The county has dipped into a developer fund for the first time, using $21,000 to plant replacement trees along Anne Arundel's ecologically fragile shore.
The county created the Critical Areas Reforestation Fund in 1988 when it limited development within 1,000 feet of AnneArundel's 420-mile-long coast. It gave developers the option of either planting seedlings to replace the mature trees they had bulldozed within the critical areas or contributing to the reforestation account.
About 49,000 acres, or one-fifth of the county, fall within the critical areas.
The Cape St. Claire Community Association, which offered an acre of its property for reforestation, loves the idea. However, the program's critics continue to argue that reforestation only encourages clear-cutting of mature forests.
Gretel Derby, president of the Cape St. Claire group, said she and her neighbors learned through the newspapers last spring that the county was having difficulty finding landowners willing to allow trees to be planted on their property. In exchange for allowing the county to plant trees, property owners agree not to develop the land.
"I said, 'Wait a minute, nobody has ever asked us.' I knew we had at least one site," Derby said.
Last month, the county planted an acre of shade trees, evergreensand shrubbery on a field previously used for parking at the waterfront community's adjacent clubhouse. The trees cost $21,000, including two years of maintenance.
In three years, the county has collected$975,739, Crow said. Although the county has struggled to find sites, developers have spent an additional $636,795 replanting in areas they've cleared, she said.
"I hope it's an example to other communities, because there is no question it's an enhancement environmentally," Derby said of the program.
Not everyone is convinced, however. Environmentalists within the Severn River Association, which represents over 100 neighborhoods, have long been critical of reforestation, which they said substitutes small seedlings for mature, natural forests. As the county struggled to find planting sites and the reforestation fund grew larger, they pressed the county for a new law that would preserve the big trees.
Severn River Association president ColbyRucker said reforestation wastes money. "It's a political solution to ecological tragedy. It's a gimmick so we can accept the loss and destruction of our forests. Forests would spring up in those areas anyway if they would just stop mowing them."
The Chesapeake Bay Critical Areas Commission is reviewing a law passed in September that allows the county to spend Reforestation Fund money to purchase and preserve forests within the critical areas. Building trade groups oppose the new law, saying it will use developers' money to take away land they could develop, hitting the recession-battered industry twice.
Anne Hairston, a natural resources planner with the Critical Areas Commission, said the county law is under review. A Nov. 14 hearing scheduled before the commission at Annapolis High has been postponed, she said. A new date has not been set.
The Critical Areas Commission may reject any part of the county plan that doesn't meet state law.