For a second year in a row, CBF's top legislative priority is to strengthen and improve Maryland's Forest Conservation Act (FCA). Last year's effort fell short, but we have refined our strategy and gained more support this year.
The FCA requires builders to preserve the best forests on development sites. But in reality, that typically doesn't happen. With distressing frequency, forests are clear cut to make way for subdivisions, shopping centers, and other developments. We have lost over 100,000 acres of forest in Maryland since the FCA was enacted in 1991.
Our aim is not to stop all forests being cut, but to ensure the FCA does what lawmakers originally intended: protect our best forests while allowing development. Our hope is that by setting clear guidelines and increasing replanting requirements, we can ensure critical forests are protected or replaced during the development process.
There are a number of ways to improve the FCA that would increase forest land in Maryland. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation recommends changes that emphasize the retention of Maryland's best forests:
- Identify and protect Maryland's best forests by providing a clear definition of ecologically important areas that should be considered a priority for retention and protections;
- Provide transparent and consistent criteria for consideration and application by local governments when a developer proposes to clear priority forests;
- Require replacement of priority forests that are cleared on a one-to-one basis, where an acre of forest replanting is required when an acre of priority forest is removed;
- Require the review and planning for important natural resource protection to come earlier in the development review process to allow for site design improvement and reduced impacts on healthy forests;
- Authorize and encourage partnerships between state, local, and nonprofit organizations engaged in tree-planting efforts to help use the fees paid by developers in lieu of the developer's replanting requirements; and,
- Require a long-overdue update of the 1997 state guidance document that guides replanting efforts.
In addition to working on the FCA, we will continue to advocate for the funding of environmental programs that support the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint and monitor any legislation that may impact the Bay's oyster population, which plays a crucial role in its restoration.
Given that 2018 is an election year, we know anything could happen in the Maryland General Assembly! But we're confident that with the help of advocates like you, we will continue to make real progress in our fight to Save the Bay.