Over the past few decades, 40 percent of Maryland's forestland has vanished. If the current rate of tree-cutting continues, the state will lose roughly one-eighth of its forests by the year 2020. The result would seriously damage the environment. Trees help control erosion and serve as a kind of sponge to soak up pollutants before they reach the water table. Trees also act as a buffer to protect water quality in lakes and bays -- and that's especially important for Chesapeake Bay cleanup.
Last year an effort to enact a reforestation bill ended badly in the House of Delegates during the closing minutes of the legislative session. This year, in an attempt to avoid a repetition of that failure, the Schaefer administration has orchestrated a compromise, the result of year-long negotiations involving the governor's staff, Senate leaders, environmental advocates and developers. The result was unveiled this week.
The bill would limit the number of trees developers could cut and would in most instances require them to replant a half-acre of trees for each acre felled. But the requirements would vary, and there are provisions for alternatives in cases where replanting is impractical.
The plan will surely face some obstacles -- House leaders, for example, declined to participate in the negotiations. And the plan may well need minor adjustments. But the framework of this proposal is sound, and the need for it is clear.