Where the wild things are State wilderness: Glendening plan to expand protected wildlands deserves support.

February 12, 1996

MARYLAND IS ONE of only six states without land in the National Wilderness Preservation System, a reflection of this state's long history of settlement and development, and its modest size.

But Maryland has wildlands, nurturing significant environmental communities that remain relatively undisturbed. The state created a system to protect these endangered parcels of state land in 1971, with 11 areas now encompassing nearly 15,000 acres.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening plans to add about 23,000 acres and 17 sites to the state list of wildlands protected from intrusion by vehicles and extractive industries. Hiking, fishing and hunting would still be permitted (unless other laws apply) so that these lands remain open to less disruptive human use. They are not locked away as living museum.

At the same time, it is expected that these "ecological nuggets", as one proponent aptly called them, will gradually assume more of a natural wilderness character.

This is a strong statement for environmental protection that deserves widespread support. Besides their remarkable aesthetic values, these wildlands provide habitat for threatened plants and animals, places for maintaining gene pools of creatures and plants and for preserving important geological features. They sustain forests to purify the air and watersheds to filter drinking water supplies.

The protests of the logging industry against protecting these relatively small state holdings from timber harvest are not persuasive. The sites are not prime cutting areas in any case: the proposed wildlands list is the result of six years of study by the Department of Natural Resources, originating with conflicts over the extent of logging in state forests.

Increasing Maryland's protected wildlands by 150 percent will certainly give Mr. Glendening needed credit with the environmental lobby, which has strongly criticized the governor's recent moves to ease planned curbs on air pollution and bend development decisions to favor his expressed pro-business platform.

The proposed sites are not pristine wilderness; they have been marked by the hand of man, even logged. But they retain a refreshing spirit and character of wildness that should be protected now, before it is too late.

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