SNOW HILL – State officials are currently reviewing comments from the public regarding proposed timber harvesting in the Pocomoke State Forest and Chesapeake Forest.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) received more than 100 comments regarding the harvest of more than 2,300 acres of timber at the forests as part of the fiscal year 2022 annual work plan. Mike Schofield, forest manager, said staff will now review those before the plan is finalized.
“We have to sift through that,” he said. “The final plan will be posted online this spring.”
As proposed, the plan calls for 2,135 acres of the Chesapeake Forest to be cut and for 264 acres of the Pocomoke State Forest to be cut. Several of those who submitted comments objected to the inclusion of 121 acres of nearly 100-year-old mixed pine and hardwood in the Pocomoke State Forest acreage meant to be harvested.
According to Schofield, timber harvesting is guided by the sustainable forest management plan, which was developed decades ago with input from conservation partners. The public comment period that ended early this month was the final part of a three-part process. The first step was internal review while the second step was a review by an advisory committee.
A key reason trees are harvested is to keep the forest healthy, Schofield said.
“We manage the forest and we cut timber for the health of the forest,” he said. “If you did not cut, it would grow, it would die, it would fall down. It would create potential fuel for a wild fire.”
Schofield believes it has the potential to become a “huge tinderbox,” as many forests were in years past.
“At the turn of the century, a lot of forests were on fire,” he said.
He added timber harvesting also helped prevent insect infestations and generated funding for important monitoring and research programs, such as those for the Delmarva fox squirrel and certain rare plants.
“All of that costs money,” he said. “We’re a completely sustainably managed forest.”
Another issue is the part the forest plays in the state economy.
“We’re supporting the timber industry in Maryland,” he said. “Maryland is known for seafood, but the timber industry dwarfs the seafood industry 10 to 1 in Maryland.”
Those opposed to the practice, however, point out there are plenty of other lands being used for timber harvesting in Maryland.
“When the State forests were first acquired, their highest and best value was seen as their contribution to the viability of the timber industry,” wrote Joan Maloof, founder and executive director of Old-Growth Forest Network. “However, with three-quarters of the forests in Maryland on private lands, the State forests should not be artificially propping up this industry.”
Audubon Maryland-DC asked members to object to harvesting the 121 acres of nearly 100-year-old trees for the sake of biodiversity. The organization said the stand was located within the Pocomoke-Nassawango Important Bird Area and represented a more natural forest structure difficult to replicate.
“The Chesapeake/Pocomoke Forest Plan calls for cutting 2,398 acres,” a post on the group’s Facebook page said. “We are simply asking for restraint on 121 acres.”
In her letter of concern regarding the cutting, Maloof also questioned aspects of the public comment process. She cited the timing, which in late winter makes it difficult to know which herbaceous plants are in the area meant to be cut, and the fact some citizens were unaware of the opportunity to comment.
“I do my best to share information about the comment period, but I would expect DNR to do more,” she said.
Schofield said the process was open and transparent. He added that DNR took public comment into account and staff realized the importance of old growth forests, as there was a section of old growth that had been set aside and would never be cut. Schofield said the Forest Service tried to take into account opinions from all groups.
“We’re getting the most benefit for the most people over the longest period of time,” he said.