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I’ve studied the 26 page Forest Conservation Bill (CB-62) as if I my life depends on it.  Because actually, ALL of our lives depend on the numerous functions of trees– creating oxygen, sequestering carbon, providing habitat to woodland animals, stabilizing steep slopes, intercepting rainfall to decrease run-off to name a few.  The research is conclusive that conserving existing forests (and planting more) is our key defense for combating climate change.

Certain facts stand out as truly critical, as the ones I most hope our Council Members will think about during their vote on the bill and its 12 proposed amendments on Monday 12/2/19. https://apps.howardcountymd.gov/olis/PrintSummary.aspx?LegislationID=12378 has all the amendments.

All trees are not created equal in terms of the benefits they deliver. While reforestation efforts are worthwhile, they can’t compare with the retention of mature trees. Nowhere is this more critical than in our densely populated east.

The statistics are astounding. One mature 100’ tree produces the oxygen of 1000 little trees. (Nowak, David J.; Hoehn, Robert; Crane, Daniel E. Oxygen Production by Urban Trees in the United States. Arboriculture & Urban Forestry 2007.33(3):220–226.)  Yet two 3″ caliper trees are all developers have been required to plant to replace specimen trees 30 inches or more in diameter. [The 44,000 native trees replanted through the County Executive’s laudable program this year will eventually produce benefits down the road and we sincerely applaud the effort. But it is none the less frightening to think that these 44,000 trees, should every one survive, would replace only 44 specimen trees, trees which DPZ allowed to be removed –rather than requiring an adjustment in a site plan.

CB-62 is designed to bring Howard County in compliance with state forest conservation regulations. It is Maryland’s laudable goal to have NO net loss of forests.  During the decades in which HoCo’s been out of compliance, we gained the reputation as being number one in forest loss as a percentage of our land area.  (In our lust for development we often forget we are the second smallest jurisdiction in the state.)

We must take tree replacement seriously. We ‘lost a lot of ground’ (trees) during these decades of non-compliance, so we shouldn’t hesitate to go beyond the minimum state requirements now to ‘make up ground’. Several proposed amendments could do just that. Examples: Amendment 12 (Jung and Walsh) requires only nursery stock plants be planted in forest mitigation banks (no whips or seedlings). This requires more maintenance, but assures a greater survival rate.

Amendment 4 (Jung and Walsh) increases the threshold percentages for most land use categories; Amendment 5 (Jung and Walsh) increases reforestation calculation ratios;

Amendment 7 (Walsh) removes the one acre minimum requirements for residential sites (Something particularly important to her constituents in the east given the smaller parcels and dense development. One would hope that Council members for Districts 2 and 3 would get behind this for the well-being of their constituents as well.)  I’d personally have loved to see an amendment which would remove in the next sentence in the same section, 16.1209.B.2, that Infill subdivisions of 10 lots or less are exempt from this requirement.)

Amendment 11 (Jung and Walsh) removes the Planning Board from the variance process in favor of the joint decision of DPZ, DPW, and OCS.

While others take us in the wrong direction….Amendment 6 (Yungman) decreases the reforestation calculation ratios

Amendment 10 (Yungman) is most concerning because it seeks to give all power back solely to the DPZ when deciding on variances, rather than a unanimous decision from DPZ, DPW, and the Office of Community Sustainability. His adding “Removal of a specimen tree in dead or dying condition does not require a variance” would be more acceptable if ‘as certified by a licensed arborist’ was added after the word condition.

The eastern part of the County suffers a lack of tree equity as a result of the failed experiment called Smart Growth.  In the east we’re losing the trees which support both our physical and mental health to westward migration. I appreciate the Council Chair’s recognition that trees are removed here and then reforested in the west. CB-62 incentivizes reforesting in the same watershed.  I sincerely hope Ms. Mercer-Rigby will see to it that the soon-to-be released Route 1 Master Plan will embrace this philosophy as well as the need to PLAN for more dedicated forested open space.

Attending and watching the work session on CB-62 brought several thoughts to mind.  The concern for property rights were repeatedly brought up (relative to the increased requirements of CB-62 reducing the amount of one’s available buildable land.) Mr. Yungmann referenced people with acreage in the west who hold the expectation of selling their land for development to finance their retirement or the education of their children.  (How come there are homeowners in other parts of the county with just an acre or so who hold the same or similar expectation—that they’ll sell for a small infill development, even if it means tearing down their existing home?)

It’s puzzling why there is this somewhat unique expectation in Howard County. In most places a person purchases a home with the expectation that over time that home will appreciate in value and they will eventually sell it to someone else seeking a home. Could it be that the Real Estate Community plants this expectation just as they did the faulty expectation that one’s children would always attend their neighborhood school in Howard County? Or is it simply the false mantra among the development community that “property rights” equals getting the maximum number of units allowed by a particular zone?  Clearly once the Forest Conservation Bill is passed and the accompanying Forest Conservation Manual is completed, there will still need to be changes in policy and practice to assure development plans are held to the new standards, standards which exemplify that quality of life and life itself depends on it. We can no longer afford to negotiate away common sense for maximum financial return to developers.  I hope the development community will see that even when they feel pinched by increased regulations, those regulations could still be much more restrictive.

Just imagine….if we required the planting of 1000 trees for each specimen tree removed (based on scientific research equivalency) rather than just two 3” diameter trees…. Surely that would make developers think twice—(or 10 times) before insisting the only possible layout for his subdivision requires removal of specimen trees.

Get a letter in to the Council letting them know you support strengthening rather than weakening amendments to CB-62 (councilmail@howardcountymd.gov), pay attention to the votes on Monday night, and meet me on the high road,

Susan