Maryland Governor O’Malley Signs Landmark Forest Legislation

Governor Martin O’Malley today signed into law first-of-its-kind legislation that amends Maryland’s forest conservation policy to maintain the State’s current 40 percent tree canopy ─ a no-net-loss. The bill establishes new and expanded reforestation incentives and tools to help landowners and local governments meet and surpass the statewide goal.

“Healthy forests support our economy, our communities, human health and our natural world,” said Governor O’Malley. “This landmark legislation will ensure we are using the most efficient and sustainable practices, to not only maintain our forests, but strengthen and expand them. It is vital we take the steps today that will ensure a smarter, greener, more sustainable Maryland for the generations of tomorrow.”

In addition to the no-net-loss requirements, Maryland’s Forest Preservation Act of 2013 (House Bill 706) adds a dual sustainability certification of State Forests requirement, and extends tax benefits to more Marylanders who work to increase tree cover on their property.

“Protecting Maryland’s forests with a no-net-loss of forests policy is crucial to the health of local rivers, streams and the Chesapeake Bay,” said Alison Prost, Maryland executive director for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. “We applaud Governor O’Malley and Maryland’s legislators for recognizing how important forests are for water quality, carbon sequestration, wildlife habitat and recreation.”

Until now, landowners could deduct between 10 and 500 acres worth of forestry expenses from their income tax liability. This legislation expands that amount to 3 to 1,000 acres, making more private property owners eligible for tax credits. By including smaller land areas, more Marylanders will have incentive to convert residential turf to trees, and increase, retain and manage forest cover on these properties. Forest stewardship activities include tree plantings, creating and maintaining forested stream buffers, controlling invasive species, and other best management practices that improve forest health.

“Nothing yet devised keeps residents as healthy and supports as many State goals as forestland,” said Eric Sprague, director of Chesapeake Forest Programs at Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay. “Governor O’Malley has again recognized this and continued Maryland’s national leadership on forest conservation issues.”

Under Governor O’Malley’s leadership, Maryland has become a national pioneer in forest sustainability practices. Over the past four years, citizens have planted more than 100,000 trees through his Marylanders Plant Trees program, and Maryland inmates have planted more than one million trees on public lands through the Forest Brigade. All Maryland State forests have also received dual certification, recognizing the State’s commitment to sustainable forestry practices and the green jobs the forest industry supports. It is initiatives and efforts such as these that earned Governor O’Malley the National Arbor Day Foundation’s first ever Vision Award last year.

The legislation also:

Encourages smart growth by exempting redevelopment projects that are on an impervious (nonporous) surface, and in a priority funding area, from being eligible for incentives from the Forest Conservation Act;
Requires the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to provide a statewide forest resource inventory to local jurisdictions at least every 5 years to ensure that local governments have the tools and technical assistance needed to adequately protect tree canopy cover;
Increases penalties for individuals that maliciously start wildfires; and
Aims to improve Forest Conservation Act compliance.
“Preserving our current forestland is vital to the health of our State and its citizens,” Steve Koehn, director of the Maryland Forest Service. “Anything we can do to advance our goal to not lose anymore forest ─ whether it’s to disease, insects, fire or development ─ is critical.”

The bill was supported by more than 40 forestry and environmental groups including the Maryland Sustainable Forestry Council, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology, Maryland Association of Counties, Maryland Municipal League, Maryland State Builders Association, Maryland State Firemen’s Association, Maryland Tree Farm Committee, The Nature Conservancy; the Sierra Club – Maryland Chapter, and Blue Water Baltimore.

The new law will help enhance forestland and urban tree canopy, which will improve air and water quality, moderate climate, add to Maryland’s natural spaces and enhance its beauty, increase property values and provide more recreational opportunities. Trees also provide flood control, wood products, renewable energy and habitat for wildlife.

This news release was produced by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.