As we approach Sine Die and the end of the 2019 Session, here is a summary on the status of the various Forest Conservation Act (FCA) bills introduced this year.
FCA reform has been a priority of the environmental community, particularly the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, for the last several years.
House Bill 120/Senate Bill 203 would change Maryland’s “No net loss of forest” goal. Under current goal, 40% of all land in Maryland must be covered by “tree canopy.” This includes urban tree coverage. The bills would change the goal to 40% coverage by “forest.” MACo did not take a position on this bill as the goal is not directly tied to any policies or requirements and the State would still be above the goal even if the bill passed.
STATUS: HB 120 was heard by the House Environment and Transportation Committee on February 6 but the Committee has not taken any further action on the bill. SB 203 passed the Senate with amendments stating that the goal is based on data in the most current Chesapeake Bay Watershed Model and a clarifying amendment from MACo stating that the bill may not be interpreted to expand, limit, or disrupt any local government program, including those under the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load or a municipal separate storm sewer system permit. The House has not taken any action on SB 203 and at this point it seems unlikely to pass.
House Bill 272/Senate Bill 234 would put some additional requirements and clarifications on local governments that accept fee-in-lieu payments under the FCA. As introduced, the bills would have: (1) required a local government to have a plan for identifying appropriate and available areas for mitigation projects and detailed accounting procedures for accurately tracking monies received and expended; (2) prohibited a local government from collecting a fee-in-lieu unless the government had identified forest projects sufficient to provide the full mitigation required under the fee; (3) required a local government to ensure that collected monies are used to fully mitigate the forest acres they were collected for; (4) required a project developer to first use any appropriate credits generated by a forest mitigation bank before turning to a fee-in-lieu; and (5) created a new reporting requirement for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
MACo supported the bills with amendments striking the requirement to specifically identify projects prior to the collection of the fee-in-lieu and making other clarifying changes.
STATUS: Both bills have passed the General Assembly with amendments striking the project identification requirement and addressing MACo’s other concerns.
House Bill 735/Senate Bill 729 would have created a Task Force on Forest Conservation in Maryland that would have analyzed the state’s current and future forest coverage and recommended changes to the FCA. MACo supported the bill with amendments modifying the Task Force’s membership and charge.
STATUS: Both bills have passed the General Assembly with amendments accepted by MACo. The amendments changed the task force into a technical study that would review changes in forest cover and tree canopy in the state.