Amendments Proposed For Frederick County Forest Resource Ordinance

They’re designed to strengthen that law that preserves local forest land.

Frederick, Md (KM) Some changes are being proposed to Frederick County’s forest resource ordinance. During her public information briefing on Thursday, County Executive Jan Gardner says she’s sponsoring an amendment which would restore stronger requirements when it comes to cutting down trees to make way for development. “This legislation would require that every acre of forest cleared, an acre of forest has to be planted in its place. It’s a one-to-one replacement ratio,” she said. “Trees can be planted within the new development, or there are options for mitigating the plantings off site, or in using a fee in lieu.”

There’s also an amendment which would increase the number of acres that need to be preserved if developers choose to mitigate their forest resource obligation by planting trees at a site away from their projects. “Currently, the mitigation ratio requires a developer preserve two acres of existing forest for every acre of forest mitigation owned, or for every acre cleared,” Gardner said. “But my proposal restores the original mitigation ratio of two-and-a-half acres for every acre owned.”

Other changes would limit how afforestation requirements–planting trees where none were available before—could be met through credits, and create a uniform threshold for planting a new forest, or afforestation when a development is built.

Gardner says she proposed these changes after hearing from residents who are worried about the loss of forest in the county. “Over the past few months, I heard from a number of citizens who were concerned about the mass grading and tree removal around Oakdale High School. And so people asked me what is the county doing to protect our forests.”

She said the county’s GIS staff and employees of the Office of Sustainability examined the loss of forest land over the past few years. “Their calculations show that Frederick County lost 4,000 acres of forest cover in just four yeas, between 2001 and 2005. And that really is a wow,  losing 4,000 acres of forest in four years,” says Gardner.

She says these amendments will help reduce the loss of forest land in the future. “It will likely  be several years before we actually start to see any affect from the changes I’m proposing in this bill. But they are important changes to insure a bright future for Frederick County,” Gardner says.

In her briefing, she also pointed out these changes will not negatively affect local agriculture. “Active farming  and timber harvesting are exempt from the FRO {forest resource ordinance}. Clearing land for pasture or for crops is exempt, and always has been. The law does compete with active agriculture,” Gardner says. “Also exempt are transfers of land from property owner to their children, as long as they clear less than 20,000 square feet of forest to build a new home.”

In addition, projects which have moved along in the development process are also exempt. “Any changes to the forest resource ordinance would only apply to new development in the future,” says Gardner. “It’s not likely to apply to any developments that have already started, that already have approved forest resource ordinance plans, or that have a developer’s rights and responsibility agreement, and we have 14 of those in the county.”

Before introducing these amendments to the County Council, Gardner says she will do outreach in order to get public input on these measures.


By Kevin McManus