Annapolis, MD (April 14, 2009)- With 6 hours remaining in the 2009 Session, the Sustainable Forestry Act of 2009 (Senate Bill 549) passed both Chambers of the General Assembly and awaits enactment into law, via signature of the Governor. The Act is intended is to promote retention and better management of Maryland’s remaining forest lands with emphasis on privately-owned forest lands.
The bill is one of the most historic pro-forestry policies ever adopted in Maryland’s history. Although a few provisions were lost- the MALPF name change, the WIF cap and the 2.5% diversion of local funds for the Forest Emergency Health Fund, and the uncodified section authorizing transfer of sediment and erosion control functions to DNR from MDE- the Act makes significant gains.
New financial incentives were initially considered for inclusion in the proposed Act, but with due regards to the dictates of prevailing fiscal realities the forest community felt this debate was better left for another day. Instead, the proposed Act initiates construction of the sustainable forestry policy bridge- called upon by previous academic studies and legislative Acts of the Maryland General Assembly- with scheduled completion, hopefully, in our lifetime.
First, the Act recognizes the environmental and economic importance of sustainable forestry through a Declaration of Policy, among other things, to the Chesapeake Bay and rural Maryland consistent with and responsive to the 1998 Water Quality Improvement Act, Chesapeake 2000 Agreement, the 2007 Forest Conservation Initiative, and the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays 2010 Trust Fund.
Second, the Act promotes outreach to forest landowners to develop and implement Forest Stewardship Plans- a plan that sets forth land use objectives consistent with the will of the landowner- through the Forest Conservancy District Boards [one in each county] and the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension. At present, only 1 in 4 forest landowners has adopted such a land-use guiding blueprint.
Third, the Act promotes renewable energy development from woody-biomass via the existing 10% “green” power goal for the Executive Branch; long-term Power Purchase Agreements as envisioned by the Governor per his remarks made at the MACO summer convention in Ocean City; and futuristic carbon credit, carbon sequestration and cellulosic ethanol development from a policy-related perspective.
Fourth, the Act promotes sustainable forestry from a local zoning perspective by encouraging local governments – not mandating local governments – to be more pro-forestry conscious in their decision-making.
Fifth, the Act speaks throughout about the importance of an Agro-Forestry alliance consistent and responsive to the findings and recommendations of the Incentives for Agriculture Task Force (Chapter 289 of the Acts of 2006) via its October 2007 Final Report to the Governor and the General Assembly.
In Maryland, 76% of the state’s 2.4 million acres of forested lands are owned by private, non-industrial landowners who can exercise their private property rights to dispose of or management such lands at will. Development pressure is real. Compounding these trends is the realization of Maryland’s prevailing fiscal condition, meaning, millions of additional dollars are not available to help conserve Maryland’s vanishing forests through desperately needed financial incentives. In short, Maryland’s forests are truly at risk and the envisioned Sustainable Forestry Act of 2009 is intended to help mitigate this dilemma through creative strategies today that will produce measurable dividends to Maryland’s “green infrastructure” tomorrow.
The Partnership for Sustainable Forestry is an alliance of forestry, business, and conservation organizations whose primary objective is to promote the prudent and sustainable management of Maryland’s rural and urban forest resources through advocacy, education, awareness, and collaboration.
Sustainable Forestry Act of 2009, Senate Bill 549
Center for Chesapeake Communities