Thursday, October 12, 2006

Missing the forest...

Citing a report by the U.S. Forest Service, the Post today writes about forest loss in the 1980s and 1990s in Maryland counties. Here's the relevant rundown:

Anne Arundel County lost 42,000 acres of forest between 1986 and 1999, according to the report. That was one of the largest declines in the watershed and means that 3.3 percent of the county's woods was consumed. The picture was better, but still not good, in St. Mary's County, where 22,000 acres (or 1.7 percent) of forest were lost in the same time. Howard County lost 6,000 acres (1 percent), and Montgomery lost 2,000 acres (0.2 percent), according to the survey.
Interestingly, the county typically associated with excess growth, Montgomery, lost the least, with Howard close behind. Anne Arundel, clearly, is the worst, which is unfortunate because of its proximity to the Bay.

Obviously, trees are good for the Bay (and other things), so reports of deforestation are necessarily bad news for the health of the estuary. But trees are also fairly resilient, wanting to grow pretty much anywhere in the State of Maryland, thanks to our abundance of annual rainfall.

The solution to forest loss is pretty clear: replant wherever possible and keep development out of existing, healthy woodlands.

Speaking of trees, here's a great piece on Maryland's first state forester, Fred Beasley, without whom the wonderful Patapsco Valley State Park would likely not exist.


Anonymous said...

"The solution to forest loss is pretty clear: replant wherever possible and keep development out of existing, healthy woodlands."

Replant? Yes, but we aren't doing so at an acceptable rate, despite collecting funds for this very purpose from developers who choose not to meet their forest retention requirements. How many ways can the purpose of forest retention regulations be watered down?
1. Developers are allowed to meet a portion of their forest retention obligation offsite instead of requiring their entire forest retention obligation to happen onsite. This runs counter to present and past County General Plans calling for improving wildlife corridors.
2. Developers are actually allowed to choose to come up short when meeting their onsite forest retention obligations. Why?
3. Last time I checked, developers only have to pay about $23,000 per acre of forest retention shortage. This fee-in-lieu is supposed to pay for offsite forest replenishment to make up for lost forest. Anyone want to try to buy an acre in Howard County for $23,000? Try 10 times that and you'll still come up short. Pretty good deal, huh?
4. Funds accumulated via fees-in-lieu for forest replenishment haven't been spent promptly. Green in the bank, not in the forest.
5. Are square footages for subdivided lots claimed by developers accurate and thoroughly and correctly checked every time before being approved to ensure forest conservation and open space regulations are met? Take a guess.

So, forest retention sounds like you have to preserve forest onsite, well some forest onsite, well part of that can be offsite, well if you come up a little short just write a check, but don't expect that check to buy much and don't expect the funds to be spent anytime soon.

As far as keeping development out of existing, healthy woodlands (and streams and wetlands), similar Swiss cheese regulations and, unfortunately, less than full enforcement exists. The regulations and other assurances that sound nice and green are freely accessible online, but a good bit of the less green-friendly details are only available via documentation not freely available online - it will cost you to get a copy. Why?

Hayduke said...

All good points. I wasn't trying to get into a deep discussion about the issue -- partly because I don't know as much as I should -- but I appreciate your insights.

Something that always bothers me are the houses on big lots (2+ acres) that are surrounded by grass and a few ornamental trees. Grass is about as good as pavement in terms of it's eco-value. Why not try to compel these homeowners to plant a few trees, too?

Anonymous said...

Yes, that is unfortunate when, primarily farmland in my assumption, is developed, the often house-poor homeowner, choosing between no improvements, interior improvements, and exterior improvements, often goes without replenishing nature to the extent it could be done.

If you're interested in reading more about local forest conservation regs -;forests;conservation; . It's not the whole set of docs, but it's a starting point.

Anonymous said...

More on AA County - I live next to a new development with a "forest conservation area" - 30% of the property that was to be untouched. This consists of about 15 feet of trees behind each property (the rest was clear-cut). Once the homes were occupied, the owners began removing all vegetation from this area. I (and several neighbors) reported this to Anne Arundel County, the county sent inspectors, and in every case the inspectors found no violation. My guess is that the county would rather keep the owners of these million dollar plus houses happy. And the worst thing is, because these "fringe" areas abut open areas that were dug into, the remaining trees are dying. Lovely, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

A 15' wide strip isn't really enough to maintain a vibrant forest ecosystem.

I doubt AA County or Howard County makes accurate and detailed pre-development, photographic records of these onsite forest preservation areas, but they should if they seriously want them preserved and protected.