Neighbors outraged by tree-clearing New rules considered after Butler incident

November 16, 1997|By MELODY SIMMONS | MELODY SIMMONS,SUN STAFF

In rural Butler, where autumn has washed the landscape in gold, a landowner's decision to clear-cut 31 acres earmarked for conservation has infuriated neighbors -- and led state environmentalists to rewrite the rules for preserving scenic properties.

In recent months, John C. G. Boyce Jr. hired loggers to remove hundreds of oak, hickory and pine trees that covered most of his remote Baltimore County lot, which was barred from development three years ago under an agreement with the Maryland Environmental Trust (MET).

Now, a dispute has broken out -- not over the cutting's legality, but mainly over aesthetics.

The logging, which left the ground scarred and bare, has sparked criticism among Boyce's neighbors. One called it "a hole in the landscape" and said that it could lead to erosion. It also shocked some MET officials, who responded recently by voting to offer landowners revised agreements that would restrict logging on Baltimore County properties.

Boyce and the Glatfelter Pulp Wood Co. foresters hired to clear the land defend the cutting as proper land management, part of a 14-year plan for the tract off Black Rock Road. They say they don't believe erosion will be a problem.

"Twenty-five years ago, when I bought this place, I found Glatfelter," Boyce said. "I made a judgment they were the best I could do [to manage the land]. They showed me the reasons it should be done. I think a lot of these people who jump up and down know nothing about woodland management."

The trust, a state agency, offers state and federal tax deductions to landowners in return for conservation easements -- agreements that the land will not be developed. MET has established more than 400 easements on 60,000 acres of Maryland land, including 124 in Baltimore County protecting 8,165 acres.

Easements protect the land from development but allow owners to use the land for agriculture, including harvesting timber.

Clear-cutting on land preserved under such easements is not as controversial on the Eastern Shore, where many landowners also make a living by logging, MET officials say. But, in Baltimore County, the officials say, most land is preserved for its environmental and aesthetic value and to freeze out development.

"It's called a conservation easement, to conserve values that are present on the land as it is," said MET board member Ajax Eastman. "Having said that, I realize an owner should be able to do with his land what he wants. But there are ways to cut timber."

Boyce, a senior vice president for investments at Smith Barney Inc., says he logged the property in part to pay for a child to attend Ohio State University. He declined to say how much money he received for his trees from the Glatfelter, of Spring Grove, Pa., which cleared the land.

The loggers referred to Boyce's trees -- sold to make furniture, veneer and paper products -- as a crop to be harvested.

Glatfelter loggers thinned the Boyce parcel in 1984, leaving oaks and other hardwood trees to mature for this year's clear-cutting, said Charles Brown, a Glatfelter forester. He expects the trees to regenerate.

"There is very little to be done here now. Nature will take care of itself, and there will be very little human disturbance out here for the next 40 to 50 years," said Scott J. Kurtzman, a Glatfelter forester who helped clear Boyce's land. "This is a very legitimate method of managing land. The thing that upsets people here is aesthetics."

But looks tell only half the story, state preservationists say.

"The issue is loss of habitat and runoff during the period that the land is bare," said Constance Lieder, chairwoman of the MET.

John C. Bernstein, executive director of the trust, said, "We're not happy about it, but until you get a wake-up call like this, you realize you need easement language that nobody's thought about."

The logging angered Baltimore County Councilman T. Bryan McIntire, a Republican, whose 3rd District includes the property.

"Neighbors sent me a couple of pictures, and I looked at them and said, 'There's something wrong with this,' " McIntire said. "I want to see if there's something we can do to keep this from happening -- to avoid clear-cutting in the future. It causes erosion and is particularly a problem when it erodes into a stream that is part of a watershed."

Neighbors worry about the impact of possible erosion on a trout stream that runs near the cleared property -- and fears heightened after Boyce was cited on Sept. 22 by county foresters for illegally cutting trees close to the stream, which feeds into Piney Run and eventually into Loch Raven Reservoir and the city's water supply.

County foresters who issued Boyce permits for the clear-cutting say it was done properly, except for the area along the stream.

But neighbors aren't mollified.

"I think it's a violation of the intent of the Environmental Trust to let people scalp land that they've saved for easements," said Margie MacNeille, who for 48 years has lived on an adjacent farm known as King's Eye. "It's upsetting, a hole in the landscape."

Edward Copsey, who also lives nearby, often views Boyce's property through binoculars.

"When we saw it, I thought, 'Good heavens! What is this?' " Copsey said. "I don't like to see clear-cut in an area where 99 percent of the landowners are preserving the nature of their land. They are nurturing their land. I don't think that is nurturing it."

Pub Date: 11/16/97

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