When loggers, developers, and environmentalists are all interested in the same green space, there's bound to be trouble. This is especially true in the western U.S., but there are also many acres of forest land in Maryland that are in danger of being spoiled. Maryland's forest management policies, however, are quite different from those of the National Forestry Service.
The U.S. Forest Service can augment its budget by selling off timber from publicly owned lands. The more it sells, the larger its federal budget allocation. Environmentalists charge that private logging companies allowed to harvest "salvage" trees on public land have been engaging in unsound practices such as clear-cutting and mislabeling trees.
"Salvaging" may sound honest and helpful-as in cleaning out areas infested by insects or destroyed by fires. The idea of salvaging is to promote "forest health." But critics of the National Forestry Service (NFS) believe this practice is being abused to supplement the agency's allocation from the U.S. Treasury. Unlike other NFS revenues, which are subject to U.S. Treasury oversight, all money generated from salvage sales goes directly back to the Forestry Service. In theory, these proceeds would be modest, and would be used for future salvage operations.
Because "salvaging" is defined as an emergency measure, the scope of a salvage operation may exceed the normal size and area restrictions placed on normal logging operations permitted in the national forests.
A 1992 NFS memo recently obtained by the Associated Press read, "Virtually every [timber] sale should include `salvage' in the name. Even if a sale is totally green [made up of live trees], as long as one board comes off that would qualify as salvage on the Salvage Sale Fund Plan, it should be called salvage."
According to "The Federal Chain-Saw Massacre," a major article by Paul Roberts in the June 1997 issue of Harper's magazine, this wide-scale corruption is routine in the Pacific Northwest, in areas well outside the normal prowling grounds of most Baltimoreans.
Maryland has forestry problems too, but progress is being made despite the shadow of the National Forestry Service's mismanagement. Of course, Maryland doesn't have that much forest land left to manage. Of the state's approximately 6.3 million acres of land, 3.6 million acres have already been deforested. The remaining 2.7 million acres include forest land and undeveloped swamps and marshes. Ninety percent of this land, 2.4 million acres, is available for timber harvest. Only 300,000 acres-a small fraction, state and federal parkland and private conservation land-are not subject to possible development or logging.
Operating under a stricter set of rules and definitions than the NFS, in Maryland "salvage" on state-owned lands means primarily clearing out areas infested by gypsy moths and the Southern pine bark beetle. But biologists and nature lovers wonder if these salvage jobs do more harm than good.
Before each new forest harvest operation is approved, the Maryland Forestry Service must come up with a Reforestation Plan specific to the area. Plans include such considerations as what species of tree is to be replanted, with a special eye to soil and water conservation. Six legal requirements must be fulfilled, involving erosion and sediment control, nontidal wetlands, Chesapeake Bay Critical Areas [no harvesting in Critical Areas] waterway access [stream crossings for local wildlife], the Forest Conservation Act and the Seed Tree Law. All these laws are specific to Maryland.
No logging may proceed without making considerations for each of these requirements, and an inspection must occur both before and after the harvest.
The Nature Conservancy, a private, nonprofit organization, is looking into requiring the assessment of the relationship between wildlife areas instead of assessing each region individually. For amphibians who must travel to breed, "a corridor of wetlands between the Delmarva Bays must be protected," says Wayne Tyndall, a regional ecologist with the Maryland Heritage & Biodiversity Conservation Program.
While Maryland's timber industry is required by law and by their own interests to reforest the land that they harvest, commercial development is a much greater threat to the environment. As business and developers leave cities, quick-fix mass housing communities and commercial buildings seem to be sprouting like mushrooms over what was once forest and farmland.
To combat this growing trend, the Maryland General Assembly just passed a series of "Smart Growth" bills soon to be signed into law by Governor Glendening. These measures include a Brownfields program that will permit the cleanup and development of abandoned industrial sites in urban areas without unfairly penalizing the potential developer for any previous environmental pollution on the site. In addition, a forward-thinking "rural legacy" or "greenbelts" program will pledge $90 to $140 million to preserve endangered rural areas.
In Maryland, loggers and environmentalists are thus united by a common public interest: conserving natural resources from developmental sprawl.
For information or to volunteer for conservation projects, call the Baltimore Co. Dept. of Environmental Protection and Resource Management at 410/887-3226; the Nature Conservancy at 301/656-8673; the Maryland Forestry Service at 301/882-9961.