Volume 26, Number 1 February 15, 2018

Maryland Considering Significant Forest Conservation Act Changes

Public and private development projects in Maryland will be facing much tougher forest conservation measures if the state legislature adopts changes to the Forest Conservation Act under Senate Bill (SB) 610. This bill is currently in committee and is scheduled for a hearing the week of February 19. If SB 610 is enacted, Maryland will see a significant increase in the amount of existing forest in the state that is classified as “priority retention area”, an increased justification requirement for clearing those areas, and a notable jump in the amount of reforestation to mitigate for doing so. This could significantly slow or inhibit development throughout the state.

Highlights of the SB 610 are as follows:

This early successional forest would be considered a priority retention area under the new definition because it is part of a contiguous forest greater than 20 acres in size.

  • “Priority retention area” means an area that contains high quality forests and trees.  Under SB 610, a forest would qualify if any of these criteria are met:
    • Contiguous forest that is
      • at least 5 acres in size in a priority funding area[1] that connects the largest undeveloped or most vegetated tracts of land adjacent to the site;
      • at least 10 acres in size in a local watershed that is less than 40% forested;
      • at least 20 acres in size;
    • Forest that is identified in the MERLIN or iMap databases as a targeted ecological area[2] or forest interior dwelling bird habitat;
    • Forest located within a drinking water reservoir watershed;
    • Contains trees or shrubs identified by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or Maryland Department of Natural Resources as Rare, Threatened, or Endangered;
    • Contains trees that are part of a historic site or associated with a historic structure;
    • Contains trees designated by the department or local authority as a national, state, or local champion tree; or,
    • Forest containing specimen trees (trees having a diameter of at least 30 inches as measured at 4.5 feet above the ground).
  • “Priority retention areas” would need to be mitigated at a 1:1 replacement ratio. Currently, the replacement ratio for most forest clearing is 0.25:1.
  • “Priority retention areas” may not be cleared to accommodate the construction of temporary: (1) sediment and erosion control devices; or, (2) stormwater management devices
  • Written justification for the failure to retain or protect a priority retention area shall include statements: (1) explaining why the development cannot be altered to preserve the “Priority retention area”; (2) what alternatives were considered; and, (3) what forest conservation best management practices were considered, and why were they rejected.
  • State and local authorities may not approve a written justification based on: (1) cost alone; (2) preference to maintain a preferred site design; (3) desire to obtain maximum zoning density or intensity; or, (4) a desire to conduct mass grading or clearing of the development site.

WSSI is closely monitoring this bill and will provide status updates during the legislative process. You can contact your state legislators to voice your opinion about the proposed changes. To learn more about the bill and its potential implications for your property, please contact Mike Klebasko or Ken Wallis.

1 Maryland State Finance and Procurement Section 5-7B-02: The following areas shall be considered priority funding areas under this subtitle:
(1) a municipal corporation, including Baltimore City, except those areas annexed by a municipal corporation after January 1, 1997 shall satisfy the requirements relating to density and service by water and sewer set forth in § 5-7B-03 of this subtitle;
(2) a designated neighborhood, as defined in § 6-301 of the Housing and Community Development Article;
(3) an enterprise zone as designated under Article 83A, § 5-402 of the Code, or by the United States government;
(4) a certified heritage area as defined in §§ 13-1101 and 13-1111 of the Financial Institutions Article that is located within a locally designated growth area;
(5) those areas of the State located between Interstate Highway 495 and the District of Columbia;
(6) those areas of the State located between Interstate Highway 695 and Baltimore City; and
(7) an area designated by the governing body of a county under § 5-7B-03 of this subtitle.

2 Targeted Ecological Area (from Maryland’s GIS Data Catalog):
“Targeted Ecological Areas (TEAs) are lands and watersheds of high ecological value that have been identified as conservation priorities by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for natural resource protection. These areas represent the most ecologically valuable areas in the State: they are the ‘best of the best’. TEAs are preferred for conservation funding through Stateside Program Open Space.”

Check out past issues in the Field Notes Archive.


  • Mike Klebasko

    Millersville, MD