Skip to Main Content

Certification Recognizes Maryland State Forests as Sustainable

Maryland state forests recently completed their annual recertification process

Tall trees over an underbrush of vegetation.

A mix of tall, mature trees as well as a developed underbrush in Chesapeake Forest Lands, showing a diversity that forest managers say is important to biodiversity and resiliency. MD DNR photo

Independent auditors recently reviewed the Pocomoke State Forest and Chesapeake Forest Lands, two state forests on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, and recertified them as sustainable, meeting international standards for forest management.

Twenty-one years ago, the Chesapeake Forest Lands became the state’s first certified forests, a recognition now shared by 214,000 acres of state forest land in Maryland. The third-party audits consider ecological, social, and economic benefits of a responsibly managed forest.

“We like to think that we’re managing our forests well, but this is a third party of industry professionals confirming that we are,” said Rob Feldt, the Maryland Forest Service forest resources planning supervisor. “That’s part of the value we get out of certification.”

Maryland’s certified forests are recognized by the Forest Stewardship Council and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, two organizations that promote standards for forest management based on the Montreal Process international agreement.

The recognition points to the various uses and benefits of state forests. In addition to providing habitat areas and spaces for recreational use, state forests are a resource for timber. Forest certification allows timber and wood fiber products to be sold with a label from the Forest Stewardship Council or the Sustainable Forestry Initiative.

Certification is a continual process, with annual “observation” audits and full recertification audits every five years. When auditors visit state forests, they look at a wide range of factors.

“They consider the forest’s value to the community,” Feldt said. “We provide recreation—there are a lot of trails in state forests as well as hunting opportunities. Then, timber sales support the local economy.”

The auditors also ensure that forest managers are properly conserving the area. That includes protecting rare, threatened, and endangered species, in addition to looking after old-growth trees and historic sites.

To keep up their certification, state forest managers complete publicly available management plans for each of the certified forests. The management plan lays guidelines for sustainable harvesting to provide for regeneration of the forest, as well as how the forest fits into the local community and economy, protects old growth and rare species, and more.

When the state first acquired Chesapeake Forest, it was required to obtain forest certification for the area, Feldt said, and the state decided to seek certification for other forests that were already being managed in a similar way.

Pocomoke State Forest, also on the Eastern Shore, was certified shortly after, and the following years saw four state forests in western Maryland also receive certification: Savage River State Forest, Green Ridge State Forest, Potomac State Forest, and Garrett State Forest.

Anne Hairston-Strang, the State Forester and Director of the Maryland Forest Service, said forest certification demonstrates the value that the state’s forests have as multi-use resources, as well as the benefits responsible forest management has for biodiversity.

“Forest certification provides a level of scrutiny that confirms that these forests are meeting the best standards for biodiversity and ecological management,” she said. “But it also shows that these forests are managed in a way that balances human needs as well.”

A graph that shows the age distribution of Maryland's trees

Acreage of tree communities, or stands, by age over time, showing a wide mix of age ranges as Maryland’s forests get older. DNR data

Certification helps allow for responsible timber harvest, which is economically beneficial to state communities, as well as a renewable resource that is more environmentally friendly than many other building materials. And Dr. Hairston-Strang said some timber harvest is also important for providing a diversity in the ages of forests in the state.

DNR has large commitments to mature and old-growth forests, with almost 60,000 acres, over 30% of state forest lands, in designated Wildlands and Old-Growth Ecosystem Management areas alone managed for future old-growth conditions, she said. Those older forests are important for many types of biodiversity and carbon storage.

Younger areas benefit other types of wildlife, including for some rapidly declining species, and their rapid rates of carbon sequestration build future carbon stores, she said. A diversity in ages of forests also allows for greater resilience from storms and pests, as disturbances are more likely to affect particular age classes of trees.

“From a climate standpoint, having a diverse age structure is important,” she said. “We see it as building resiliency in our forests.”

By Joe Zimmermann, science writer with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources