Rich Pollock, who as a member of the Coalition to Preserve Black Marsh has frequently criticized state plans for the 1,310-acre tract of woods, beach and marshland in eastern Baltimore County, joined forces with the state back in April to plant trees on Black Marsh property.
Pollock was one of about a dozen volunteers who came out on a Saturday to help plant some 300 ash, oak and dogwood seedlings on a three-fourths-acre section of state-owned land at Black Marsh.
It was all part of Gov. William Donald Schaefer's "Tree-mendous" program. But now, less than four months later, someone has come along and mowed down most of those trees -- apparently by accident.
The seedlings, 6 to 12 inches high, were spaced out in a field in the 8400 block of North Point Road. One of every five trees was encased in a protective plastic cone.
Within the last two weeks, some volunteers driving by the field noticed that the grass recently had been cut and most of the trees were gone. Only those in the cones remained standing.
"I think it was accidental," said Pollock. "I don't think anyone in their right mind would have cut them down on purpose."
Although no one seems to know who mowed the field, coalition members suspect state workers probably did it after someone complained about the high grass.
"It's a classic example of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing," said Lynn Jordan, another coalition member. "The state has a program to plant trees and the state goes out and cuts them down. It's our taxpayers' dollars at work."
The tree seedlings would have been impossible to see in the midst of the high grass, said Chris Stuhlinger, a ranger for the Department of Natural Resources and one of two rangers who supervised the tree-planting back in April.
"I'm sure the grass was growing up," said Stuhlinger. "Maybe someone did complain."
Stuhlinger learned of the tree-cutting through a reporter's phone call, as did Walter Orlinsky, who heads the state's tree-planting program.
"If you're telling me someone cut my trees down -- shocked, I'm not," said Orlinsky, who did admit to some annoyance about it. "The largest single cause of death to trees is lawn mowing."
It's not the first time in the last two years that after seedlings were planted, someone came along later and mowed them along with the grass, said Orlinsky.
"The biggest culprit is the state highways department," he said.
Over the last two years, more than 2 million trees have been planted statewide, Orlinsky said, and last year he had 30 calls about seedlings being mowed.
Orlinsky sees the problem as a cultural one. Americans love the look of "a tailored English garden," he said.
"Culturally," he said, "planting trees the natural way -- letting the trees grow and eventually choking off the grass naturally as they get taller -- is hard for us to deal with."
Orlinsky said there ought to be signs along all the spots where the state planted tree seedlings. They would read: "We're not mowing because we're growing trees for Maryland's future."
As for the Black Marsh trees, Orlinksy said, "We're going to have to go back now and plant them over again."
In the meantime, the biggest threat to the seedlings has been the dry weather.