In a chilly room at the state's Buckingham Forest Tree Nursery, spindly seedlings roll along on a simple conveyor belt. In long shifts, a work force of 20 or so sort and count the young locust, red oak, spruce, black and white pine trees. Employees, many of them senior citizens, trim and dip the tree roots in a protective clay bath, and wrap them in bundles of one thousand. The trees, just a year or two old, are bound for all parts of Maryland where strong old forests once stood. They must stand again if the Chesapeake Bay, the world's largest estuary, is to attain its former vitality.
Since awareness of the bay's imperiled health began to sink in, the Department of Natural Resources and environmentalists have made a continuing effort to replenish the state's declining forests. The Tree-Mendous Maryland program, originally founded in 1989 as a way for citizens to buy and plant trees in memorial groves, reaffirms that effort by asking all Marylanders to help plant and maintain trees.
Gov. William Donald Schaefer's declaration of April 1991 as Tree-Mendous Earth Month further stresses the urgency to reforest Maryland. As part of the monthlong celebration, the governor has asked Marylanders to plant an additional one million trees in programs planned throughout the state at parks, Earth Day festivals, school campuses, highways, municipalities, neighborhoods and other open spaces.
This is always a frenetic time of year for state forester Richard Garrett, acting manager of the Buckingham nursery. It is the time when nature imposes a fickle, but crucial deadline. As the ground thaws, and state foresters and civilian crews must harvest and ship out millions of seedlings and thousands of balled-in-burlap trees before they break winter dormancy and start to grow.
The governor's million-tree directive has quickened Garrett's pace all the more. About 750,000 of the seedlings to be planted this month will come from the state nursery. Some 300,000 white pine seedlings, donated by Hardee's Food Systems, will also be channeled through the facility. Older, heavier balled-in-burlap trees provided by private nurseries at discount prices for the program, will be processed at Buckingham as well. When the month is over, the state nursery -- part of DNR -- will have distributed approximately 6,000 seedlings to every Maryland county and Baltimore City, where they will be planted by volunteers and state foresters.
"It's not pretty work and it's not clean work. It's actually pretty boring work," says the 29-year-old Mr. Garrett of his staff's long hours on the conveyor belt and in the field.
It is also necessary work. Without reforestation, the Chesapeake Bay would be left without its most natural and able ally.
Trees, especially in groves, control the flow and quality of water flowing into the bay. Trees act as a buffer against air pollution and rain, which unchecked, causes sediment to smother fragile bay life. Additionally, trees filter phosphorus and nitrogen -- nutrients also deadly to the bay -- from runoff.
"If you took all of the [environmental] programs that we have and they all worked 100 percent to perfection, the bay would still be substantially at risk; largely because we've really cut down an enormous amount of trees," says Wally Orlinsky, the former Baltimore City Council president and director of the Tree-Mendous Maryland program.
Until recently, deforestation has been an unconscious Maryland tradition. Between the 1600s and 1870, the state lost 97 percent of its trees to farming, Mr. Orlinsky notes. A decline in farming led to a 40 percent regeneration of forest land by 1955. Still, Maryland suffered the fastest rate of deforestation in the Northeast during the 1960s and '70s because of agricultural clearing and development.
Between 1985 and 1990, about 71,000 acres of tree cover -- or about 14,000 acres a year -- have been claimed by development, according to the Maryland Office of Planning. (The planning office's 1990 figures show that trees cover about 2,709,000 acres of Maryland land.) The planting of about 6 million trees of year, mainly to replace harvested trees, and not to return open areas to forests, does not keep pace with half of this destruction. Through the various Tree-Mendous programs as well as state reforestation projects, Maryland seeks to achieve a position of "no net loss" of trees by the year 2000.
Atoning for past tree-chopping sins as well as warding against future ones is a tough job. The 2020 Chesapeake Protection bill, which supporters say would have prevented the consumption of 700,000 undeveloped acres to accommodate a projected population increase, was essentially killed last month. The General Assembly sent it to summer study, a popular graveyard for unpopular legislation.