Cumberland Times-News

February 1, 2014

Committees plan to hold hearings on wildlands legislation

Michael A. Sawyers
Cumberland Times-News

— CUMBERLAND — Companion bills that would add thousands of acres to state wildlands or create new ones are scheduled for committee hearings in the Maryland General Assembly this coming week.

The bills were requested by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

House Bill 296 will be heard by the Environmental Matters Committee at 2 p.m. Wednesday and Senate Bill 336 goes before the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee on Tuesday at 1 p.m.

Although the legislation deals with parcels of land throughout Maryland, the two westernmost counties are significantly represented. All are on lands already owned by the state.

Among the proposed expansions in Allegany County are the Potomac Bends Wildlands, which would increase from 2,330 to 2,645 acres and the Maple Run Wildlands that would jump from its current 2,760 acres up to 5,125. Both are a part of Green Ridge State Forest.

In Garrett County, the Big Savage Wildlands, now 2,691 acres, would expand to 2,879. The Middle Fork Wildlands would increase from 1,916 acres to 2,932.

The bills would also create some new wildlands.

A new wildlands in Garrett County would be the Backbone Mountain Wildlands of 1,706 acres. Exact boundary descriptions are included in the bills (mgaleg.maryland.gov).

A 4,407-acre portion of the Dan’s Mountain Wildlife Management Area in Allegany County would become a wildland.

Written into the 84-page bill, however, is an exception for this parcel, allowing the Wildlife & Heritage Service to create roads and trails and to manipulate habitat for wildlife recreation, mostly hunting.

Paul Peditto who directs the Wildlife & Heritage Service said he is good with the bill.

“It’s not going to change much from the hunting and wildlife management perspective,” Peditto said. “But, if you are a hunter who prefers to not have mechanized transportation around you then you will benefit.”

The portion of the wildlife management area that would become wildlands is on both sides of the crest of Dan’s Mountain, land that is rugged and relegated by its nature to foot traffic, according to Peditto.

Sen. George Edwards said Friday he has not had a great deal of input from constituents about the bills.

“There were a lot of concerns about a wildlands designation for the Youghiogheny River corridor, but DNR agreed to remove that from the bill,” Edwards said.

The Nature Conservancy supports the legislation, according to local spokeswoman Donnelle Keech. “Wildlands continue to be open for public use such as birding, hiking, hunting and fishing,” Keech said. “The wildlands designation can actually increase the value of the land for these activities.”

The proposed increase of wildlands deals with a very small portion of Maryland’s public lands, according to Keech. “Our big-picture message is that protection of forests and natural habitats is important to all of us.”

Steve Koehn, director of the Maryland Forest Service, said the additional wildlands would not have an impact upon the local logging and wood products industries.

“There has been no logging on these sites in the recent past, probably not since the 1970s,” Koehn said. “And we were not planning any silviculture activities on those locations.”

Koehn said the wildlands designation allows the agency to treat trees for gypsy moth invasions.

A wildlands designation prohibits some forms of recreation, such as the use of all-terrain vehicles or mountain bikes.

Contact Michael A. Sawyers at msawyers@times-news.com.