USING SATELLITE imagery and aerial photos to plot the greenery of Maryland, the state is embarking on an ambitious program to preserve its most valuable, unprotected ecological lands.
This GreenPrint program aims at some 2 million acres of woodlands, fields and wetlands throughout the state. Annapolis will spend $35 million the first year for outright purchase or to buy protective easements.
Officials say it is the first U.S. effort to map and preserve the natural "green infrastructure" of an entire state. That will help Maryland meet the tri-state Chesapeake Bay Agreement goal of protecting 20 percent of the estuary's watershed.
While there's general agreement on the program's overall objectives, there are questions about GreenPrint's scope and implementation.
First, the roles of existing preservation programs - and there are plenty - need to be carefully respected. They shouldn't be diminished, downgraded or duplicated as a result of this new, centralized state office.
As an example, some 350,000 acres are in temporary agricultural preservation districts. County farmland programs protect thousands more acres, even if not recorded on state maps.
Similarly, county zoning can be a positive tool for preservation, even if it is not viewed in that light by Annapolis planners. Conservation zoning and rules limiting conversion of agricultural land for development are obvious examples.
Program Open Space, Rural Legacy, Maryland Wildlands and the Maryland Environmental Trust preserve valuable greenlands, too.
Critical Areas laws protect coastal shoreline and buffers; the state's pioneering wetlands laws perform a similar function.
GreenPrint can fill crucial gaps. But government dominion over green space is not essential to its preservation. Nonprofits and voluntary efforts must play key roles in land preservation, as the Chesapeake Bay Commission recently noted.