Queen Anne’s County Commissioners Reject Weakened Forest Protections
By Owen Bailey
This week, the Queen Anne’s County Commissioners voted to table a citizen-sponsored text amendment (#22-30) that would have repealed the county’s woodlands protection rules. ESLC submitted a letter and, along with a number of other conservation groups, testified in-person at the commissioners’ August 9th public hearing, urging Queen Anne’s County, one of the least-forested counties in the state of Maryland, not to weaken their woodland conservation policies. ESLC thanks the commissioners for their decision.
The purpose of the woodlands provision as it currently exists in the county’s code is to ensure that high-quality forested areas are retained while also ensuring that forest resources are considered early in the design phase of development projects. The county’s planning and zoning staff crafted two memos (one on June 9, the other on August 23) in response to the text amendment, both indicating repeal of the woodlands policy, despite baseline state forest protections, would lead to increased forest loss across the county, including on larger tracts outside of the growth area.
Petitioners in support of the repeal called the current policy confusing and needlessly stricter than state forest conservation standards, including Maryland’s Critical Area Law and the State’s Forest Conservation Act. Though there is overlap, the current woodland provision creates tougher restrictions, going beyond the minimal state requirements to set a higher bar of forest conservation. As ESLC’s President Steve Kline stated at the public hearing, “Having stronger conservation requirements than the State is not inherently a bad thing, and ESLC thinks counties can, and should, implement stronger conservation policies to protect the resources they find most important.” ESLC also argued that the decision to repeal would run strongly counter to the just-updated 2022 Queen Anne’s County Comprehensive Pan which clearly prioritizes natural resource conservation.
In the vote to table the amendment, the commissioners gave the county’s planning and zoning staff 90 days to update the woodlands conservation policy in order to reduce confusion and address potential inequities in the provision’s enforcement. ESLC applauds the county commissioners for their decision and thanks the county’s planning and zoning staff for their thorough work throughout this process.
ESLC will continue to actively monitor issues related to resource conservation policies across the Eastern Shore.