Cumberland Times-News

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October 18, 2013

DNR wildlands proposal gets mixed reactions

OAKLAND — Garrett County Planning Commission members have mixed emotions about the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Wildlands Proposal that is up for review, according to county commission chairman Robert Gatto, who is a non-voting member of the planning commission.

Wildlands are state-owned natural areas preserved for their wilderness character or sensitive natural resources. The nine areas proposed in the county, both new and expanded wildlands, total 9,000 acres. The largest wildlands proposed is 3,993 acres of the Youghiogheny Corridor, Maryland’s only “wild” river.

“People definitely like to see the land preserved and protected for future generations, but at the same time there is the concern of are we protecting it too much and we aren’t able to do the things we want to do on that property,” said Gatto during the commissioners’ public meeting. “Some on the commission felt that it’s already protected because it has endangered species and so why protect it even more and limit potential down the road.”

Hunting and fishing are permitted on state wildlands, subject to existing laws, regulations and administrative policies.

“At any time, those designations could be changed where you wouldn’t be able to (do those things) depending on who is in office and what their intent is,” said Gatto.

 Commissioner Jim Raley said that when the DNR purchases the properties, everyone becomes a landowner.

“Because each of us who pay taxes have put a little bit of money towards that purchase and it does concern me that sometimes in designations there are certain things they don’t want done,” said Raley. “My concern is that the state is going to continue purchasing land with our monies in our county. Then the citizens should be able to enjoy some economic benefit from that such as usage of those trails. Yes, there are limitations.”

For example, some off-road vehicle trails have been closed and restrictions have been placed on being able to consume alcoholic beverages in parks.

“The rules can change and that becomes my point of contention,” said Raley. “I think the folks in Garrett County need to make sure our state officials and DNR know those concerns. I want the lands protected but I want the citizens protected, too.”

Gypsy moth suppression can’t occur on wildlands, according to Commissioner Gregan Crawford. Swanton resident Marshall Stacy, whose land is surrounded by wildlands, stated, “My little patch is beautiful and green and everything around me is dead.”

“We invite people to see just how horrible the state has been as a steward of forest land by this gypsy moth mess,” said Marshall’s wife, Cindy Stacy.

The state owns $165 million worth of assessed value property in the county, which includes critical infrastructure, according to Raley.  The state owns close to 80,000 acres in the county.

Local meetings regarding the wildlands proposal are scheduled Nov. 6 at 6 p.m. at Deep Creek Lake State Park’s Discovery Center and Nov. 7 at 6 p.m. at Allegany College of Maryland Continuing Education Room CE8.

More information on the wildlands can be found on the county’s website at http://garrettcounty.org/news/2013/10/dnr-beginning-public-input-process-on-wildlands-designation.

Contact Elaine Blaisdell at eblaisdell@times-news.com.

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