MACo Defends Local Autonomy Under State Forest Conservation Act

MACo Policy Associate, Kevin Kinnally testified in opposition to legislation (HB 599) that would impose significant and costly new Forest Conservation Act (FCA) mandates on local governments, utilities, and development projects before the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee on February 22, 2017. Delegate Anne Healey sponsored the bill.

HB 599 makes three alterations to Maryland’s Forest Conservation Act (FCA). First, the bill increases the minimum reforestation rate from ¼ acre for every acre removed to 1 acre for every acre removed. The bill also limits an existing exemption under the FCA for the clearing of public utility rights of way and land for electric generating stations to areas of 1 acre or less of forest. Finally, the bill authorizes the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) or a local jurisdiction with a forest conservation program to increase the rates under the fee-in-lieu by 20% for each acre for which money is contributed in lieu of meeting the program’s reforestation or afforestation requirements.

In addition to the significant costs and practical challenges posed by the bill’s requirements, Kinnally responded to the proponent’s contention that the bill was needed to meet Maryland’s “No Net Loss of Forest” policy. From MACo’s testimony:

While the bill poses fiscal challenges to a variety of stakeholders, Maryland appears to be maintaining its tree canopy coverage established under Maryland’s “No Net Loss of Forest” policy established by HB 706 of 2013. According to DNR’s Forest Action Plan 2016-2020, Maryland had a statewide tree canopy cover of almost 50%, exceeding the “No Net Loss” policy of maintaining 40% or more tree canopy cover. This raises the question of why is the bill needed.

Blue Water Baltimore, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Choose Clean Water Coalition, Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club,  Maryland Forestry Association, Maryland League of Conservation Voters, and the South River Federation testified in support of the bill.

Joining MACo in opposition to the bill was the Maryland Association of Realtors, Maryland Building Industry Association, Maryland Municipal League, and NAIOP-MD.

The cross-file to the bill, SB 365, was heard by the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental  Committee on February 7.

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session here.