The Forests of Washington County

Spring Forest Flowers Photo Slideshow



White Rocks Overlook, AT

Skunk cabbage

Virginia bluebells

Spring forest flowers

Golden ragwort

Sessile trillium



A Summer Storm

Early summer forest, South Mountain State Park

Black gum tree at ISWMA


Simply put, woodlands or forests are land with trees upon it. But they can be quite different in the kinds, ages, and sizes of trees which compose them; the kinds and density of shrubs and plants which grow on the forest floor; and the animals that live and forage within them. A forest is a complex web of relationships between plants, animals, fungi and other organisms. When intact and healthy they purify our air and water, provide important economic products, and provide space for recreational activities.

In Washington County, which is still primarily an agricultural community where cropland, pasture, and orchards occupy just under 50% of the total land acres, wooded lands are second in total acreage. There are about 107,193 acres of forested land out of 293,346 total land acres or just

under 37% of total acres. While the trees are still largely the same as those that were growing here before the arrival of European settlers - oaks, hickories, tulip poplar, hemlock, beech, pines, and American chestnut - the composition of our forests has changed dramatically. Because hardwoods, trees that lose all their leaves in the fall, will regenerate from the stump, and conifers, or evergreens, do not, hardwoods will predominate where forests are cut and allowed to re-grow. Pine forests have increased in acreage because of planting and the abandonment and natural re-growth of agricultural land. The American chestnut, once a dominant component of the woodlands of Washington, is now a shrubby inhabitant of the forest floor because of an introduced disease.

Among the most important ecological aspects of forests are their beneficial buffering effects upon our water systems. The water that falls as rain or snow can be either absorbed into the ground to nourish the plant life and replenish the groundwater or it will flow across the surface and into our streams, rivers, ponds, and lakes. The web of roots of forested land stabilizes the soil and slows the movement of water, encouraging absorption and minimizing erosion. All of the land in Washington County drains into the Potomac River, which flows to the Chesapeake Bay. The way we use and manage our lands affects not only our local water systems but also affects the health of the bay.

Since the February, 1993 adoption of the Forestry Conservation Ordinance for Washington County, the county has worked to identify sensitive lands, retain forest, reforest, and develop a comprehensive plan for development so that our water ways are buffered by woodlands and our forests are not lost to development. Through county, state and federal programs, trees have been planted and forested land has been retained. However, our woodlands are still being lost and fragmented due to development, and there is much work to do to improve and protect our water bodies and ways.

The woodlands we have now reflect our past use and abuse of the land. Because forests are dynamic and flexible systems which change over time, we can have profound positive effects through thoughtful planned management. Most of our forest lands are owned by private citizens. Thus, the health of our forests and water systems and the animals that live within them is in our own hands.

References: Kays, Jonathan; Maryland Forests: Past Present,

and Future; MD Cooperative Extension FS 627

Washington County Comprehensive Plan 2002

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