Balto. Co. to assess forests' health, value

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. announced yesterday plans to take inventory of the county's forests using internationally established guidelines known as the Montreal Process.

Calling it part of a "green renaissance," Smith said that over the next few months his staff will announce other initiatives to protect agricultural land, open space and water supplies.

"It complements what we're already doing in our neighborhoods," Smith said. "People want to live near these natural amenities. They want running trails and bike paths. ... It has economic benefits."

At the county's planning board meeting yesterday, Smith and staff members from the county Department of Environmental Protection and Resource Management described the Montreal Process, a way of measuring the health of forests and their value to the economy.

The evaluation, which looks at seven major categories, including conservation of soil and water resources, grew out of an international environmental summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992, said Jeff Horan, chief of forest resource planning and analysis at the state Department of Natural Resources.

"If you have the right data, you can come up with incentives and programs to keep our land in forests," Horan said.

Baltimore County has about 131,000 acres of forests - about 75 percent of which is privately owned. But with more than 9,000 forest "patches," with an average size of 14.58 acres, the county will need a strategy for joining the wooded areas, county officials said.

Along with rural areas in Michigan and Oregon, Baltimore County was selected as a pilot for the U.S. Forest Service's Linking Communities to the Montreal Process Criteria and Indicators project.

As a part of the project, the county will review its regulations; incentives for preserving forests; threats from diseases, animals and development; and ways of joining the smaller forest parcels, county officials said. The state's Department of Natural Resources, various environmental and conservancy groups and residents will be involved in the assessment, said David Carroll, director of the county's environment department.

"It's not just rural areas we're talking about," Carroll said, adding that neighborhood parks and streams that run through urban areas will be included in the evaluation. "It's a comprehensive approach."

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