At the request of Gov. Martin O'Malley, the Maryland General Assembly is considering legislation to expand 14 of Maryland's existing wilderness areas and add nine new ones, increasing by nearly 22,000 acres the state's Wildlands Preservation System ("Maryland eyes expanding wildlands," Nov. 3).

The system includes lands or waters already owned by the state that have retained their wilderness character or contain rare or vanishing species of plant or animal life. They may include unique ecological, geological, scenic and contemplative recreational areas and are Maryland's equivalent to the federal Wilderness Preservation System.

Ecologists, biologists, and geologists now tell us that conservation is needed on a landscape scale to maintain clean water, healthy air, diverse wildlife populations and build ecosystem resilience to a rapidly changing climate.

The Wildlands designation preserves more of Maryland's last great wild places and excludes construction, roads and surface disturbances that could damage these fragile ecosystems.

However, the designation does not prevent hiking, hunting, fishing, kayaking, canoeing, bird watching and horseback riding. The Chesapeake Conservancy, which champions land conservation and public access, strongly supports these wilderness designations.

In nine public meetings — one for every county with a proposed site — and in written comments, there was strong support for the designations. Past studies by the Maryland Greenways Commission showed that more than 90 percent of people surveyed said that some parts of Maryland should be left in their natural state forever.

Efforts like the expansion of the Maryland Wildlands Preservation System and conservation programs such as Program Open Space help make these goals possible. I commend the governor for his initiative and urge the General Assembly to approve this important legislation.

Joel Dunn

The writer is executive director of the Chesapeake Conservancy.

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