(ANNAPOLIS, MD)—A bill to better protect Maryland's best forests from development is again facing uncertainty on the eve of "cross over.” The legislation is the priority bill of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and many other groups. A forest bill also failed in the prior legislative session. Ninety percent of Maryland voters across party lines and geographic regions say they support the bill.
"Maryland voters are strong supporters of the environment, especially the Chesapeake Bay. When they go to the polls in November they will favor candidates who share that view. It makes common sense to support this bill because it will save us millions of dollars as well as many acres of forest,” said Alison Prost, Maryland Executive Director of CBF.
Maryland has lost over 17,000 acres of forest to development in the past nine years, this despite an existing state law that is supposed to minimize that clearance. A recent Chesapeake Bay Program analysis confirms that Maryland is losing forests and wetlands.
Forest loss has an economic as well as ecological cost. The state is paying billions of dollars to stem polluted runoff that forests used to do for free. Forest are giant sponges that sop up polluted runoff. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources notes that forest loss in the Washington, D.C.-Baltimore area since 1973 has increased polluted runoff 19 percent at a cost of more than $1 billion.
"Maryland was supposed to be a progressive state in this matter. It approved a law to protect forests during development way back in 1991. But we now know that law isn't working as intended. We need to fix this situation before we hemorrhage more woods and more money,” Prost said.
The Forest Conservation Act (FCA) enacted in 1991 was intended to protect the state's "priority” forests from clearance during development, but a University of Maryland study last year found the opposite is happening: ecologically less valuable woodlands are being spared but the forests that provide the most ecological and economic benefits often are being clear cut.
Senate Bill 610 would strength the FCA by clarifying unclear terms and concepts. The bill was passed March 14 by the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee on a narrow vote. It is expected to face a stiff floor fight in the Senate. A companion bill in the House, HB 766, has yet to move out of committee.
A Mason-Dixon poll in February of registered voters found 68 percent of respondents thought it was "very important” to strengthen the state Forest Conservation Act (FCA) that was intended to limit how much forest is cleared during a development project. Twenty-two percent said it was "somewhat important” to strengthen the law.
The poll found overwhelming support among Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, and in urban and rural areas.