Study May Provide Direction to Forest Conservation Debate

A study available in June of 2020 could provide important information to the debate over forest conservation measures. Previous efforts aimed at strengthening forest conservation in Maryland have led to disagreements between developers that argue there is not enough evidence of net forest loss, and activists that say development has exacerbated the loss of forestland in the State.

The study, which will utilize high-resolution data to map forest cover at one square meter per pixel, is being conducted under partnership between Chesapeake Conservancy and the Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology at the University of Maryland. Several groups including the Maryland Forest Service, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and Chesapeake Conservancy will be contributing to data collection. The study was originally commissioned for delivery prior to the 2020 session, but lawmakers have granted a deadline extension.

From coverage in the Baltimore Sun:

Forest preservation is increasingly important as Maryland and the rest of the Chesapeake Bay watershed work to restore the estuary by a 2025 deadline, advocates say. Forests help filter nutrients and sediments from rain runoff, preventing them from reaching the bay and fouling its waters, so preserving them means less effort to find other ways to reduce bay pollution, said Alison Prost, Maryland executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Builders raised concern that both laws could drive developers to choose sites that have less tree cover but could sit outside the counties’ priority areas for development, and could slow housing growth and exacerbate affordable housing concerns. “We need to make sure we’re taking a comprehensive look at this and not just doing it to slow down growth,” said Lori Graf, CEO of the Maryland Building Industry Association. But advocates said such laws are steps toward ensuring development causes no net loss in forest cover.

As previously reported on Conduit Street, several counties have recently taken it upon themselves to update their individual forest conservation laws while State leaders hold for more information.

For more information on forest conservation in Maryland, visit the Department of Natural Resource’s webpage.