Maryland has made a commitment to increase forest land, both under the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint and the Bay Agreement. Yet we continue to suffer devastating net losses because of a weak Forest Conservation Act (FCA). If the State has any chance of retaining and increasing forest land, the Act must be updated and improved before it’s too late.
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 Maryland’s forest lands, but the Act currently does not reflect policies recommended by a task force in 2011. It also 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.
There are a number of ways that we can improve the FCA that would increase forest land in Maryland. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation is recommending 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 to be considered and applied by local governments when a developer proposes to clear priority forests;
• Require replacement of priority forests that are allowed to be cleared on a one-toone basis where an acre of forest replanting will be 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.