A Severn River group wants developer fees, now targeted to replanting trees along Anne Arundel's 420 miles of shoreline, used to protect mature forests.
More than $560,000 has accumulated in the CriticalArea Reforestation Fund since the county adopted regulations in 1988limiting development within a 1,000-foot-wide buffer along the shore.
But, so far, no trees have been planted.
Meanwhile, mature forests continue to be cleared, said Stuart Morris, president of the Severn River Association, which represents about 90 neighborhood groups.Wildlife habitats, rare plants and environmental buffers continue tobe destroyed.
Morris said his group will ask County Executive Robert Neall to alter county policy and spend the money on purchasing remaining woodlands around the Severn to protect it from future development.
Developers have an option of either planting seedlings to replace the mature trees they've bulldozed along an environmentally sensitive shore, known as a critical area, or contributing to the reforestation account. About 49,000 acres, or one-fifth of the county, fallwithin the critical areas.
Rodney Banks, a county environmental planner, said the money has piled up because the county has been unable to find any sites to plant seedlings.
The chief obstacle has been a permanent conservation easement placed on reforested sites to protect the trees, Banks said.
"The rule makes sense," Banks said. "If, in one or two years, that property comes in for development, thenwe haven't accomplished anything. We've thrown our money away."
On the other hand, the rule makes opening land up to reforesting "unattractive" to many property owners, Banks said.
The county is negotiating with neighborhood associations along the Magothy River and in South County to replant in common areas, Banks said. It has hired a consultant to find other reforesting sites as well, he said.
"It's not like the county isn't trying," Banks said. "We want to plant trees."
After initial inquiries to the state Critical Areas Commission, Morris said he knows of no reason why the county cannot use the money to preserve forests rather than replanting. He said the stalled real estate market provides ideal conditions to buy land.
However, county and state officials told a reporter yesterday that Anne Arundelregulations limit use of the developer fees to replanting within thecritical areas.
"If the Severn River Association wants to suggestan amendment to allow that, we'd certainly take a look at it, particularly if there is a shortage of reforestation sites," said Anne Hairston, a natural resources planner with the Critical Areas Commission.
Morris asked for an official ruling in a March 20 letter.
"We urge a ruling by the Critical Areas Commission to enable Anne ArundelCounty to devote the $560,000 exclusively for the protection of exceptional riparian woodlands which would otherwisebe lost forever," he wrote. "Such areas should be retained as ecological sanctuaries. Theyshould not be used for recreation or be subject to commercial forestry practices."
Members of Morris' group have been vocal critics ofthe county's 1990 reforestation law and the state reforestation billbacked by Sens. Gerald W. Winegrad, D-Annapolis, and John Cade, R-Severna Park. The state bill has passed the Senate and is pending in the House.
Both measures would set "no net loss" of trees as their goal. But several Severn River Association members have said that policy, which allows a trade-off of mature trees for seedlings, legitimizes the destruction of forests.