Approximately 150 people attended a recent town hall to discuss Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman’s plan to strengthen the county’s forest conservation law. At the event, held at South River High School, in Edgewater, Pittman explained the need for new legislation and gave a presentation highlighting key provisions of draft legislation he intends to introduce to the County Council.

“Forests are tremendously important to our county,” said Pittman. “Trees reduce air pollution, soak up stormwater runoff, provide wildlife habitat and help fight climate change. For decades, we’ve made it too easy to cut down our forests. That’s why I plan to introduce legislation at the next County Council meeting to strengthen our forest conservation law and better protect our remaining forest lands.”

Matt Johnston, the county’s environmental policy director, showed data from the federal Chesapeake Bay Program demonstrating that Anne Arundel County had lost 2,775 acres of forest since 2010 the most of any county in Maryland.

“We’ve lost more forest than all of our neighboring counties combined,” said Johnston. “In fact, Anne Arundel County accounts for 40 percent of all the forest lost in Maryland counties in this decade. We continue to lose about 300 acres of forest a year to development. We have to do better. Our future depends on it.”

Under current law, on a 100-acre parcel, up to 68 acres of forest can be cleared with no requirement to replant trees. When developers clear more, they also have an option to pay a “fee-in-lieu” instead of replanting. Anne Arundel County’s fee-in-lieu is $0.40 per square foot, among the lowest in the state.

Pittman’s draft legislation has five key components. The bill:

● Increases the “conservation thresholds” that determine how much of a site developers may clear without having to replant or pay a fee;

● Adds protections for the largest and most ecologically important forests;

● Increases the fee-in-lieu amount from $0.40 to $2.50 per square foot;

● Increases tree replanting requirements; and

● Brings county code into compliance with the most recent state forest conservation code.

“This bill will transform our county from the ‘Clear-Cutting Capital of Maryland’ to a leader in forest conservation,” said Pittman. “We believe we’ve found the formula that will become a model for other counties and potentially for future state legislation.”

Pittman noted that his staff has been working on this legislation for months and that they have briefed all seven councilmembers on the draft bill. Pittman intends to introduce the legislation at the next County Council meeting, on Sept. 3. This would likely result in a public hearing for the bill on Oct. 7.