Howard County Executive Calvin Ball announced major updates to the Howard County Forest Conservation Act, which had not been updated since the 1990s, to bring it into compliance with state law and strengthen environmental regulation. The act was created to minimize the loss of Maryland’s forest resources during land development by making the identification and protection of forests an integral part of the site planning process.
Ball’s updates will ensure county compliance, increase forest retention and replanting, reduce use of fee-in-lieu, and improve safeguards for the environment. In addition, Ball recently gave away 2,000 free trees to Howard County residents to promote new planting in the community.
“The state of Maryland passed the Forest Conservation Act to safeguard our forest resources during land development. I firmly believe it is our responsibility to finally make sure Howard County is not only compliant with this legislation, but that we also go further,” said Ball. “We must ensure that the future of development in Howard County is smarter, more transparent and more environmentally conscious. Today, we take a major step forward to protect our forests and our future.”
The Forest Conservation Act updates include:
- Full compliance with state law through more than a dozen legislative updates, including required on-site retention for champion and specimen trees.
- Increased replanting obligations to ensure developers contribute to reforestation efforts across the entire watershed.
- Improved stewardship of the Green Infrastructure Network (GIN), which maps the most ecologically valuable forests, wetlands, meadows, waterways and other natural areas as well as the lands that connect them together. The update will add GIN to retention and reforestation priorities, as well as requiring its inclusion on development plans.
- Added new site design requirements so residential developments must meet 75% of their forest conservation obligations on-site before off-site compliance can be considered. Also, nonresidential developments must protect all sensitive areas with Forest Conservation Easements.
- Strengthened fee-in-lieu regulation so a maximum of one acre forest obligation can be met through fee-in-lieu in a residential development. Inside a planned service area, the fee is raised from $0.75 to $1.25 per square foot. Outside a planned service area, the fee is raised from $0.95 to $1.50 per square foot.
- Tightened variance regulation to limit exceptions. Now, variances will only be granted to applicants meeting the unwarranted hardship standard. Increased costs and inconvenience, including loss of lots, will no longer constitute unwarranted hardship.
Ball’s forest conservation enhancements will connect to his broader vision to lead by example on climate action and safeguard the environment for future generations. Today’s announcement came after he:
- Signed Howard County to the “We Are Still In” declaration, as a promise to world leaders that the county will not retreat from the global pact to reduce emissions and stem the causes of climate change
- Made Howard County the first county in the nation to formally accept the U.S. Climate Alliance’s Natural and Working Lands Challenge, which calls on jurisdictions to reduce emissions and increase carbon sequestration
- Signed an executive order to follow through on the county’s energy goals and reduce greenhouse gas emissions of county government operations to zero by the year 2050
- Strengthened pesticide policy and joined the coalition known as “Bee City USA” to save threatened pollinators and protect the health of every living thing in Howard County