Stripping Away the Bark

March 16, 1995

The time has come to strip the bark off the arguments to exempt Carroll County and other non-metropolitan subdivisions from Maryland's forest conservation law. To gather support for this measure, proponents are passing off a lot of nonsense as fact.

In testimony last week before the House Environmental Matters Committee, Carroll County Commissioner Donald I. Dell said the forest conservation law is driving industry from the state. Maryland may not enjoy a national reputation as a haven for business, but the state's forest conservation law is hardly the reason.

Other and more important factors such as location, taxes, cost of land, cost of labor and educational level of work force have considerably more weight in decisions on siting industrial development. The forest conservation ordinance is at the bottom of the list, if at all.

In fact, industrial developers are not objecting to the forest conservation measure. All the complaints have come from residential developers, who would prefer not to comply with the law. Instead of preserving existing tree cover or minimizing its destruction, these developers would rather scrape the land bare. That is the way they have always done it, it's easy and many of them don't want to change.

Another argument offered in support of the measure is that rural areas have plenty of trees and don't need this protection.

However, state forest statistics contradict this conventional wisdom.

In Carroll, a rural county, trees cover about 24 percent of its land. In Anne Arundel and Howard, which are more urbanized counties, woods occupy roughly 34 percent of the total acreage. In fact, Carroll's percentage of forest land is almost identical to that of Montgomery, Prince George's and Baltimore counties, three of the most heavily populated and densely developed jurisdictions in all of Maryland.

There is good reason for keeping the state law on tree cover intact.

Trees protect the environment and enhance the quality of life in Maryland in many ways -- from reducing silt runoff into Chesapeake Bay to cooling the temperature and reducing energy consumption on hot summer days. Upon close inspection, the arguments calling for the repeal of this law have a self-serving and hollow ring -- and should be ignored.

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