Montgomery County needs to update and strengthen outdated forest protections
The risks posed by rapid deforestation and climate change make it imperative that county leaders update and strengthen the Montgomery County Forest Conservation Act. We urge the county council to strengthen forestry regulations this year to protect public health, community well-being, homes and businesses.
The climate crisis is bringing more intense storms that drop a deluge of rain in short periods, causing devastating flooding, especially in lower urban areas more likely to be inhabited by economically vulnerable residents and people of color. Montgomery County’s 2021 Climate Action Plan says the county plans to reduce emissions 80 percent by 2027 and 100 percent by 2035. Protecting our existing forests and planting new forests are key goals. one of nature’s most affordable and effective solutions for sequestering carbon and reducing emissions.
Reforestation is also one of the best ways to mitigate the negative impacts of climate change by helping reduce flooding, cooling the land and air, and purifying our air and water. Forest ecosystems absorb immense amounts of water while removing water pollutants such as nitrogen and phosphorus, which trees use to grow. Updating the Forest Conservation Act to ensure a net gain of forest would be consistent with both the county’s climate action plan and its new draft master plan, Thrive 2050.
Montgomery County’s forest conservation law has remained largely the same since it was put in place in 1992, although other counties in Maryland have recently strengthened forest protections to mitigate climate change and protect the environment. water we drink.
Montgomery County’s 30-year-old forest regulations only require developers, in most cases, to preserve or replant about a quarter of the trees they cut, the minimum required by state law. .
County regulations are lax compared to jurisdictions that have gone beyond state forest law minimums. For example, Carroll County approved regulations in 1992 that require developers to replace every acre of felled forest with 1 acre of new planted forest. Recently released data from the Chesapeake Conservancy and the Chesapeake Bay Program shows that Carroll County has gained about as much forest as it has lost to development in recent years. But during the same period, Montgomery County lost 660 acres of forest to newly constructed roads, roofs and lawns, while adding only 100 acres – a major net loss. An additional 1,800 acres of forest in Montgomery have been fragmented or otherwise impacted by development, making it more vulnerable to encroaching vines, deer and other threats.
Other Maryland counties have made improvements to their forest protection laws in recent years. Anne Arundel increased her forest conservation protections in 2019, dramatically increasing the cost of not replacing forest that has been cut down. That same year, Howard County required new residential developments to plant more trees on site, and expanded the definition of forests that receive protection to include small tracts of woodland. In 2020, Frederick County passed the strongest local forest protection laws of any county in the state of Maryland.
Montgomery County Council has the opportunity this year to introduce and pass legislation to improve its forestry laws and, with its statewide influence, reassert itself as the leader of leader in forest protection.
We, the Montgomery County Forest Coalition, ask council to adopt the following policies:
● Require developers to replant 2 acres of forest ecosystem for every acre of forest ecosystem cut and encourage forest replanting in the same watershed.
● Decrease the amount of credit developers get for preserving existing forest on other properties after removing forest for a project on an entirely different site. Although the preservation of existing forest is commendable, without planting new forest areas, this policy leads to massive forest loss.
● Prioritize management plans that protect the existing forest on site.
● Adopt community-based forest organic standards for newly planted forests to ensure replacement forests are healthy ecosystems that support diverse wildlife and vegetation.
● Prioritize the long-term maintenance of trees and forests and create green job opportunities through community labor development.
In April, the Montgomery County Planning Board proposed minor improvements to the county’s forest protections. We ask the county council to go beyond the recommendations of the planning council by using the recommendations above.
As part of a comprehensive update of Montgomery County Forest and Tree Laws, we also plan to work with the Department of Environmental Protection in the future to strengthen the Canopy Law of trees and with the Department of Transportation to improve components of the Roadside Trees Act.
We urge the County Council to act now to strengthen forest conservation. On January 13, 2021, in a public hearing of the Transportation and Environment Committee, Council Member Tom Hucker pledged to “address the [forest replanting] ratio later this year” and he and Council Member Evan Glass specifically pledged to “do more” in terms of protecting trees and forests. Council member Hans Riemer said: “We should certainly be looking at the broader goal of forest protection. Despite this, the council has yet to introduce a comprehensive forest conservation reform bill.
We believe it is time to strengthen the protection of forests and preserve the public health of our families and future generations.
Eliza Cava, director of conservation, Audubon Naturalist Society; co-chairman of the Stormwater Partners Network
Shruti Bhatnagar, President, Sierra Club Montgomery County Maryland
Caren Madsen, Chair of the Board, Montgomery Preservation
Kit Gage*, President, Friends of Sligo Creek
Sylvia Tognetti*, President, Friends of Ten Mile Creek and Little Seneca Reservoir
Kim Coble, Executive Director, League of Maryland Voters for Conservation
Erik Fisher, assistant manager of Maryland, Chesapeake Bay Foundation
Caroline Taylor, Executive Director, Montgomery Campaign Alliance
Hedrick Belin, President, Potomac Conservatory
Jeanne Braha, General Manager, Rock Creek Conservatory; Co-Chair, Stormwater Partners Network
Jim Laurenson, animator and co-founder, Cedar Lane Ecosystems Study Group
Doris Nguyen, member of the MOCO CAP coordination committee; President, Mobilization Glen Echo Heights*
Jeffrey Weisner, Steering Committee, 350 MoCo*
Adam Roberts, Executive Director, Bethesda Green*
Philippe Bogdonoff Biodiversity for a livable climate*
Mike Tidwell, Executive Director, Chesapeake Climate Action Network*
Kathleen Holmay, Team Leader, Environmental Justice Team, Cedar Lane UU Church
Done by Smith, President, Silver Spring Unitarian-Universalist Church Green Sanctuary Committee*
Walter Weiss, organizer, Montgomery County Religious Alliance for Climate Solutions*
Diane Conway, President, Safe and Healthy Playgrounds*
Steven Findlay, President, Association of Sugar Loaf Citizens*
Diana Younts, host, Takoma Park Environmental Mobilization Committee*
Karl Held, Member of the MoCo CAP & The Climate Mobilization coordination committee*
Margaret Schoap, organizer, Transit Alternatives to the Midcounty Extended Freeway (TAME Coalition)
*This organization is also a member of the Montgomery County Climate Action Plan (CAP) Coalition.