The capitol dome in Annapolis viewed from Chesapeake Bay. Photo by Donna Rice.
2017 Legislative Session
Trees clean our air and water. They are one of nature's best pollution filters. And they work for free. As we push to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, and to avert climate change, we should be protecting trees, even planting whole new forests. Yet in Maryland we are going the opposite direction. Maryland lost 7,000 acres of trees each year between 1986 and 2008, the most recent years for which statistics are available.
It's time to end this senseless destruction of one of our most cost-effective pollution-fighting allies. In the Maryland General Assembly, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation intends to fight for legislation to improve the state's Forest Conservation Act (FCA).
The FCA was passed by the Maryland General Assembly in 1991. It has the potential to be one of Maryland's best tools for protecting our forest lands. But the Act badly needs updating. It is like an old clunker automobile that spews pollution. Originally intended as a way to save trees, the Act has become, in some cases, a way for developers and local governments to justify cutting down trees. It needs an overhaul.
Maryland official policy is that there should be "no net loss" of trees in the state. In fact, the state has promised to increase forest land as part of its commitment to restore the Chesapeake Bay by 2025.
But the law doesn't reflect these commitments, nor the conclusions of a 2009 task force established to evaluate the Act. It is flawed, for instance, in that it requires much less acreage to be replanted than cleared, and contains many exemptions or alternatives to retaining or replanting forest, ultimately resulting in a net loss of forest land.
If the State has any chance of retaining and increasing forest land, the Act must be updated and improved before it's too late.
CBF will fight for two pieces of legislation that together will make these improvements to the FCA:
- Clarify that local governments can be more stringent in setting "conservation thresholds" of how many trees can be cleared, and also in requiring replanting when trees are cleared. The Department of Natural Resources recently denied Annapolis the right to use these tools.
- Increase the FCA's mitigation (i.e. replanting) ratio. The law currently says builders only need to replant one tree for every four they clear. CBF will propose one tree be replanted for each cleared.
- Implement sliding-scale fees for builders who opt not to replant trees at all. These "fees-in-lieu" are currently an easy way for builders to avoid responsibility. Fees should increase with the number of acres of forest cleared.
- Reduce the exemption for electric generating facilities. Currently, thousands of acres of forest are being lost and projected to be lost to utility lines and gas lines, all of which are completely exempt from the Act's coverage.
The 2017 legislative session will have other battles. CBF intends to support a ban on natural gas fracking in Maryland because the Administration's plan for fracking does not follow findings of a special commission that studied the issue. CBF also will attempt to defeat any undue budget cuts that curtail environmental programs, such as oyster restoration. We also will explore ways to sustain progress on cleaner septic systems in rural areas.