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Howard County acts to protect a vital resource in the age of climate change, its trees

Lauren Bonnet, right, of Columbia, plants a tree with other volunteers during the Family Volunteer Day at West Friendship Park.
Lauren Bonnet, right, of Columbia, plants a tree with other volunteers during the Family Volunteer Day at West Friendship Park. (Karen Jackson For Baltimore Sun Media/Baltimore Sun Media Group)

For the past several years, environmental advocates have called upon state legislators to strengthen Maryland’s 1991 Forest Conservation Act to better protect trees in the age of climate change.

Those efforts have been unsuccessful thus far. But a bill passed in Howard County this month and a similar one that passed in Anne Arundel County in November are providing hope that forest protections can still advance, while the debate continues in Annapolis (“Acre by acre, suburban counties are looking to spare Maryland’s trees,” Dec. 6).

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On Dec. 2, the Howard County Council approved legislation that requires developers to conserve more trees on-site. It increases fees used to replant trees when developers are unable to do so. And it provides incentives to developers to replant trees inside the watershed where they were cut — a policy aimed at limiting a common practice where builders cut trees in the more developed eastern portion of the county and then meet replanting requirements in the more rural western portion. This resulted in a situation where areas such as Ellicott City and Elkridge were losing trees needed to reduce flooding, filter water and provide wildlife habitat.

As the Smarter Growth Alliance for Howard County, we’d like to extend our thanks to County Executive Calvin Ball, who brought this legislation to the County Council and worked to keep it strong in the face of pressure from the development industry. And we appreciate the support of Councilmembers Christiana Rigby, Opel Jones, Deb Jung and Liz Walsh, who voted in favor of the legislation.

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The time for Howard County to confront climate change is now. More frequent and intense storms have caused floods that have irreversibly changed Ellicott City’s historic downtown. And increasing development has led to the need for Howard County officials to plumb the budget for tens of millions of dollars to pay for stormwater infrastructure.

In the face of this challenge, it makes sense to protect the county’s trees. They are our natural defense against climate change. Tree roots soak up water, which reduces flooding. Trees filter the air and water, in turn improving water quality in the Patapsco River, the Patuxent River and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay. And large, mature trees do these jobs significantly better than newly replanted saplings.

Thank you again to the county leaders who understand the value of trees and are taking action to protect them. In the decades to come as we face the growing challenges brought by climate change, these forest protections will be even more valuable.

Kimberly Golden Brandt, Baltimore

The writer is director of Smart Growth Maryland for Preservation Maryland and submits this letter on behalf of the Smarter Growth Alliance of Howard County.

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