By protecting and restoring healthy, connected forests, we can enable habitats, wildlife and people to flourish as our climate changes.
In Maryland’s two westernmost counties, Garrett and Allegany, the forest industry is an important employer. Western Maryland also is part of the Central Appalachians, home to some of the most diverse forests in the world and a system that Conservancy scientists have identified as a natural stronghold — a resilient landscape where nature can endure in the face of climate change.
“Nature is built to adapt. Wildlife and plants can adjust to changing conditions by shifting their ranges north or south, or up or down in elevation,” says Allison Vogt, conservation director. “Our role is to buy time for these shifts to occur by providing good habitats.” That means taking action now to improve the health, diversity and connectivity of forests.
The challenge increases with fragmented forest ownership, so the vast expanse of state forests and wildlife management areas in western Maryland offers a tremendous conservation opportunity. By working in close partnership with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, we are helping forests thrive across a broad swath of the landscape.
One of the most reliable ways to boost forest health is reintroducing fire. But after decades of fire suppression, we need to fill gaps in our knowledge about how and when these forests burned historically. So the Conservancy is funding an Acadia University study of fire scars preserved in the rings of “recorder trees” dating back as far as 1797.
“We know that fire is as natural and necessary as rain in these forests,” says ecologist Deborah Landau. “But the more we understand about how and when fires occurred historically, the better we can replicate those natural events through safe controlled burns.”
Deborah adds that the Maryland Forest Service has been an exceptional partner, as we have assisted with several successful small burns on state forests over the last three years. Their biggest obstacle is limited resources, including equipment and personnel.
So this year, we are leading the expansion of the Central Appalachian Fire Learning Network, a collaboration between the Conservancy and multiple state and federal agencies. By joining forces and pooling resources, we will dramatically scale up the size of our burns — and accelerate our progress toward the healthy forests of the future.