ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — The Maryland Senate voted unanimously Friday to add nearly 22,000 acres of state-owned property to its Wildland protection program.
The 36-0 vote followed a short speech by Republican Sen. George Edwards, who represents the two counties that contain most of the new wildlands.
Edwards expressed ambivalence. In his district, Garrett and Allegany counties, the state owns about 25 percent of the total land, Edwards said. Because the state doesn’t pay property taxes, these counties effectively lose money on this property. Wildland protection will prevent all development and most mineral-harvesting there.
However, Edwards voted for the bill, saying some parcels of his district would benefit from stricter state protection.
If the bill succeeds, Maryland’s total Wildland acreage will be nearly 46,000.
The expansion effort started with a plan from the Department of Natural Resources, which held a public hearing in each county where it wants to designate new Wildlands.
Addressing the Senate chamber Friday, Edwards criticized one of the reasons for extending Wildland protection. Environmentalists say there are species of plants in the Garrett and Allegany wilderness that don’t exist anywhere else in Maryland. But they’re not in danger of extinction, Edwards said.
“They’re right across the border in Pennsylvania and West Virginia!” he said.
Roughly 12,000 of the new Wildland acreage would be in Garrett and Allegany counties. Under the DNR’s initial plan, it would have been 16,000, Edwards said, but the state agreed to remove the Youghiogheny River Corridor.
This compromise helped win Edwards over. He said Garrett County plans to expand a bike trail in that area.
Maryland only allows “passive recreation” in its Wildland areas, such as hiking, hunting and fishing.
Edwards also said local governments in his area spend their own money to help maintain state property. The state doesn’t clear underbrush in Wildlands, which could mean more fires, and local fire departments will need to help extinguish those, he said.
“So when we ask for some financial help otherwise, we hope you’ll listen,” he concluded.
The state established its Wildland program in 1973 and last set aside new property in 2002. The DNR’s current proposal would expand 14 existing Wildlands and designate nine new areas. The Wildland system presently spans 17 counties.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)