County Councilman Kai Hagen has come up with an intriguing idea to protect more forest land in Frederick County by paying farmers and landowners not to cut down trees.

Hagen suggested allowing the county to purchase easements as part of a county-run agricultural preservation program called the Installment Purchase Program (IPP).

In an interview with News-Post reporter Steve Bohnel,

Hagen said his goal is to permanently preserve forested land on agricultural property. The county has agricultural preservation programs and programs to preserve forested land, so it makes sense to incorporate forested land into IPP easements, he argued.

“Why not, as part of the process, identify and delineate significant forested parcels on those properties and to some extent ... have it as part of the negotiation and the agreement to include that forested parcel?” Hagen said.

Why not, indeed. The IPP is designed to protect farmland from residential and commercial development. The same thing could be done to protect forest from agricultural development.

The importance of maintaining forests cannot be overstated. The World Wildlife Fund states on its website:

“We depend on forests for our survival, from the air we breathe to the wood we use. Besides providing habitats for animals and livelihoods for humans, forests also offer watershed protection, prevent soil erosion and mitigate climate change. Yet, despite our dependence on forests, we are still allowing them to disappear.”

The IPP was started by the county in 2002, and it has purchased easements that are now protecting almost 20,000 acres from development.

The county’s website said the program works through the county’s bonding authority. The county negotiates with the landowner on the value of the easement, and then buys it at current prices. Rather than giving the farmer a lump sum, however, the county invests in a zero-coupon bond that will mature in 20 years. The landowner receives annual interest payments that are tax-free, and receives the lump-sum principal payment at maturity.

The installment plan makes the process less expensive for the county, while giving the landowner a fair return for foregoing development rights.

Council President M.C. Keegan-Ayer (D), Vice President Michael Blue (R) and Councilman Phil Dacey (R) all told our reporter that they supported Hagen’s idea. Richard Grossnickle, a member of the county’s Agricultural Preservation Advisory Board, said he was open to exploring the idea.

Grossnickle said that woodlands on the properties where an easement has been granted in the IPP are already protected under the program, since they are within the applicants’ boundaries. It is true that those woodlands are protected from development, but it is not clear that they must be kept in their current state.

That is the primary benefit of the Hagen plan and the most important reason to support it: Protected woodlands could not be cut down to create new areas for planting crops.

“When you look at the green infrastructure benefits of forests, in terms of stormwater management, water filtration, groundwater recharge, wildlife habitat, it’s important to do what we can to preserve as much as that forest as possible,” Hagen said.

Hagen said he was not certain yet if he would introduce the change, or see if it can be done administratively, through the executive branch.

Keegan-Ayer, however, said that any changes to the program would probably require legislation.

We agree with the council president. This is a significant change to the program, and the council should revise the current law to make it happen. It will need to think through many issues, including how the forest would have to be maintained and protected, and what use the landowner could make of the land, if any.

This is a good idea, but it is not yet a fully crafted program. We encourage Hagen to continue working on it.

(17) comments

Hog Jowl

Great, let's recreate corrupt federal ag welfare programs at the county level. Funny what's considered socialism these days and what's not.

gary4books

We already protect farmland. What is so "socialist" about including forest land? Seems very "conservative" to me.

Hog Jowl

Federal programs already give money away to "farmers" (many congressmen themselves) to not plant on land not suited to agriculture in the first such as ravines. Are we now going to compensate for not deforesting a rocky ravine that was never going to be tilled anyway? What's the definition of a forest?....a three acre lot, five acres residential abutting a "farm"? Yes, we already protect farmland, and we already get ripped off. Believing in snake oil, grifters and charlatans is very conservative.

StrengthofLiberty

While it may appear to be a fine idea, there are obvious and seemingly complex resolutions to this ... land ... : Its getting a bit much to constantly see Frederick County government acting as a real estate outfit. Raising the question of maintenance of these IPP areas/easements and those being eyed for purchase. Because lets face it - our forests are not that healthy by way of invasive plant species, and pollution. The fundamentally fine idea is at roadside reforesting is sad. The trees are planted without any consideration of canopy span [this aides in the determination of spacing so the tress live as they mature]. Second is the increased usage of "executive branch" "executive order" and its variation on the theme of dictate. This will do nothing to halt the selling off of small acres of forests to be clear cut for residential building. Don't believe me - drive down Loy Wolf Road. One house - existed in the woods until Mr. & Mrs. Suburbia came out - clear cut the forest, removed the stumps, planted a grass lawn, and even built a wall to stop the eroding mountainside from sliding into their newly - fully furnished patio. The plants that line the walk - all non-native. So - thanks for a potential - legislated parcel land purchasing to protect our precious forests and lands. That said, I will never forget a town meeting when Myersville was facing the natural gas corporation: when one the town council members barked back at a question about land usage - red faced this town leader yelled "So what - you and your people are going to tell me what to do with my land? In the United States?" What is really being protected? An idea, or a real step forward in the protections of our vital habitats?

FCPS-Principal

Kai is a whacko. Let's pay all the drug-free responsible citizens to not take drugs too. Let's pay doctors not to harm you.

chris

Excellent idea.

jsklinelga

Quite reasonable. Seems like it should be an easy process. When new farms are accepted have that provision as part of the negotiations. The only real problem is the same old problem. How will it be legislated. Will more priority now be given to farms with forested areas? We need the trees but at some point we will need the rich farmland. Trees can be planted everywhere but good farmland, in rich soil, worked for generations, is very hard to replace. Good idea, but the devil will be in the detail.

kaihagen

To be clear, as I see it happening now (remains to be seen what happens), this proposal would not have any effect on the objective scoring/ranking system, and so would not affect which properties are ranked highest and accepted into the program. But if there are significant forest resources on one of those properties, that identified and delineated forest would be specifically included in the negotiated easement.

hayduke2

Seems logical and something that should be an option....

DickD

Good idea Kai. You might want to focus on land along the Monocacy River and other streams, resolving two problems at the same time and cost.

FCPS-Principal

More socialism for farmers. Better to simply make it a crime to cut down a tree. Make every farmer responsible for every tree on their land. Monitor the trees with drones. When one is cut down, fine the landowner $1,000. That will stop deforestation after a few get fined.

gary4books

This is rather a "blast from the past." Like the King's Forest where "by hook or crook" had meaning.

gary4books

Wikipedia "customs regulating which firewood local people could take from common land; they were allowed to take any branches that they could reach with a billhook or a shepherd's crook ..." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/By_hook_or_by_crook

DickD

I planted four trees over 40 years ago. They were nothing more than shoots, now they are huge trees 65 - 75 feet tall and up to 24 inches in diameter. How many trees can I cut down. Now that was on my property, but I have planted many more trees too. Planted a 1,000 or more up on Tug Hill, worked in a nursery supplying trees for planting. So, what kind of benefits do I get? And there are my nephews running a saw mill, they get logs from all over and plant none. make a good living at it, better than farming, which is what they did before the saw mill. Now they don't cut the trees, but the loggers do and deliver them to the saw mill.

hayduke2

Sometimes you should think about your post- oversimplification of an issue doesn’t lead to productive solutions FCPS

gary4books

Hay - [thumbup][thumbup]

threecents

Trees don't live forever. Especially if a tree is diseased or a hazard, it is often a good idea to cut it down.

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