(ANNAPOLIS, MD)—On Tuesday, the Chesapeake Conservancy released detailed data from aerial imagery analyses that estimated Anne Arundel County has lost about 2,500 acres of tree canopy from 2013 to 2017. Most has occurred on private land, through activities such as construction of strip malls and subdivisions.
The conservation nonprofit shared the data with the Anne Arundel County Council and the report is now publicly available. The tree canopy loss estimates were based on reviews of images from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agriculture Imagery Program. The conservancy was able to use the images to create maps that show tree canopy loss at the 1-meter pixel resolution, enabling the report to show tree loss at a project-by-project level.
The report found about 300 acres of tree loss on county property, 17 acres on state property, and 119 acres on federal land. The vast majority of tree canopy loss occurred on private property—about 2,050 acres.
During the four years examined, Anne Arundel County lost about 625 acres of tree canopy per year. About 550 acres of tree canopy were lost on properties that intersected the Critical Area—land close to waterways where trees are particularly effective for protecting water quality, reducing erosion, and preventing flooding.
The new report on tree canopy echoes previous studies about significant forest loss in Anne Arundel County. For example, the federal Chesapeake Bay Program has released data showing Anne Arundel County lost about 2,800 acres of forest since 2010, or about 350 acres per year. The Bay Program data show Anne Arundel County leads all Maryland counties in estimated forest and wetland loss from 2010 through 2017.
During that same time period, developers have replanted just 16 percent of the trees that have been cut down, or about 450 acres. These results are similar to Anne Arundel County's own Forest Conservation reports, which track gains and losses specific to land development and show a net loss of nearly 2,400 acres from 2008 to 2016. While tree canopy provides important ecological benefits, forested land is particularly effective in protecting water quality. Forests are a major subset of total tree canopy.
The County Council is considering a bill that would tighten forest conservation guidelines.The bill—68-19—could begin to stop the county's significant loss of forest by incentivizing developers to keep larger portions of forested land. It also requires greater replanting efforts after forests are cut and increases fees and fines for cutting trees without proper approvals. A public hearing on the bill is scheduled to take place at 7 p.m. on Oct. 7 at Arundel Center in Annapolis.
In response to the new report, CBF's Maryland Executive Director Alison Prost issued the following statement:
"We need greater protections for trees in Anne Arundel County. Forests remove pollutants from runoff, reduce flooding, purify the air, provide wildlife habitat, and increase nearby property values. The council has an opportunity to put an end to this rapid decline by approving the forest conservation legislation in front of them. This bill will encourage developers to be more flexible with their design plans, rather than allowing them to clear-cut trees with few consequences. Anne Arundel County can be a leader in forest protection, instead of, as this report and others have shown, a leader in forest loss."