POTHOLES MUST be patched, highways ever-widened, and broken sewers, downed power lines and crumbling bridges repaired without fail.
We accept these facts of modern life and unblinkingly spend billions on repair and improvement. Not maintaining the infrastructure would unquestionably lead to economic and social decline.
It's past time to begin putting our "green" infrastructure on the same footing. I'm looking as I write at a remarkable map of Maryland, prepared from satellite and aerial photos.
It shows no roads, no towns - just all the blocks of forest and wetlands several hundred acres and larger, and all the woodland-wetland corridors of a thousand feet and wider that link them.
Covering about 2 million of the state's 6.2 million acres, this tattered, patchwork green cloak is nature's equivalent of cities and towns, highways and rest stops.
The Department of Natural Resources map, tabbed Maryland's "Greenprint," is what we'd hand out at visitors' centers if warblers and eagles, black bear and red foxes were the tourists.
And not only animals. Every hunter, fisherman and birdwatcher, following wooded stream valleys, marsh edges and ridgelines throughout the state, is using the same green infrastructure.
The concept of green infrastructure goes back some 130 years, credited to famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead Sr., designer of New York's Central Park and Boston's Emerald Necklace.
Only by linking large hubs of greenery to one another, weaving parkscapes throughout a region, could great urban areas achieve a healthy balance of the natural and the settled, Olmstead believed.
It is a commentary on our modern familiarity with the developed landscape that it is probably easiest to promote protecting natural lands in terms like "infrastructure."
A few will understand the need to preserve "biodiversity" by protecting a small bog teeming with rare plants and amphibians.
But many will comprehend the need if we put it as keeping "the green potholes" in good repair.
Maryland's green infrastructure is center stage this year. Gov. Parris N. Glendening has made it the focus of a five year, $145 million preservation program - $40 million proposed in this year's capital budget.
It may suffer from being a new program in what legislators see as an overly ambitious budget, and, therefore, vulnerable to cutting.
But it is hardly frosting on the cake, given that only about 26 percent of the 2 million acres in the state's green infrastructure is protected from the rapid onslaught of development.
Another selling point is that using the green infrastructure to guide land acquisition is a most efficient use of natural resource protection dollars.
Just as we repair and expand traditional infrastructure in the context of regional or statewide plans, so it makes sense to protect the lands that most enhance the state's natural life support systems.
The governor's "Greenprint" concept, thanks to years of effort by people such as David Burke in the Department of Natural Resources, offers among the country's most sophisticated techniques to guide investments in nature.
The state can summon an impressive array of information for any given segment of its green infrastructure, overlaying information from soil erosion, to presence of rare plants, to values for wildlife habitat and water quality protection.
It can further prioritize each segment by the degree to which it is threatened. All told, it is one of the most effective methods available for leveraging natural resources dollars.
Existing state and local land preservation programs can and will use Greenprint to guide them. So why inject a whole new $40 million a year acquisition program?
Here's why. About a million acres of Maryland, some 15 percent, is developed, and about a million acres is protected.
Such is the pace of large-lot, sprawl development that, coupled with population growth, another million acres will easily be developed, or fragmented by development in the next few decades.
Meanwhile, current land preservation, statewide, ambles along at about 21,000 acres a year. That won't come close to meeting Chesapeake Bay restoration goals of protecting 20 percent of the state's lands by 2010.
The governor's Greenprint money would put the state on a pace to meet its minimum bay land protection goals (Virginia and Pennsylvania also are pledged to protect 20 percent of their lands).
The broader reality is that we're in a race where in the next few decades, much of Maryland's open space is either going to be protected, or lost.
By lost, I don't mean immediately developed, but it will have been subdivided, making it legally and economically prohibitive to ensure its future as open space.
I favor treating suburbs like commercial forests, clear-cutting them periodically. But until that notion takes hold, we could see our green infrastructure erode to an extent that would never be tolerated if it were roads and bridges and utilities.
CORRECTION: Last week I said poultry processors ran ads to alarm chicken growers over proposed manure regulations. The ads were produced by the Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc.'s poultry growers committee, according to DPI director Bill Satterfield.