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Strict tree preservation law approved


Harford County's tree-preservation law, which requires developers to retain trees and replant those they cut, has been approved by the state Department of Natural Resources.

The county's law, among the most stringent of its kind in Maryland, is regarded by proponents as one of Harford's most important growth management tools. But it has been criticized by builders as being burdensome and expensive.

State approval of the Harford law will remove some confusion about various provisions, said Harford County Council member Theresa M. Pierno, D-District C, the bill's primary sponsor.

"The goal is to retain as much forest land as possible," Mrs. Pierno said. "I think it's the most significant piece of environmental legislation the county has seen as far as growth [is concerned]," she said.

A 1991 state law requires Maryland jurisdictions, with the exception of Allegany and Garrett counties, to adopt tree-preservation laws by the end of the year. The two exempt counties have less development pressure and huge tracts of forestland.

While the state law sets minimum standards for replanting of trees cut on development sites and promotes retention of trees, some counties, including Harford and Prince George's, have exceeded the state standards.

Harford's program requires retention of up to 30 percent of trees on development sites and requires varying amounts of replanting, depending on the extent of cutting. The law also requires developers to plant trees where there are none.

The county's program, which is still a matter of debate among local developers and government officials trying to implement it, is serving as a proving ground for other local tree-preservation programs in Maryland, said Jeffrey L. Horan, coordinator of the Chesapeake Bay programs for DNR's forestry division.

State approval "says we're on the right track," said Andy Meyer, environmental programs coordinator for the Harford Department DTC of Planning and Zoning. "This adds a lot more certainty," he said.

Despite the state approval, Harford developers are lobbying for several changes in the local law that would give it more flexibility. One such proposal would allow developers to "bank" trees -- save more than required on one site if they are permitted to cut more than the allowed number on another.

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