Ag Preservation and Program Open Space: State Agencies Brief Committee

Today, the Joint Subcommittee on Program Open Space and Agricultural Land Preservation was briefed by State agencies on a variety of land use topics. 

Representatives from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA), and the Maryland Department of Planning (Planning) were on hand to provide updates. The presentations focused on the status of land acquisition and preservation, as well as the impacts of the pandemic on agriculture and parks.

MDA briefed the Committee on the state of agriculture operations. According to the Department, Maryland’s agricultural industry has fared better than other industries during the pandemic, and has largely been able to adapt although challenges do still exist. Animal and animal product producers are facing an 8.1 percent decline. Maryland’s poultry industry has experienced some supply processing problems due to staffing challenges associated with COVID-19. MDA says that Maryland agriculture producers have been able to gain nearly $58 million in federal aid through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) programs. Additionally, the State is providing relief for poultry growers since they were not eligible for CFAP funding.

The Maryland Agriculture Land Preservation Foundation (MALPF) presented information to the committee on their operations. MALPF has adapted to the pandemic by incorporating safety precautions into farm site visits, and establishing new procedures for getting signatures notarized to complete property transactions. MALPF noted that their share of the transfer tax revenue has increased from last year despite the pandemic.

DNR discussed several topics with the Committee, starting with land acquisition. According to the Department, from July to October, the Board of Public Works (BPW) has approved projects protecting more than 1100 acres representing a total investment of more than $5 million. DNR says it is a 22 percent increase in number of acres compared to last year. During the same time period, BPW has approved $17.7 million for 55 POS Local projects, an increase of 31 percent from the  the same period in FY20. DNR anticipates a further 23 projects this month, with more to follow as counties continue to submit proposals.

The Department also gave an update on local Land Preservation and Recreation Plans. DNR advises that they are beginning to update guidelines for the next phase of LPPRPs, and would like local governments to establish a clear link between projects and funding through enhanced reporting. They are encouraging the inclusion of a spreadsheet to help plan for all of the actions and resources necessary for the project. DNR believes local governments are generally receptive to the changes.

DNR also briefed the Committee on the status of state parks, including information on the record attendance and closures due to capacity limits even into the fall season. Additionally, DNR says they are working on a Park Equity Tool to help ensure access to parks for all Marylanders.

From the meeting documents:

This tool is currently helping guide the department, local planners, park and recreation officials, and community leaders on where park development and enhancements occurs. The tool makes use of park data, U.S. Census data, and many other relevant information layers to create a tool that can be used visually and generate numerical reports for counties, census block groups and select customized groups of interest. The tool takes into account demographic data such as population density, income percentage, population, linguistic isolation, access to transit, and the walkability of a community. The tool also includes an analysis of the types of park space available in communities. It evaluates both access to natural areas and recreational amenities available.

Planning presented on the status of land preservation. In 2002, the General Assembly set a goal through Senate Joint Resolution 10 to protect a little over 1,000,000 acres by 2022 through state and local programs. The State is currently at roughly 830,000 acres or 80.5 percent of the total goal. Planning says that Maryland is not in a position to reach the initial goal as it would require more than 100,000 acres preserved in each of the next two years, and they recommend extending the goal to 2040.

Useful Links:

Meeting Video

Meeting Documents

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Conduit Street: Record Attendance at State Parks