Dept of Ag Unveils Tree Planting Bonus for Farmers and Landowners

Last week the Department of Agriculture announced new incentives to promote additional tree planting. 

Last week the Maryland Department of Agriculture unveiled a new tree-planting bonus now available to farmers and landowners who install qualifying conservation practices financed through the Maryland Agricultural Water Quality Cost-Share program. The incentive aims to help Maryland achieve its ambitious tree-planting goals and capture greenhouse gas emissions.

Under the new incentive program, eligible farmers will receive $2 for each new tree planted as part of an approved conservation practice that began April 1. The bonus payment will be provided when the conservation practice is fully installed. This payment is in addition to the regular cost-share rate for the qualifying practice. It is available for the following conservation practices:

  • Windbreak Establishment – $2 per tree plus up to 100% cost-share
  • Silvopasture – $2 per tree plus up to 87.5% cost-share
  • Riparian Forest Buffer – $2 per tree plus up to 100% cost-share
  • Hedgerow Planting – $2 per tree plus up to 100% cost-share
  • Tree and Shrub Establishment – $2 per tree plus up to 100% cost-share

Forest policy has been a hot topic in Annapolis. 

In addition to Maryland’s previous commitment to plant 5 million trees by 2031, this new tree-planting bonus program comes on the heels of Maryland’s most comprehensive update to the Forest Conservation Act (FCA) since its inception. Sponsored by Del. Sara Love and Sen. Sarah Elfreth, HB723/SB526 revamped the state’s forest conservation policies from the ground up. The original goal of the 1991 legislation was to try and minimize forest loss, without unduly impeding development. Maryland has somewhat stabilized its forest cover, but their size and broader health have raised some alarm. In an atmosphere filled with conversations around climate change, the balance between development and the environment is a constant discussion.

While only 20 pages the bill represents a generational shift in forest conservation policy. Here are some highlights of what counties can expect:

  • Counties will be responsible for meeting a new no-net-loss requirements in their jurisdictions over a 4 year period.
  • In most areas, forest conservation will now be at a ratio of 1:1 or cut one tree and plant a new one. In certain circumstances, the ratio will be below 1:1. Counties can require development to exceed 1:1 if they choose.
  • Certain new federal projects and transit-oriented developments (TODs) will not be subject to the updated requirements. Instead, they will effectively be grandfathered in by their designation and follow the 1991 standard of .25:1 or cut 4 trees and plant 1.
  • Forest mitigation banking will be reauthorized but at a new restriction of 50% with a possibility of an additional 10% authorized by the Department of Natural Resources.
  • The Forest Conservation Fund will be amended to extend provisions related to the mandatory use of fund dollars from 2 years or 3 growing seasons to 5 years or 6 growing seasons. This has been a major pursuit of counties for several years.

Read the full story. 

Check out HB723/SB526.