County preserves trees to guard bay


May 13, 2007|By Adele Evans | Adele Evans,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Anne Arundel County forester Douglas Musser found himself practicing what he preached when it came to making up for lost forest on his own land.

Musser knew he couldn't possibly replant the forest he had cleared to build his home ("the kids have to play somewhere"), so he sought out a "forest bank" and bought shares of replacement trees there.

Now, Musser's children have open space to play in, without any net loss of trees for the county.

Of all Maryland counties, Anne Arundel is where the environmental buck probably makes the most stops. "We're the last stand before the Chesapeake Bay," said Pam Jordan, county forests spokeswoman. "We have more shoreline in the bay critical area than any other county in Maryland. Somebody could be building all the way up in central Pennsylvania, and the water pollution and runoff often wind up here."

Because of complex groundwater flow patterns, someone polluting or cutting too many trees at one time in Delaware could wind up tainting waters near Annapolis. That puts even more pressure on the county to maintain and enhance its forests and control water quality.

According to the Grantsville-based Maryland Forests Association, forests covered 95 percent of Maryland in Colonial times.

Today, only 42 percent of Maryland remains forested - and trees are often coming down faster than they're being planted. The percentage varies by county, and it seems most counties are beginning a race to grow more trees.

Marian Honeczy, state forests spokesman, agrees that more forest should be preserved but added that right now there is no set ideal percentage, such as half forest, half development. That answer should come from the state this year when state and local forestry officials meet and try to settle upon a percentage.

In the meantime, recent statistics from the state Department of Natural Resources say Maryland is still losing an estimated 10,000 acres of forest per year to development.

Well aware of the statistics, and what they can mean to the bay, Anne Arundel County is turning things around with stringent replanting requirements, as well as its "greenways" preservation plan, which creates contiguous forests within the county.

Although residential development has been booming for years, particularly in the north, Jordan says Anne Arundel maintains one of the highest percentages of forest coverage in the state - with about half of its lands covered in trees. Forestry officials, including Musser, say the 50 percent mark is fair and realistic.

"There's actually more forest [in Anne Arundel] today than 50 years ago," Jordan said. "We had so much [unforested] agricultural land in the northern county then; now there's actually more forest there."

One major problem in forest conservation is that too many existing forests have been cut up and sold off in small, privately owned lots.

This parceling leads to haphazard forest maintenance because many residents don't care properly for their individual forests. That leads to sicker trees, more weeds, older trees that should be cut but aren't, invasive plants that choke out the native trees and more destructive insects (because more sunlight can get into smaller patches of forest and help the pests thrive).

This all results in patchwork forests that aren't as efficient in water filtration, oxygen production or wildlife support.

To create more contiguous forest, Anne Arundel County has spearheaded a "greenways" master plan, where contiguous blocks of land are set aside for forest growth.

Greenways are designated open space, ideally positioned along environmentally critical parts of the county, such as around streambeds, flood plains and other areas where trees are sorely needed to dilute and draw out pollutants before they reach the bay.

Greenways, amounting to 71,700 acres, now cover 27 percent of the county's total acreage and make up about half of all county forest lands.

Levels of protection

Most other regulations regarding replanting to make up for cleared forest are contained in two basic sets of requirements: the county's critical area regulations and the 1991 state Forest Conservation Act.

Designated "critical areas" lie within 1,000 feet of tidal wetlands and waterways. If forest is cleared in a critical area, there are strict replanting rules, Musser said.

"The roots stabilize the asphalt runoff. If it's just asphalt to bay water, you get no filtration of pollutants," Jordan said.

Critical areas regulations, in existence for almost 20 years, have resulted in permanent preservation of more than 972 acres of forested or reforested land.

Within critical areas, developers, builders and landowners are required to reforest, based upon the percentage of the on-site wooded area that is to be removed.

State action

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