Forest Conservation Act Amendments

redcircle.pngWe are disappointed that this bill did not pass. Senate Bill 610, House Bill 766


Actions Taken by Faith Leaders Supporting this Bill

  • 262 People have signed this Petition in support of Forest Conservation. (You can still add your name!)
  • The Rev. Franklin Lance of Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church and director of the Central Maryland Ecumenical Council secured this letter signed by the leaders of 6 major denominations (United Church of Christ, United Methodist Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America Maryland-Delaware Synod, Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, Archdiocese of Baltimore, and Presbytery of Baltimore-PCUSA). 
  • The Rev. Diana Caroll of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church of Eastport testified at the House hearing on February 21st in support of the Forest Conservation Act amendments.  
  • The Rev. Sue Lowcock-Harris of First Presbyterian Church of Howard County submitted this letter-to-the-editor "Thou Shall Not Steal Trees" to the Bay Weekly about the moral duty to protect forests. 
  • Dozens of Montgomery County faithful called Chairman Kumar Barve urging his support of the bill, however, he never brought the original version of the bill up for a vote. These same people even took time out of their day-jobs to conference call him in the last week of session to express their views.

What Happened with this Bill? 

  1. The House Environmental Committee never brought this bill in its original form up for a formal vote. 
  2. The Senate Education, Health & Environmental Affairs Committee (EHEA) voted favorably on the bill, but negotiations in the Senate Finance Committee deteriorated. To avoid an unfavorable vote in that committee, bill sponsors moved to amend the bill and turn it into a "Task Force" bill. This amended bill would have required legislators to put together a Task Force to discuss and negotiate potential solutions to forest canopy loses in Maryland. The Task Force bill acknowledged that forest losses are occurring and confirmed the data set from the Chesapeake Bay Program that should be used in deliberations. 
  3. The Task Force bill easily passed out of committee and was approved on the full Senate Floor on March 28th. It was allowed to cross-over, even though it missed cross-filing deadlines, due to support from Senators in the Rules Committee and one of the bill’s sponsors Delegate Anne Healey.
  4. The House Environmental Committee watered down the Task Force bill into essentially a “study” bill, failing to acknowledge that forest losses exist, failing to confirm the data that exists from the Chesapeake Bay Program, and instead stating that the issue needs to be further studied to confirm whether forest losses are taking place.
  5. The seriously weakened bill passed the House Environmental Committee on April 9th.
  6. The Senate EHEA Committee did not concur with the House's proposed version of the bill and chose not to pass the bill on April 9th.
  7. The bill died on April 9th, the last day of the legislative session. 

Thou Shall Not Steal Trees from the Next Generation

"Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, but you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture? When you drink of clear water, must you foul the rest with your feet?" Ezekiel 34:18

When was the last time you spotted a child climbing a tree?

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  • Maryland lost 14,488 acres of forest to development over the past eight years (according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources), despite a state policy that says we should be dramatically increasing our tree canopy.
  • Maryland has a “no net loss” forest policy which means the state should either not lose ANY forest, or it should replant the same amount it is losing. That isn’t happening because the definition of “forest” is too narrow in the law, so many, many forests are being destroyed during development without being replaced.
  • The Forest Conservation Act has been on the books for 24 years, but needs strengthening because the law is not meeting its intended purpose to minimize forest destruction by development. 
  • Since 2013, the faith community has planted over 13,000 trees at their churches, synagogues, and temples. However, for every 1 acre of forest planted by the faith community, Maryland lost 40 acres to development.

Society cannot keep up with this pace of forest decimation. The Forest Conservation Act amendments will help protect priority forests for future generations. The loss of tree canopy is felt by the general public and future generations, while developers profit from transforming land away from its natural state. 

The amendments will do two things: Retain existing forests and Mitigate forest loss. Here's how:

  1. Retain Existing Forests -- The amendments propose to broaden the definition of "priority forest" so that more critical forests are protected by the law. Currently, the law is limited to forests on slopes or near rivers, which is too narrow and leaves many forests at risk. The amendments also make it harder for developers to remove priority forests and require stronger justifications for forest destruction. 
  2. Mitigate Forest Loss - These amendments will increase the replacement requirements for "priority forests" from a 25% to 100%. Presently, requirements are more lenient and allow replacement of priority forests at only a 1:4 ratio, meaning for every 4 acres a developer removes, they only need to replant 1 acre. The amendments would increase this requirement to 1:1, but only for forests that meet the definition of "priority forest." Developers often pay a fee-in-lieu of replanting trees. For this reason, the amendments will disincentivize the fee-in-lieu and require counties to use that money to plant new forests. For example, Anne Arundel County has millions of unspent dollars collected from fee-in-lieu, and it's time those dollars are used to reforest for the next generation. 

For additional background information, review this Value of Trees or this Fact Sheet