State and county officials say they will try to buy an easement along the Jabez Branch to help protect brook trout living in the environmentally sensitive stream.
The decision followed an hourlong meeting Friday between the officials and the owner of Holladay Park, a 141-acre tract that abuts the Jabez. South Shore Development Co., a family business that owns the tract, wants to build a housing development on the land.
In question is which part of Holladay Park will be sold. Officials want to define the area they consider most crucial to protecting the fish. Tom Baldwin, a principal in South Shore, said his engineers also will prepare plans.
Serious negotiations will start after those decisions are made. County officials said they would like to have the deal worked out in two months.
Some easements are for a defined number of years, but the one along the Jabez would last "forever," said Michael J. Nelson, deputy assistant secretary for public lands and forestry.
The state Department of Natural Resources and the county have agreed to pool their funds for the purchase. Officials would not say how much they want to spend, but the county has set aside $200,000. The state may have up to $1 million available.
Development is prohibited on land with a conservation easement. The land could be held by the state, the county, a land trust such as the Severn River Land Trust or a community association, said Mr. Nelson, who attended Friday's meeting.
Trout need cold and relatively clean water to survive. Summer runoff from highways and other paved surfaces such as parking lots is hot enough to kill the fish.
The Jabez, which meanders through a wooded ravine, has become a rallying point for conservationists. It was the last stream in the Maryland coastal plain in which brook trout reproduced naturally. It was also the state's southernmost wild brook trout stream until runoff from highway and other construction killed the fish in the late 1980s.
Since then, the DNR has moved more than 300 wild trout into the Jabez. A December survey showed 18 survivors.