This past month we celebrated Arbor Day twice – a state commemoration the first Wednesday of April and then national Arbor Day on the last Friday. From the cleanliness of our air to the health of the Chesapeake Bay, the importance of forest conservation to every aspect of our natural environment cannot be overstated. When most Marylanders think of Arbor Day, they think of planting trees.
Trees are ecological wonders, sequestering carbon as they grow, nurturing wildlife, and filtering water. Thriving forests are essential to slowing climate change, and forest growth and expansion is supported across Maryland by several critical partners; the sustainable forest industry, private landowners, local governments, and the nonprofit sector. These partnerships allow us to put practices across the landscape that improve forest health, such as forest thinning and prescribed burns.
I was reminded of this fact during a recent visit to four active sawmills and a forest harvest site on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Sawmills in Maryland are the nose-to-tail businesses of our forest industry. Every part of every tree is used in production. High quality woods create popular consumer products like fencing and flooring, while the byproducts of lumber production – sawdust and chips – are sold for animal bedding, mulch and paper. Maryland’s mills are largely family owned and operated, and provide a constant supply of wood products. They support generations of loggers and mill workers, along with a dynamic forest landscape for diverse wildlife habitat. Sustainable forest management can provide the ecological push-back to tip the balance in favor of our native forest communities. It relies on good data, good practices, and sound ecological understanding to support local jobs and local wildlife.
This year, the Maryland forest industry will deliver 50 million cubic feet of renewable, recyclable, biodegradable wood products into the supply chain. That represents less than one percent of Maryland’s current wood volume but generates more than $2 billion in economic value in our rural and urban areas.
At the same time, the Maryland Forest Service will guide management of our existing forests and create new growth. The Forest Service and its partners will conduct 84 prescribed burns to reduce fire risk and simulate natural ecology on more than 8,400 acres, and plant nearly 500,000 seedlings on more than 1,000 acres.
This combination of sustainable forest harvesting practices and managing our forests for lower fire risk, better forest health, and more diverse wildlife will help create a better future for Maryland’s environment and economy.
How we grow and manage trees and forests in today’s changing ecology is key to Maryland’s sustainable future. We have better data, better forestry practices, and expanding programs that can help us actually increase trees and forest cover, and manage forests to stimulate the natural re-sprouting and seeding of our native trees.
Josh Kurtz is Secretary of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.