Tree program denies rights, farmers say Refusals to comply spurs board's review

June 03, 1996|By Donna R. Engle | Donna R. Engle,SUN STAFF

Lynn R. Pipher and other Carroll farmers say the county's forest conservation program not only infringes on their rights to harvest timber but is unconstitutional.

Pipher, a Woodbine farmer, cannot get a county permit to cut timber unless he agrees -- by signing a "declaration of intent" -- not to subdivide his land for seven years.

"I am extremely reluctant to sign away any of my rights as TC property owner without recompense," Pipher told a county environmental board at a public hearing last week.

The Environmental Affairs Advisory Board is reviewing the forest conservation ordinance to see whether changes are warranted. The aim of the ordinance, adopted in late 1992, is to preserve the county's forests and to replace trees destroyed by development.

Until recently, the state Department of Natural Resources required counties to incorporate the declaration of intent into their forest conservation ordinances.

In lieu of the declaration, the state now allows counties to accept a forest stewardship plan from property owners. The plan, prepared by a registered forester, is a blueprint for long-term management. Selective timbering is allowed.

Ginger Howell, Forest Service assistant director, said a property owner who adopts a management plan shows "an intent to keep the land in forest."

The Carroll board is considering the alternative measure and is scheduled to discuss proposed changes at its June 26 meeting.

"The declaration of intent takes away our property rights," said Flo Breitenother, another Woodbine farmer. "If we want to cut down some trees and make some money, we can't."

Local sawmill operators said the concerns of Pipher and Breitenother are typical of farmers and older owners of wooded property. Farmers won't sign the declaration because they fear it forces them to use farmland rather than woods to create lots for their children, they said.

"They say, 'Just let the trees stand there and rot down,' " said Ralph Hoff, a partner in Hoff Brothers Lumber in Sykesville.

Greg Becker, chairman of the Sierra Club Catoctin Group who owns wooded acreage near Silver Run, defended the declaration, explaining the pledge means only, "I can do what I want with my land as long as I say it's not my intent to develop it."

Neil Ridgely, former program manager of the county's forest conservation ordinance, said the provision was included to prevent landowners from circumventing the program. Without the regulation, landowners could harvest wooded acreage and then subdivide without facing fines or replacing trees. He urged the board to leave the ordinance intact.

James E. Slater, county environmental services administrator, sees benefits to the forest stewardship plan. One of the drawbacks of the declaration, he said, is that it "does not discriminate by the health of the trees."

He said there would be no financial disincentive for a property owner who submits a management plan and then decides to subdivide. Under the plan, an owner who agrees to keep the property in forest also receives a property tax break, he said.

Pub Date: 6/03/96

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