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Commentary Energy & Environment

Opinion: A Plea to the House: Protect Our Trees, Please

In the Maryland General Assembly, legislators are considering amendments to Maryland’s Forest Conservation Act, an act that under current interpretation is failing to protect our forests. A 2013 amendment to the Forest Conservation Act set a “no net loss” goal of 40 percent tree cover for the state, intending to protect our forests.

But tree cover isn’t covering it.

The new amendment, House Bill 120/Senate Bill 203, proposes changing the wording to protect forest land rather than just tree cover, addressing this unforeseen loophole.

Just this week the Maryland Senate passed the bill, but the House of Delegates doesn’t seem to have the same urgency or understanding.

While the Senate bill has passed, the House of Delegates is allowing the “no net loss definition” legislation to languish in committee.

Our state has lost over 450,000 acres since 1960 and this number continues to rise. This simply is unacceptable for Maryland, and particularly for Rockville, an Arbor Day Foundation Tree City USA. It’s time for our Rockville delegation at the State House to do the right thing and show true leadership on the Forest Conservation Act amendments.

Forest loss imposes hidden costs on citizens.

Forests are robust ecosystems that have matured over many years, provide habitat for wildlife, and places for Rockville citizens to wander and reflect. Forests provide tangible benefits to the community as well, such as cooling shade, filtered air, they serve as carbon sinks and filter rain water – all benefits which are particularly essential at a time when our world is warming and extreme weather is a common occurrence.

The ecosystems provided by natural forests offer our community health benefits by reducing air pollution, economic benefits by sustaining property values, and benefits to our food chain by providing habitat for wildlife and insects. Yes – bees and other pollinators, upon which our food chain depends, absolutely love native oak trees and rely on them for shelter in the winter. The ripple effect from forest loss permeates all of the systems that sustain our community. And yet, are these hidden costs ever taken into consideration when decisions are made to remove forests?

We can have our modern town centers and also keep our forest.

Developers oppose HB 120/SB 203 because they claim it will stop all development. This is simply not true. Nothing in this bill will alter how local jurisdictions approve or review development plans. Rather, it clarifies that we all want no net loss of forest and we are setting a goal to inform other laws and regulations that protect our forests. Ultimately, achieving this goal would mean development can occur when developers thoughtfully plan how to ensure our community is not hit with hidden costs of forest loss.

The bill also establishes that the state Department of Natural Resources can rely on data in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Model, “the most accurate and detailed land use dataset that has ever been created for the Chesapeake Bay watershed,” according to the state and federal partnership known as the Chesapeake Bay Program. Since the model is already in existence and broadly accepted, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources does not have to do anything to use it, and it won’t cost our state another dime. Why wouldn’t we leverage free and trusted data to ensure no net loss of forests?

We can all agree that development and growth in Rockville is a good thing when planned strategically. I for one am growing fatigued with Rockville’s over-crowded schools and unbearable traffic resulting from poorly planned development. It’s time to get smart about what is good for Rockville – and a balance between preserving our natural forests while allowing strategic development to occur is the right thing to do.

What do we owe to the next generation?

Maryland has lost another 2,600 acres of forest land in just the time since a similar bill failed to pass in 2018. We all have to answer to our children someday when they ask us what we did – or failed to do – to protect natural resources for their generation. It’s hard to do the right thing, but I am looking to my District 17 representatives to show leadership on this issue. Together we must advocate for those who have no voice and save forests for generations to come.

We must do the right thing.


The writer is a Rockville resident and a member of the Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake.


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Opinion: A Plea to the House: Protect Our Trees, Please