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A Good Idea Whose Time Has Come
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by Mark Diehl | 2005

Maryland’s recent budget woes have reduced staffing at the Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) to levels not seen in many years. There simply aren’t enough DNR folks on the ground to cover all the bases, particularly when it comes to the larger acreages comprising our state forests.  Now, more than ever, DNR needs our assistance as additional eyes and ears on the ground.

Enter the Citizens’ Forest Watch concept. Our goal is to form a group of “forest watchers” for each state forest unit. Even occasional visitors to state forests may volunteer and make a difference by simply being there and participating informally. There are plenty of opportunities for sharing your experiences.

What did you observe during your visit? Trash dumping? Off-road vehicle (ORV) abuse? Roadside timber theft? Illegal logging? Boundary infringements (e.g., illegal livestock grazing)? Poaching? Property defamation (e.g., signage, gates)?

These are merely some of the examples of illegal activities that occur, and reporting them anonymously will be a real benefit to the environment. Note I said “anonymously,” which means reporters will not become legally involved.

Not all Forest Watch participation involves contentious issues. You may identify erosion problems or hike a trail in which a certain section is in need of maintenance. There’s also the Rare, Threatened and Endangered (RTE) Species reporting process.

The DNR’s Heritage Division, the folks responsible for identifying and working to protect Maryland’s vanishing species, started this program because our state forests are often the last bastions of habitat for many RTE species. By participating in the RTE program, you’ll have an opportunity to become acquainted with individuals who possess great knowledge of state forest flora and fauna. This is a wonderful and educational opportunity, and it’s free!

There also will be opportunities to learn about, locate and remove invasive exotic species.  Can you identify signs of the dreaded Hemlock Wooly Adelgid or the Emerald Ash Borer?

Have you encountered a rabid animal? Spotted any rare neo-tropical migratory songbirds, or saw-whet owls?  Can you identify old-growth forest when you see it? Do you hunt or fish? If you do, you can report on whether the turkey or brown trout population are healthy. Have you seen many bears? Are there signs of deer overgrazing in particular areas?

If it isn’t reported, it cannot be managed. More data simply means better management. The value of your feedback from the field cannot be overstated, and you can provide it without having to expose yourself as the reporter. Whatever observations and information you report will be used with utmost discretion. At your request, you will not be identif;ied as the source of a given piece of information (legal or illegal).

This is a wonderful opportunity to learn about the state forests and their fabulous diversity, at the same time assisting with an improvement of their overall management and protection.  

Please contact me if you are interested in learning more and/or participating at any level. Depending upon the level of interest received, I will organize a meeting wherein we will collectively decide how best and most efficiently to proceed. I may be reached at 301.724.6238.  Thank you for your consideration of this request.  I look forward to meeting you. 

Enjoy the woods!    n

Mark Diehl is conservation chair of the Western Maryland Group of the Sierra Club.

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