A city task force recommends phasing out almost all logging of the forestland surrounding the city's reservoirs in Baltimore and Carroll counties to protect the region's water supply and to save a little wilderness in rapidly developing suburbia.
Weighing in on a feud that has been simmering for nearly three years, the task force says the 17,580 acres of mostly wooded land around Loch Raven, Liberty and Prettyboy reservoirs should be disturbed as little as possible.
The task force also wants the city to more closely regulate recreational activities, such as boating and picnicking, which may threaten the water quality of the lakes.
The 10-member group of environmentalists, city officials and business representatives made their recommendations after nine months of study and submitted them to City Hall in April. City officials have yet to release the report, saying they stillare studying it. A copy was obtained by The Sun.
George Balog, the city's public works director, said yesterday that 'we pretty much concur" with the report's recommendations. But he said he was studying those proposals that would deprive the cash-strapped city of money, such as the logging ban.
The city had earned about $274,000 a year from reservoir timber sales until 2 1/2 years ago, when a furor over tree-cutting at Loch Raven prompted the Schmoke administration to temporarily halt the practice and set up the task force.
Baltimore bought the land from the 1880s through the 1960s while developing the three reservoirs, which today supply drinking water to 1.6 million area residents.
The forested lands were intended as a buffer to protect the water quality of the man-made lakes from pollution caused by farming and development.
But for at least the last 20 years, the city has permitted logging, and in fact cut some of the timber itself for use in construction projects.
This year, Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. has felled about 10,000 trees near Loch Raven to string new electric transmission lines ,, across the reservoir land. That has been permitted under a long-standing agreement with the city that is not addressed in the report.
Logging has become increasingly controversial in recent years, as development encroached on the reservoirs and more people used the woods for hiking, jogging, and nature appreciation. The Loch Raven tree cut nearly three years ago caused erosion on a steep hillside, dumping sediment in the lake and destroying some rare woodland wildflowers.
The report urges the city to continue its ban on timber sales, and it calls for a virtual halt to all logging within five years. About the only exception would be to cut dead or dying trees beside heavily used trails.
The task force favored a gradual halt to logging to allow the city a few more years' use of the lumber mill it owns, said Cathy Olson, the group's chair and a Sierra Club member.
That recommendation displeases ardent environmentalists, who want an immediate and total ban on tree-cutting around the reservoirs, and the timber industry, which opposes any restrictions.
"To phase it out over the next five years, depending on the rate at which they cut, could mean there's nothing left out there anyway," said Michael DeFilippi, who lives on Manor Road near Loch Raven.
Susan Reinhart, executive director of the Maryland Forests Association, said the logging ban would have "negligible" impact on the state's wood-products industry, since most timber comes from private lands. But she said the industry would oppose a ban on principle, arguing that tree cutting has not hurt the region's water supply.
The report says recreational activities pose a threat to the forests' "bio-diversity," or variety of plants and wildlife. It says the city should permit a growing new sport, mountain bike riding, to continue on the roads but only on a trial basis.