Imagine yourself in a Maryland forest underneath a 100-foot tall white oak. Falling from the branches are a plethora of smooth, brown acorns, blown from a great height as the wind sweeps through the woods. Some fall into a nearby stream, while others are planted firmly in the soil — the next generation of this regal species. At 50 years old, this White Oak will produce 10,000 acorns annually. As you look around you see a dynamic community of birds and squirrels gathering the acorns for the precious nutrients they provide. Without these acorns, over 80 species of birds and mammals would go hungry. As you stand there, you imagine what it was like when Maryland’s tree canopy flowed continuously along millions of acres of land, tended respectfully by the area’s Indigenous population, but cars rolling by on a nearby interstate bring you back to the reality that all of this is so incredibly fragile.
According to the Department of Natural Resources, the state of Maryland loses an average of 11 acres of forest every single day. This is especially tragic because forests are a crucial part of our state’s ecosystem: They clean our air and water, provide wildlife habitat, and enhance community health and well-being. Forests are also critical to the health of the Chesapeake Bay, in large part because of their unmatched ability to slow down, absorb and filter stormwater. Beyond that, forests remove immense amounts of carbon from the air, which is critical in our fight against climate change. There have been a number of legislative attempts to protect these immense natural treasures including passage of the Maryland Reforestation Law in 1989 and the Forest Conservation Act in 1991. Despite these efforts, our forests continue to disappear in order to make way for highways and housing and commercial development.
Recently, the state of Maryland ran into some trouble attempting to pass Senate Bill 414, aka the Climate Solutions Now Act, which would have led to numerous environmental benefits statewide. A compromise was made, however, that led to the passage of the Tree Solutions Now Act, which requires that 5 million native trees be planted in Maryland by year’s end 2031. This is significant, but unfortunately, it falls short in addressing forest loss, among other pressing environmental concerns. At the state level, we hope that next year brings the passage of a more inclusive and expansive climate solutions bill.
The failure of the state to pass major environmental legislation requires Maryland’s counties to step up to the task. Recently, several have. In 2019, Anne Arundel County passed Bill 68-19 which added protections for riparian buffers and forests 75 acres or larger. In 2020, Frederick County passed The Forest Resource Ordinance, Bill 20-08, which states that there will be no net loss of forest. This means that for every acre of forest removed, an acre is planted. Frederick also passed Bill 20-07 which gives special protection to priority forests. Also in 2020, Howard County updated its Forest Conservation Act with a no net loss provision, as well as a requirement that residential developers put 75% of the required reforestation on-site, rather than elsewhere.
The time is now for Baltimore County to match or exceed what our neighboring counties have already accomplished. We cannot leave it to our lawmakers to do the right thing, we must demand it of them. Please write to your council person (www.baltimorecountymd.gov/countycouncil/) and to County Executive Johnny Olszewski (JohnnyO@baltimorecountymd.gov) and tell them that we want stronger laws on the books. We must ensure that the tree planting efforts of groups like Blue Water Baltimore, Gunpowder Valley Conservancy, Green Towson Alliance, Patapsco Heritage Greenway and Back River Restoration Committee will not be in vain. These laws must not only conserve our old growth native forests, but also ensure the creation of the old growth forests of the future.
This would mean continuous wildlife corridors filled with white oak and other Indigenous trees, shading crystal-clear streams, and teaming with local flora and fauna. Imagine that we truly valued the forests that we have and aimed to create new ones. What would that feel like?
Deborah “Spice” Kleinmann (firstname.lastname@example.org) is chair of Greater Baltimore Group of Sierra Club.