County Planner Says Agriculture Still A Viable Business

Changing Of Wetlands Laws Confuses Farmers

January 27, 1991|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Staff writer

WESTMINSTER — Some of Gilbert Breeding's farmland in Detour along the Monocacy River is considered wetlands, a fact that frustrates him.

The land isnow regulated by both the state and federal government, and, he said, "they keep changing the rules."

New laws about wetlands are still being sorted out, confusing many farmers and other land owners in the process.

John H. Sanders, aconservationist in the Soil Conservation Office in Westminster, saidlandowners with questions about whether they can plant crops or build on wetlands should contact his office.

Sanders spoke Thursday atthe annual Mid-Winter Meetings sponsored by the Cooperative Extension Service at the Agriculture Center.

A wetland is an area saturated or flooded by surface or ground water for a length of time sufficient to support vegetation that typically grows in wet soils. Wetlandsprovide a habitat for wildlife, help in flood control and filter outpollutants before they reach the Chesapeake Bay.

About 13,000 acres of soil in Carroll County, or about 5 percent of the land, are considered wetlands, Sanders said.

Few of these acres are cropland. Most are found in pastures, meadows and woodland areas adjacent to streams or drainage depressions, he said.

Landowners who violate government regulations could face varying fines and jail sentences, as well as the loss of U.S. Department of Agriculture subsidies, he said.

"There are a lot of ramifications to these wetland laws and programs," Sanders said.

The Maryland Non-Tidal Wetland Protection Act, which took effect Jan. 1, requires landowners who want to make certain changes to property that has been labeled a wetland to get permission from the state. However, farmers on wetlands may continue to farm them.

If farmers want to develop property that has been labeled a wetland, they must get a state permit. And they might also have to create new wetlands to replace those that are lost, state law says. Thecost to create new wetlands ranges from $10,000 to $110,000 per acre.

State regulations are similar to federal laws, Sanders said.

A wetland is exempt from the law if it was drained completely before Dec. 23, 1985, and wetland conditions have not returned, he said.

Woodbine farmer Robert Shoemaker doesn't have any wetlands on his property, but said the regulations are too stringent.

"The federal government is getting too much involved," Shoemaker said. "It's nice totake care of nature, but what's the cost of enforcing all these regulations?"

Even though Maryland recently enacted legislation, federal laws regarding wetlands are not new, Sanders said. The first law was passed in 1948 and amended in 1972, he said.

Breeding joked that the government must want to preserve wetlands because there aren't enough mosquitoes.

Conservation office: 848-8200.

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