Landmark no-net-loss policy aims to combat climate change
Effective today, landowners in Maryland have new incentives to plant trees and better manage their forests. Maryland’s Forest Preservation Act of 2013, which requires that the State stay at or above its current tree canopy of 40 percent, assists citizens and local governments who work to increase tree cover on their property with more tools and tax benefits. This first-of-its-kind legislation is part of a statewide effort to reduce greenhouse gas pollution, prevent further climate change and improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay.
“Climate disruption is real,” said Governor Martin O’Malley. “If we want to stabilize climate, safeguard human health and protect the future of our planet we must act today to ensure our forests are healthy and abundant for the generations of tomorrow.”
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 between 3 and 1,000 acres, making more private property owners eligible for tax credits. By including smaller land areas, moreMarylanders 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.
Maryland’s Forest Preservation Act of 2013 (House Bill 706) also contains these additional tools: Adds a dual sustainability certification of State Forests requirement, where two outside parties have to certify a forest for it to be declared sustainable; Encourages smart growth by allowing development projects that are on impervious surfaces, and within a priority funding areas, to be eligible for exemption from the Forest Conservation Act; Requires the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) provide a statewide forest resource inventory to local jurisdictions at least every five 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.
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.
The legislation is part of a statewide effort to get Maryland closer to its greenhouse gas reduction goal under the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan released this past July. Under this plan, the State will work with foresters and private landowners to both improve the way it manages existing forests, and plant 43,000 new acres of new trees, putting nature to work to trap carbon before it is released into our atmosphere. The plan also aims to create a zero-waste state by advancing strategies like composting and greater recycling to reduce the methane coming out of our landfills, as well as increase the amount of electricity purchased from renewable sources, and double Maryland transit ridership by 2020.
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. More than 200,000 acres of Maryland State forest have 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.
Photo credit: Avi Bender