Ehrlich lifts ban on buying land for preservation

Governor says new rules ensure limited funds will help most critical areas

December 18, 2003|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. ended a two-month moratorium on land purchases yesterday, releasing a new set of rules that he says will ensure state dollars better protect the Chesapeake Bay.

"It is based on science, and we are about empowering scientists," Ehrlich said during yesterday's meeting of the Board of Public Works, which approves most major land preservation purchases.

"Although there's a limited amount of money, the restoration of the bay, and its tributaries, is an essential function of this government," he said.

The 32-page policy directive aims to "identify the most critical areas for conservation," using the "best available mapping, data and geographic information systems" and insisting that the state's existing programs and agencies better coordinate their land-buying efforts.

"There were so many different programs, no one had a full grasp of what was going on," said Wes R. Johnson, Department of Natural Resources assistant secretary for land and water conservation. "The little two-month hiatus created by the Board of Public Works gave us time for all of the state agencies to come together, to see if we were duplicating."

The directive doesn't limit preservation to areas along the bay and its tributaries, Johnson said. Instead, the state will rely on DNR's GreenPrint analysis to focus purchases, with properties evaluated and prioritized for their effect on such factors as ground water, forested areas, wetlands and species habitat.

Maryland has preserved almost 1.2 million acres -- about 19 percent of the state. It must purchase another 53,750 acres by 2010 to meet its obligations under multistate commitment to protect the bay.

Ehrlich's predecessor, former Gov. Parris N. Glendening, made land preservation one of his administration's top priorities, but Ehrlich has called some of the purchases haphazard, without a focus on the most sensitive land.

Early support

Environmental advocates -- who saw the proposal for the first time yesterday -- indicated support for the governor's broad policy statements, which he also outlined on the op-ed page of yesterday's Sun. They also praised his stated intention of restoring some dedicated funding to land preservation.

"The governor seems to be embracing much of what the former administration was doing on preservation and proposing to build onto those policies," said Dru Schmidt-Perkins, executive director of 1000 Friends of Maryland

Theresa Pierno, vice president for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, backed the outline of the governor's plan but said she wanted to see more details of its effect on future land purchases.

"I would hope as they develop this program, that they will approach the environmental community and local land trusts and ask us to get involved," Pierno said.

`A bigger bang'

Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp -- who together with Ehrlich form the Board of Public Works -- indicated they support the governor's new land-preservation agenda.

Kopp said she was impressed with the new guidelines, adding that they will "help us get a bigger bang for the buck."

Sun staff writers Michael Dresser and Rona Kobell contributed to this article.

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