ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Maryland will protect nearly 22,000 additional acres of sensitive land under a proposal approved by the Legislature.
The House of Delegates passed the bill by a wide margin Tuesday. Gov. Martin O'Malley, who proposed the legislation, is expected to sign it into law.
The law ensures those state-owned lands will not be developed, and also bars activities like biking and four-wheeling in those areas. The state allows only "passive recreation" in wildland areas — activities usually done on foot, like hiking, hunting and fishing.
The O'Malley administration says the last new wildland designations were made 12 years ago to expand the system to 29 areas in 15 counties to cover 43,779 acres.
Roughly 12,000 acres of the newly protected land would be in western Maryland in Garrett and Allegany counties. The initial proposal would have been 16,000 acres in those counties, but the state agreed to remove the Youghiogheny River Corridor.
The new protected areas also are in Baltimore, Calvert, Charles, Frederick, Montgomery, Somerset and Worcester counties.
Ajax Eastman, chair of the Maryland Wildlands Committee, recently told legislators that some of these areas have rare species of animals and plants. The state lets their internal ecosystems evolve naturally, rather than by "active management," Eastman said. Even trimming their borders could endanger the breeding cycles of wildlife inside.
As the bill has advanced, lawmakers from western Maryland have protested that wildland protections stifle their economies because the state turns away developers and mineral-harvesting companies that want to use the property.
The state doesn't pay property taxes, and the money counties receive from the state's wildlands proceeds has decreased in recent years.