One millionth tree planted on public land
The Gazette - Online

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Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) ceremoniously planted the 1 millionth tree on public land Wednesday at the Merkle Wildlife Preserve in Upper Marlboro.

O'Malley set the goal of 1 million trees in 2009 as part of his Marylanders Plant Trees initiative. He was joined by state officials including John Griffin, Department of Natural Resources secretary, Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller Jr. (D-Dist. 27) of Chesapeake Beach and Gary Maynard, secretary for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, whose inmates planted most of the trees as part of the department's Public Safety Works program.

O'Malley said the planting of trees helps to counteract state residents' carbon footprint and improve air and water quality.

"There are so many beautiful parts of the state, but so many of those areas need us," O'Malley said. "They're undergoing a tremendous amount of stress because of our enormous population. It's not done intentionally, but it is done exponentially."

David Gailey, the regional forester for southern Maryland for the Department of Natural Resource's Forest Service, said trees have been strategically planted to act as buffers against erosion and nutrient buildup in waterways.

"We then started planting them around farm fields that collect runoff, and then to provide habitat for wildlife and help erosion in general," he said.

Steven Koehn, the director and a forester for the forest service, said as rain water runs off into fields waterways, it collects nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment and carries them to its destination. High nutrients in the Chesapeake Bay provides food for algae, which grow rapidly, but when they die, they suck much of the oxygen out of the water, degrading water quality.

"Trees take the nitrogen and phosphorus and use it," Koehn said. "So trees are the last line of defense for the waterways."

O'Malley said he saw the program as an example of how government agencies can work together to get things done, despite working with less funding.

"[In the tough fiscal climate], we have 1,000 excuses to say we shouldn't bother with conservation right now," he said. "And the hardest thing to do is to get multiple agencies to coordinate and work together to make progress."

The Maryland State Highway Administration provided a $800,000 grant to pay for the trees, while the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services provided time and manpower, said DNR spokesman Josh Davidsburg.

Maynard said his department's Public Safety Works program is good for the public at large, because not only are they improving the community through tree plantings and other projects, the inmates themselves learn valuable skills that will help them to be legitimately employed when they return to society.

"It teaches them soft skills," he said. "They don't just learn like how to plant a tree or the like, they learn how to show up on time, how to respect and take orders from their boss, and take care and maintain tools. And it pays something back for the crimes that they've committed."