QUANTICO - As far as Tim Connelly is concerned, the reasons the state ought to pursue the second-largest land preservation deal in its history are as plain as two remote Wicomico County parcels in the Nanticoke River watershed.
On one 58-acre site, majestic loblolly pines and hardwoods tower 80 feet above pristine land that fronts on meandering Quantico Creek.
Five miles away, on 80 acres, all that remain are 6-foot trees - left to grow after a logging crew moved through a few months ago, sending the larger pines to a chipping mill to become mulch, sawdust or pulp for paper.
It is tracts like these, among 25,000 acres of forestland scattered over seven Maryland counties, but concentrated on the Lower Eastern Shore, that are at the heart of a $22 million land preservation deal sought by Gov. Parris N. Glendening and made public last week.
While the contrast between them might appear stark, environmentalists, state officials and the Conservation Fund, the nonprofit agency that Connelly works for, say a long-term timber management plan offers the best conservation option at both sites, which provide important habitat and buffers for the Chesapeake Bay. The plan would also allow continued logging, preserving more than 100 jobs and supplying seven Eastern Shore sawmills.
"Conceptually, it is hard for people to realize that forestry is compatible with environmental protection," says Connelly, who helped broker the elaborate arrangement.
"Forestry is the second-largest industry on the Eastern Shore, and this wouldn't be much different than the way the land has been used for the last 100 years," says Connelly. "What the Conservation Fund is trying to do here is merge economy and environment."
Under the proposal, negotiated over two years, the Conservation Fund would buy the property from York County, Pennsylvania-based Glatfelter Pulp Wood Co., the state's largest private landholder.
About 4,000 acres would be sold outright to the state, which would then purchase permanent development easements on the rest. About 21,000 acres would be resold to a North Carolina timber company, which could continue managed logging, but the property could never be developed.
"Maybe we should be saying forest management rather than logging," says Larry Walton, a Salisbury-based forestry consultant hired to manage the state's largest land deal, 58,000 acres of forest and wetlands purchased in 1999 from Chesapeake Forest Products Co. "Logging is really only a small piece of the pie when you look at it over the long term."
The deal, which has yet to be approved by Glatfelter's corporate board, is opposed by some Maryland lawmakers who worry about a projected $1.8 billion budget shortfall. It faces an uncertain fate next week before the three-member state Board of Public Works, which consists of the governor, Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and state Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp.
With details limited by a confidentiality agreement between the Conservation Fund, the state Department of Natural Resources and Glatfelter, the deal has already drawn interest from environmental groups on the Eastern Shore.
"What we're hoping is that people will realize that the state isn't going to be broke forever," says David Wilson, a spokesman for the Maryland Coastal Bays program, which promotes conservation in the inland waters near Ocean City. "If this land goes to development, it will be lost forever."
While many of the Glatfelter properties are in isolated locations or are wetlands, the Conservation Fund estimates that 3,000 acres or more would likely be snapped up for residential development if the deal falls through. Many sites are adjacent to state-owned conservation land or similar protected sites.
Officials with the Nature Conservancy, which purchased 3,300 acres of wetlands along Nassawango Creek in Worcester County last spring, say the Glatfelter deal would enhance its ecologically sensitive 7,500-acre bog there.
"People need to take the long view," says Bill Bostian, who heads the conservancy's Salisbury office. "Sure, logging will continue, but this would provide wonderful habitat. You don't often get a shot at preserving this much land."