In one of the most shortsighted official actions in recent memory, the late and unlamented Frederick County Board of County Commissioners decided in 2011 to eliminate the requirement that each acre of forest destroyed by new development needed to be replaced by another acre elsewhere in the county.
As a result, Frederick County lost 480 acres of prime forest between 2012 and 2019.
Now, County Executive Jan Gardner has proposed restoring the old rule about reforestation. It is a goal worth supporting, and our only question is why has this taken so long.
Go to the site of any new development around the county and — if you were at all familiar with the terrain before building began — you will probably be shocked at the change.
The massive developments surrounding Oakdale High School near New Market might be one of the worst disruptions.
In fact, in announcing her new initiative, Gardner said she remembered getting letters from students who were distraught about the number of trees being cut down for new homes near Oakdale High.
It is truly an astonishing sight. Vast tracts of land were completely denuded of trees. The school, which once sat almost alone on a promontory overlooking west toward the city of Frederick, is now surrounded by a complete neighborhood.
Gardner said her proposed reforestation legislation would protect the county’s environmental resources — and not a moment too soon.
The current County Council is far more environmentally conscious than the old Board of County Commissioners, and probably more inclined to restore the forest requirements than the first council with whom Gardner served from 2014 to 2018.
The council is already considering a resolution committing the county to ambitious goals toward reducing carbon emissions to combat climate change. The resolution, introduced by council members Kai Hagen and Jessica Fitzwater, sets a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 50 percent by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050.
The proposed resolution is gaining public support. Dozens of county residents filled the first-floor hearing room of Winchester Hall one recent evening, demonstrating their backing for the bill.
In addition to those ambitious goals, the bill would establish an ad hoc committee called the “Climate Emergency Mobilization Workgroup,” made up of local scientists and county officials. The group would take up to a year to submit recommendations to the council about how to combat climate change.
Protecting the forest of the county from further degradation will doubtless be an important element in the fight to reduce climate change.
“My proposal will protect what our community values, our forest cover, our environmental resources and our rich history, before any new development is approved, so we can ensure a bright future for Frederick County,” Gardner said at her announcement.
This bill deserves the support of the community and the council. We cannot sit idly by and watch as more precious trees are pulled down to make way for houses without any replacements being planted.
It will add to the cost of new housing, but it is a price we cannot afford to refuse to pay.