ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Parts of Maryland's state parks have such rich and fragile ecosystems, state administrators say they'd never disturb them by paving roads or setting up picnic tables — let alone selling the rights for mining. But they want a state law to set that practice in stone.
Along with Gov. Martin O'Malley, they want to extend the strict protection of Maryland's Wildlands Preservation System to another 21,890 acres of state-owned land. Presently the state has 43,773 acres of wildlands.
The Senate's Education, Health and Environmental Affairs committee heard testimony on the bill Tuesday.
"We get a lot of proposals from external parties," said John Wilson, associate director for stewardship at the Department of Natural Resources.
Besides coal-mining and gas extraction, these can include proposals for golf courses or prisons, for instance.
Maryland only allows "passive recreation" in its Wildland areas: hiking, hunting and trapping, fishing, bird watching, horseback riding. Even mountain-biking is off-limits. The state's environmentalists see them as sanctuaries for meditation and museums of biological history.
"They hold genetic information that we should no more destroy than the Gutenberg Bible," said Ajax Eastman, chair of the Maryland Wildlands Committee, during testimony Tuesday.
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.