulnerability. The result is a more efficient application of the tools and limited resources we have to influence forest conservation and management. Some of the roles filled by the SFLA include: