Barking Up the Wrong Tree

March 17, 1994

Republican state Del. Martin G. Madden deserves no Brownie points for his recent proposal to apply stricter woodland protection standards to Columbia. His proposal would have placed an unreasonable burden on the Rouse Co., Columbia's developer, as well as on the Columbia Association, which manages the town's green space.

Mr. Madden, seemingly ignoring Rouse's unprecedented efforts to protect forested areas, sought to remove Columbia's exemption from the state's Forest Conservation Act. Legislators allowed the exemption three years ago under the assumption that conservation and open space were integral components of the Columbia plan since its inception more than 25 years ago.

The legislature had it right. Mr. Madden's bill -- fortunately withdrawn last week -- would have required the Rouse Co. to set aside up to 15 percent of its forested land in any new development. Such a step would no longer allow the company to use the 37 percent of Columbia already protected as part of an average for the town's overall conservation effort. The result would have been to penalize one of the few development companies that has taken an enlightened approach to forest conservation.

Mr. Madden's bill will not be tested before the General Assembly because he pulled the measure. The fact that it was even considered shows how easy it is to misunderstand the Columbia concept even in the face of its accomplishments.

Some unspoken motives may also have been at work when this particular bill was crafted. Charlie Scott, Mr. Madden's legislative aide, helped author the measure. He lives with his parents in Wilde Lake village on property adjacent to open space where a golf course is being constructed. Mr. Scott's family opposed the project, in part because trees would be destroyed in the process. Also, because of redistricting, Mr. Madden for the first time lives in a district that includes large portions of Columbia. Should he decide to run for re-election, he would need to appeal to those residents who look favorably on open-space conservation.

Preservation of forest land is, to be sure, a necessary goal. Care should be taken, however, to avoid unfair and ill-conceived legislation just because it wears the sheen of "environmental protection."

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