Frederick County has the most registered tree farms in Maryland, representing 15 percent of all tree farms in the state and 17 percent of its woodland acreage. In 2020 alone, state foresters completed 62 tree farm inspections totaling 17,405 acres in Frederick County (see dnr.maryland.gov).

So what’s the hype behind tree farms?

Meet Jan and Dave Barrow, certified tree farmers and winners of the 2019 Frederick County Tree Farm of the Year Award. Jan and Dave will immediately tell you that a family forest is a win-win-win situation.

In 1995, Jan, overlooking the beautiful Barrow property in Myersville, had the idea to dedicate a large swath of flood plain to extend an already existing forest conservation management area on their land. Arbor enthusiasts, Jan and Dave concluded that a tree farm would complement their land, improve their creek’s water quality, and function as a riparian buffer that stops additional soil erosion. The Barrows applied for a state funded program, which awarded them 2,800 free seedlings together with the tubes, stakes and installation. Using this hybrid approach, the newly planted swamp oaks, sycamores and river birches, to name a few of the variety of trees planted in the flood plain, increased the existing forested land to meet the minimum 10 acres required for a certified tree farm.

A tree farm has to follow the standards of the American Tree Farm System, an internationally endorsed certification program of the American Forest Foundation. Also called a family forest, a tree farm requires at least 10 acres of woodland and a written forest management plan that describes your tree farm goals over at least 15 years. The County Forester and the Forestry Board can assist in developing such a Forest Management Plan to make sure land owners meet their objectives. A good forest management strategy will account for the production of forest products, water quality, wildlife habitat, soil conservation, biodiversity and recreational opportunities. It must also meet specific standards of sustainability. Requirements are detailed on the Forestry Board’s website, frederick.forestryboard.org.

The ultimate goal of a tree farm is to sustainably generate wood products, which are an integral part of our everyday life.

Many tree farmers, however, prefer letting their trees grow old to grace their property, purify the water, enrich and retain fertile soil and provide habitat for all sorts of wildlife, including for purposes of hunting and fishing. While the Barrow grandchildren, Zoey, Aiden and Liam, prefer to climb trees and look for wildlife, Dave and Jan enjoy strolling through their shady, wooded land, harvesting berries or mushrooms and fishing in their now clear-watered creek. They even have a dedicated space for a duck rescue.

As productive and beneficial as tree farms are, there are also many other interesting forest management options available, including the Healthy Forest, Healthy Water program, which will plant upwards of one acre of trees for free to buffer creeks, increase the water quality and prevent soil erosion. The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program offers additional incentives to encourage landowners to implement practices that will help reduce sediment and nutrients in the Chesapeake Bay and improve wildlife habitat. Participating in a Woodland Assessment Program or Forest Conservation and Management Agreement can provide a welcome tax break.

Whether you aim to become a fully certified tree farmer or not, trees will increase the value of your property. You can literally watch your investment grow. In addition, native trees and plants help restore soil, sequester carbon, provide wildlife habitat, pollinator passages, enhance water quality, purify the air and provide forest products. Not to mention, they create an area for good, wholesome family fun.

So, what would you rather do this weekend: spend hours fertilizing your lawn and mowing or walking, fishing, gathering and exploring a shady family forest?

This is the first in a four-part series from the Frederick County Forest Conservancy District Board titled Tree Farms: Recreation, Wood, Water, and Wildlife. Learn more about the Frederick County Forest Conservancy District Board at frederick.forestryboard.org.

(2) comments

MD1756

"Why are so many Frederick County residents turning to tree farming?" The article left out the obvious ... tax treatment of the property.

Frederick County Forestry Board

Hello MD1756: The Tree Farm Program in itself does not qualify for a reduced woodland assessment. To obtain preferential tax treatment the landowner must obtain a Forest Stewardship Plan and enter into either the Woodland Assessment Program or the Forest Conservation and Management Agreement. To be part of the Tree Farm Program a landowner must obtain a Forest Stewardship Plan and have at least 10 acres of woodland. In the case of the tax incentive programs and Tree Farm the owner needs a Stewardship Plan. Many people who receive Stewardship Plans do not choose to join the Tree Farm program; and, many Tree Farmers do not participate in the Tax Incentive Programs. In both cases participation in these programs is done on a voluntary basis.

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