Maryland Conservation Summary

Maryland’s northern border is defined by the Mason-Dixon Line, which historically separates the North from the South. Maryland’s ecology also forms a sort of border, with many northern-affinity species found here, while numerous southern species find Maryland at the northern end of their range. This concurrence of northern and southern species and habitats, as well as elevations ranging from sea level to over 3,300 feet, creates an amazing breadth of ecological diversity within the ninth-smallest state in the nation. In the middle of it all is Maryland’s most impressive ecological feature: the mighty Chesapeake Bay, the largest and most biologically productive estuary in the United States.

Rare Species and Characteristic Habitats

More than 3,600 species of plants, fish and other animals live in Chesapeake Bay itself, and their varied habitats include beds of submerged aquatic vegetation, oyster reefs, sandy shorelines and flats, vast islands and acreages of marshes. The forests, streams and bogs of the Delmarva peninsula provide habitat to rare and endangered species such as the Delmarva fox squirrel and the dwarf wedge mussel. Rolling hills and mature forests along the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries boast the third-largest population of breeding bald eagles east of the Mississippi River, while the ridges and valleys of western Maryland provide a home to disjunct populations of globally rare plants, including the harperella, the occurrence of which in Maryland is one of just a few naturally viable populations in the world.

Public and Private Conservation Efforts

Through the grassroots efforts of local citizens, and numerous partnerships among state and federal agencies and conservation groups, Marylanders have worked hard to protect, and in some cases restore, the state’s rich and diverse habitats. For example, Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area is a serpentine oak savanna in central Maryland set aside through the lobbying efforts of local citizens and managed by the DNR’s Park Service and Natural Heritage Program. Restoration work on this globally imperiled ecosystem, including removing invasive non-native tree species and prescribed burning, involves the cooperation of the local power company, a federal burn team and numerous volunteers.

Threats

The issues facing Maryland's natural systems are becoming all too familiar: native habitats are lost and degraded due to ever-expanding human populations and urban sprawl, due to the encroachment of invasive non-native species, and due to climate change, especially sea-level rise. Human communities are requiring ever-increasing space for housing, businesses and other development, which reduces the availability of land for natural habitats. Loss of these natural ecological communities not only reduces the natural resources and services utilized by the human community – clean air and water, fertile soils, recreation, lumber, pest control, etc. – but will also continue to decrease the populations of native plants and animals whose inherent value measures well beyond their use to us.

Maryland’s Future

Hope still abounds, however. Students continue to flock to conservation biology programs at Maryland's major institutions of higher education. Smaller colleges and high schools in the state have expanded their environmental action clubs to accommodate increased interest in the environment. Volunteer rolls are up as people are witnessing first hand, in local parks, greenways and even their own back yards, the decline of favorite and familiar species. And many Maryland tax payers voluntary donate to the Chesapeake Bay and Endangered Species Fund to help fund needed conservation programs. More and more, we are realizing that ecological decline, which has accelerated over time, needs to be addressed by all of us.

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