Open season on trees Commissioners and legislative delegation unite to gut forest law.

February 26, 1996

CARROLL'S FOREST conservation law is performing as intended, yet county politicians feel this seemingly uncontrollable compulsion to change it. Unfortunately, the intent their amendments is not to ensure more protection of Carroll's woodlands. Their intent is much less noble. They want to remove regulations that local builders perceive as obstacles to development.

Atlee Edrington, an 82-year-old Finksburg resident, has become the point man in an effort to open a loophole so wide that developers are sure to exploit it. Mr. Edrington owns eight wooded acres that he wants to log. Under the current law, he can fell the trees and not have to replace them if he signs a declaration of intent that he won't subdivide the property within seven years of the harvest. He has obstinately refused to sign the letter, claiming it violates his property rights. As a result, the county has not granted him a permit to log his property.

Enter Commissioner Donald I. Dell, who opposed the ordinance when it was adopted in 1992 and has labored to gut it ever since. He latched on to Mr. Edrington's case, and convinced fellow commissioner Richard T. Yates to join in the crusade. They want the state's enabling legislation amended so the declaration of intent would be eliminated. From their comments, it appears that most members of Carroll's delegation to the General Assembly agree and will push for the amendment.

If controlling growth is now the county's major policy goal, protecting forests must be part of that effort. Under current rules, landowners who log their land can obtain a waiver should they want to subdivide within seven years. The only requirement is that they replant the felled trees. As it is now, property owners have to make a choice: If they log, they have to wait to subdivide. If they don't log, they can subdivide.

Under the proposed legislation, there would be no option: Cut the trees and then subdivide without penalty. How can the commissioners reconcile spending $35,000 to hire a professional planner to help them map a strategy for better land use, while they undermine a law that's helping accomplish just that. Legislators have to be incredibly naive to believe that only a few cranky individuals will take advantage of this loophole. Pass this amendment, and it will be open season on Carroll's trees.

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