If you’re a Maryland property owner and have been meaning to make a change in your environmental sustainability practices, you can now start right in your own backyard through the newest program offering from University of Maryland Extension (UME), designed to increase species diversity, eliminate invasives, and improve forest health.
For the first time this past fall, the new Delmarva Woodland Stewards program trained an eager crop of 25 volunteers in sustainable forest management, and empowered them to share that knowledge within their communities over the upcoming year. The program, modeled after successful training programs like the UME Master Gardeners, Master Naturalists, and Maryland Woodland Stewards, targets homeowners that reside on the Delmarva Peninsula.
“We’re on the Coastal Plain, on top of an ancient sea floor,” said Luke Macaulay, UME wildlife management specialist who has been partnering with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Forest Service, other state agencies, and nonprofit organizations through a U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service Landscape Scale Restoration grant to promote forest management for wildlife habitat and develop the stewardship program. “This leads to sandier, acidic soils that influence what will grow in those places.”
The 25 participants learned principles and best management practices in forestry, silviculture, wildlife management, water quality, herbicides, invasives, and vegetation management during four intensive online classes featuring guest speakers from all three states comprising the peninsula – Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia.
Online sessions were taught by field experts from Virginia and Delaware Cooperative Extensions, the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, the Delaware Forest Service, Delaware Master Naturalists, Maryland Forest Service, Virginia Department of Forestry, The Nature Conservancy, and the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay. The course culminated in a field trip highlighting the various coastal environments and the management practices in place across the three states.
“Going to all three states showed that the forest management techniques are the same all across the peninsula – or anywhere on the Mid-Atlantic Coastal Plain,” said Matthew Hurd, regional forester with the Maryland Forest Service who partnered with Macaulay in the development of the new stewardship program. “The only thing that’s different is who the people are that you contact as a resource for information or permits to do the work.”
“The class gives them access to those resources – those people – to ask questions; and they can turn around and tell other landowners, family, friends, and neighbors,” said Hurd. “That’s what makes this program so powerful – these students are signing up to volunteer to train others afterwards.”
The new class of Delmarva Woodland Stewards have committed to volunteering a certain number of hours to share their new knowledge within their communities to help improve forests and land management practices at a small scale.
“Individual landowners are operating at a smaller scale so they’re able to implement things that might not be scalable to a larger area,” said Macaulay. “So they might be able to tackle a really pernicious invasive species because they can really get to a detail level that might not be possible at a larger scale.”
“You can make a difference on your land, and on other people’s lands, by looking at the bigger picture and knowing that you need all types of diversity,” said Hurd. “It doesn’t matter how much or how little land you’ve got, if you're interested in making a change, you should consider practices that are going to add to the species richness and the diversity of the landscape.”
Increasing the diversity of plants, animals, and insects is only one of the lessons taught through the new woodland stewardship program. The course teaches methods for light management, hack and squirt methods for eliminating invasive or unwanted vegetation, prescribed burns, and much more.
“In some places where people have gone hands-off, you get like a monoculture of unmanaged forest, all similar in height and species because there are limited natural or human disturbances,” said Macaulay. “It’s okay to manage your woodland, to take action and change the composition of your forest. It can be beneficial for the broader ecosystem.”
“It doesn’t matter how much or how little acreage you have; as long as you’re creating diversity, any piece of land can make a difference in the landscape,” Hurd said. “We collectively, in all three states, need to work together to accomplish our goals.”
If you are interested in becoming a Delmarva Woodland Steward, or learning more about the program, go to go.umd.edu/delmarva or contact Taylor Robinson at firstname.lastname@example.org. The course is open to participants in all three states, and students do not need to be residents or own land on the Delmarva Peninsula.