Targeted preservation

December 17, 2003|By Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

MARYLAND HAS many environmental treasures, including the Chesapeake Bay and our rural landscapes. Since taking office in January, I have instructed members of my administration to evaluate new land purchases based on their ability to contribute to the Chesapeake Bay restoration.

Maryland has been a natural leader in land acquisition since 1969. Many Marylanders would be astonished to know how much land in Maryland is already under the state's conservation management.

Today, 19 percent of Maryland's acreage - nearly one of every five acres - is permanently protected. From the forests of Garrett County, to our many wild and scenic rivers, to the marshes of the Chesapeake, Maryland is a leader among the states in permanently protecting land for the enjoyment of present and future Marylanders.

As a matter of fact, Maryland's programs for conserving open space and agricultural, cultural and forest lands are the most successful and comprehensive in the nation. Maryland is well on its way to meeting the Chesapeake Bay Agreement's goal of preserving 20 percent of the state's bay watershed.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources has developed a "Green Infrastructure" plan that identifies every environmentally important property in the state. Working from this plan, we intend to coordinate the land acquisitions and other preservation techniques of Program Open Space, the Maryland Rural Legacy program, the Green Print program and even the Conservation Reserve and Enhancement Program that serves the state's farmers. This year alone, the state will spend $70 million on these important programs.

Tough fiscal times demand new boundaries on this money. At my request, leaders from the departments of Natural Resources and Agriculture established criteria for making more bay-focused purchases by the state in the future. We are fortunate to have many scientists who study potential impacts on the bay. They have the science to identify the lands most beneficial to the bay and its recovery.

My intent is to strengthen Maryland's national leadership in the conservation of environmentally sensitive lands by introducing logical, bay-related criteria to the selection of which lands should be preserved. Rather than buy land simply because it is available, we will buy land because it helps protect or restore the Chesapeake Bay. Clearly we want to protect the most important sensitive lands at the best possible price.

I have directed state agencies to meet existing state land preservation goals of the 2000 Chesapeake Bay Agreement, including the prime agricultural land preservation goal established by the General Assembly.

I have asked the experts at the departments of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Planning to:

Focus state land conservation programs on the most strategic lands to protect the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.

Apply the best scientific information and technology to identify lands that are most important, the potential threats to these lands and areas in which preservation goals receive the best return from the dollars spent.

Establish a process for collaboration and coordination among state and local land conservation programs.

Spending money based on opportunity rather than science does not make sense, regardless of the economic situation of the state. Science says that certain land in certain places can contribute to the health of the bay. One of my primary goals is to undertake bay restoration efforts in a meaningful, scientific and timely manner. Part of that will require that the state acquire and manage land to help in this effort.

That's the Ehrlich land conservation policy that, I believe, will be good for Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay.

Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is governor of Maryland.

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