Chesapeake Conservancy Applauds Passage of Legislation to Strengthen Forest Conservation Regulations in Maryland

Annapolis, MD – On Monday, the Maryland General Assembly passed SB 526 / HB 723 to update and strengthen state law related to forest preservation and retention.

The legislation would modify Maryland’s current goals concerning forest preservation from “no net loss” of forest across the state to “net gain” of forest land. Separately, the bill would create a “net gain” of tree canopy as a state goal.

The legislation amends the Forest Conservation Act, Maryland’s statewide forest conservation law, to protect priority forests and reduce fragmentation of forests. The bill also provides local jurisdictions the flexibility to propose alternative forest conservation measures that would achieve “no net loss” of forest within a given jurisdiction.

Following several years of discussion and legislative proposals to strengthen statewide forest conservation laws in Maryland, the General Assembly enacted legislation in 2019 (HB 735 / SB 729) and in 2021(HB 991, Tree Solutions Now Act of 2021) to direct and fund the Harry Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology at the University of Maryland to conduct a statewide assessment of forest cover and tree canopy changes in Maryland.

In November 2022, the Harry Hughes Center published the Technical Study on Changes in Forest Cover and Tree Canopy in Maryland. The study employed high-resolution data to assess forest and tree canopy change across the state and among local jurisdictions. Chesapeake Conservancy served as the lead author of the report and co-led the geospatial analysis provided in the report along with the University of Vermont.

The most comprehensive study of forest cover and tree canopy in Maryland ever completed, the Harry Hughes study finds that Maryland is approaching no net forest loss, but several counties exhibit significant rates of forest loss due to land use change and development. The study also revealed the impact of development on forest fragmentation and in turn, the spread of invasive species.

The Chesapeake Bay Commission and a diverse group of stakeholders incorporated research and results from the study in order to draft SB 526 and HB 723.

Chesapeake Conservancy President and CEO Joel Dunn applauded the passage of SB 526 and HB 723, stating,

“I applaud the great work of the Maryland General Assembly to protect Maryland’s forests and put the state on a path for net forest land gain and net tree canopy gain. This legislation is the culmination of many years of hard work and effort, by many partners, to update and improve Maryland’s forest preservation and retention laws.

“Information is power, and this legislation demonstrates the powerful results when public policy follows science and data. Thank you to Senator Sarah Elfreth, Delegate Sara Love, the Chesapeake Bay Commission, and everyone who worked to advance and pass this bill and protect Maryland’s trees and forests.”