Pit a bulldozer against a tree and the tree rarely wins. But for four years, fiscal 2007 to 2011, Frederick County found a way to stem the loss of forests to new development: insist that an acre be planted for every acre cut down.
It was a sensible move that saved county residents money and protected local rivers and creeks.
Forests are natural sponges. A forest soaks up tens of thousands of gallons of water during a rain storm, and thousands of tons of carbon dioxide from the air.
Without forests, runoff from storms flows into and pollutes local streams. We expect Frederick realized how expensive it is to fix that problem. It made sense not to lose any more forests than necessary.
What if forests were cut down and taxpayers had to pay to plant rain gardens and other devices to soak up the runoff forests used to hold? How much would that cost? A 2015 study by the Low Impact Development Center in Beltsville concluded that Prince George’s forest reduces polluted runoff by 4.3 billion gallons a year in the county, a service worth $12.8 billion annually.
Frederick County has more forest than Prince George’s. So the benefits could be worth even more.
Frederick County’s 2007 action set standards higher than minimal state requirements for how much builders have to replant if they cut down forest on a development site. The state Forest Conservation Act requires builders only to replant one acre for every four cut down. Frederick’s ordinance required one acre replanted for one acre cleared.
The results were immediate. While other counties continued to lose forests at alarming rates, Frederick actually planted more acres of forest — 424 acres — than developers cut down from 2008 to 2011.
Save forests. Save money. And protect clean water and air.
Then, suddenly in 2011 the next Board of Commissioners repealed the replanting ordinance. Since that repeal, forest loss in Frederick County has increased, according to annual reports the county submits to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, although other aspects of the county’s FCA program have encouraged a relatively high replanting rate.
Now, only neighboring Carroll County has the one-to-one replanting requirement. Not surprisingly, Carroll is the only county where forests are actually increasing, according to the DNR data.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation believes this is unfortunate. Thankfully, legislation in the Maryland General Assembly this session, (SB 365 / HB 599), offers a solution. It would strengthen the FCA by requiring one-for-one replanting across the state. The bill effectively mimics what Frederick County successfully did locally in 2007 — before the repeal.
The state legislation also would give counties the option to charge a builder more who wants to clear more forest and not replant. Currently, developers often avoid replanting by paying a small fee that doesn’t always cover the cost of replacement.
Frederick County Senator Ron Young is the lead sponsor in the Senate. We urge all Frederick County residents who value trees to support these bills.
Erik Fisher is the Maryland assistant director and land use planner for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.