Statewide Forest and Tree Study Can Help with Local Planning Decisions

From Our Partners

by Josh Bollinger, Communications Coordinator, The Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology with Kristen E. Humphrey, MLA, Local Assistance and Training Planner

Figure 1 – Aerial view of forest and riparian area. Courtesy of the Chesapeake Bay Program.

A new study released in November by the University of Maryland Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology is the most comprehensive study of Maryland’s forest cover and tree canopy ever completed.

The study, entitled The Technical Study on Changes in Forest Cover and Tree Canopy in Maryland (or the Maryland Forest Technical Study), contains both statewide and regional information that can provide crucial input for local governments looking at tree- or forest-related policies.

The study was conducted by the Hughes Center in partnership with the Chesapeake Conservancy and the University of Vermont Spatial Analysis Lab in consultation with the Chesapeake Bay Program, and the Maryland departments of Natural Resources, Environment, Planning, and Agriculture.

To improve Maryland’s statewide inventory of forest and tree canopy cover, assess forest and tree canopy change, and gauge the effectiveness of Maryland’s various forest and tree programs, the Maryland Senate enacted a bill authorizing the study in 2019.

In 2021, the Maryland Forest Conservation Act turned 30. The study identifies the successes of this legislation since its inception as well as opportunities to further leverage forests and tree canopy coverage to enhance wildlife habitat, protect water quality, improve resilience to and mitigation of climate change, enhance human health, and address issues of environmental justice.

Figure 2 – Aerial view of missed forest, agricultural and residential areas. Courtesy of the Chesapeake Bay Program.

The study finds that, over time, Maryland’s rate of forest loss has declined, and the state is approaching a goal of no net forest loss. While statewide data shows forest levels are stabilizing, Maryland’s forests exhibit increasing fragmentation. In addition, approximately 12% of Maryland’s forests were disturbed in recent years, with invasive species a key source of disturbance.

The study also uses high-resolution data to analyze forest and tree canopy change at the local scale and provide a greater understanding of the key drivers of change. Insights derived from the study may be helpful to develop recommendations and policies that shift the balance to meet Maryland’s forest cover and tree canopy goals.

Figure 3 – Photo of stream bed surrounded by forest. Courtesy of the Chesapeake Bay Program.

The authors made several recommendations because of this study, including improving monitoring through technological innovation, addressing the loss of tree canopy outside of forests such as in urban areas, and assessing the causes of tree canopy change within forest blocks.

“The findings from this study are key for decision-makers at both the statewide and local levels as they consider future strategies for trees and forests,” said Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology Executive Director, Dr. Kate Everts.

“This study comes at a critical time in Maryland as populations continue to increase and as we consider the future of Chesapeake Bay restoration. The Hughes Center is grateful for the opportunity to release this study and help tell the story of changes among our forests and trees so that science-based decisions can drive Maryland’s approach to protect them into the future,” Dr. Everts added.

Key findings from the study include information on:

  • Maryland’s existing forest cover and tree canopy
  • Potential locations for afforestation and reforestation
  • Health and quality of Maryland’s forests
  • Progress toward expanding urban tree canopy acres and riparian forest buffers under the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement of 2014
  • Forest and tree canopy changes
  • Reviews of forest mitigation banking and tree planting programs
Figure 4 – Photo of a reforestation project signage in an open tree planting area with many young trees. Courtesy of the Chesapeake Bay Program.

To review the methodology and read the study, “Technical Study on Changes in Forest Cover and Tree Canopy in Maryland,” in its entirety, visit University of Maryland’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources’ website. Additionally, an online StoryMap provides the opportunity to view and interact with data and results produced in support of this study.

For more information, please contact Josh Bollinger, Communications Coordinator at the Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology at (410) 827-6202 or

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