Explore highlights of policy accomplishments from the 2017 Maryland legislative session.
By Mollie Byron and Josh Kurtz on April 19, 2017
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. In Maryland our work is focused on science-based solutions that secure clean water for the Chesapeake Bay and increase the resilience of our coasts and forests in the face of a changing climate.
Building on six decades of conservation experience here in Maryland and around the world, our innovative, science-based solutions are dedicated to a future where people and nature thrive together.
Effective conservation efforts include both on-the-ground restoration, such as planting trees or rebuilding wetlands, and advancing public policies that protect the environment. Our Government Relations team works to advance sound conservation policies at the federal, state, and local levels.
Below are highlights of conservation policy accomplishments from the 2017 Maryland General Assembly legislative session which concluded on April 10th.
Funding Critical Programs
Forests of western Maryland. Photo © Javcon 117 / flickr Creative Commons
Many programs critical to the health of Marylanders and the environment, including Program Open Space, The Bay Restoration Fund, and Critical Areas Commission are funded through the Maryland State budget. This budget is passed during each annual legislative session.
This year we focused our efforts on securing funding for several programs, but of particular significance were increased funding levels for state land protection through Program Open Space at $69M and Rural Legacy program at $19M.
Program Open Space is funded through the real estate transfer tax for the acquisition and development of state parks and the preservation of unique natural areas that harbor rare and endangered species. The Rural Legacy Program protects locally identified resource lands (farm, forest, historic/cultural) with the purchase of easements. With a changing climate we must provide room for our natural communities to adapt and these two programs do just that.
By protecting land we create areas for natural communities to move as the climate changes. In western Maryland species will begin moving north through the Appalachians and also up the slopes of the mountains to stay within conditions that allow them to survive. On the eastern shore, marshes will need areas of slightly higher elevation in order to migrate when sea level rises.
By protecting lands further inland we provide avenues for these communities to move, bringing with them all the benefits they provide Marylanders.
Empowering Local Municipalities
Planting trees in western Maryland. Photo © Deborah Landau / The Nature Conservancy
During the 2017 legislative session, a major victory was achieved that empowers local governments to set standards for excellence in the environmental space, above and beyond what the state requires.
We advocated for SB 29/HB 617, sponsored by Senator Pinsky, Delegate Healey, Delegate Barnes, Delegate Carr, Delegate Fraser-Hidalgo, Delegate Frush, Delegate Gilchrist, Delegate Lafferty and Delegate Robinson. The bill allows for municipalities to create forest plans that mitigate for development loss.
Under the Forest Conservation Act, when a threshold is reached, developers must replace a ¼ acre of forest for every acre the remove. Municipalities can now set their own thresholds above and beyond the 1 to ¼ ratio that the state requires.
Trees provide several crucial benefits to people and wildlife in the state of Maryland, whether in cities or in the forests of Western Maryland. Trees clean the water we drink, reducing water treatment costs and creating habitat; clean the air we breathe; and provide cooling shade, reducing heat-related ailments and conserving energy.
Before and after: Natural stormwater filters-like trees and rain gardens— installed in the three-acre parking lot of First United Methodist Church in Hyattsville are helping to remove nearly 3 million gallons of annual stormwater runoff. Photo © Anacostia Watershed Society
Maryland has a long history of encouraging innovation in all facets of Bay restoration. Over the years, the Conservancy has partnered with the State to pilot and develop innovative partnerships, restoration practices and cutting edge science.
This session the Administration kept that tradition alive by introducing the Clean Water Commerce Act (SB314/HB417), which creates a new pilot program geared towards reducing pollution from the only growing source of pollution in the Bay region, stormwater runoff.
The Clean Water Commerce Act creates a market incentive for companies and organizations to harness the power of nature to clean our waterways. This program will generate pollution reductions in places that give the state the best environmental outcome for the lowest price.
It can also serve to demonstrate cutting-edge approaches to reducing stormwater (such as green infrastructure), and provide opportunities to build these practices into local, municipal and state-wide approaches. Fostering innovation and progress is what has kept us on track to meet our Bay restoration goals in Maryland.
Rewarding Good Stewards
Example of a living shoreline. The rock sill absorbs wave energy to reduce erosion. Native grasses stabilize the shoreline and provide habitat. Photo © Gwynn Crichton / The Nature Conservancy
There are several ways that landowners can help protect Maryland's natural resources. This year we supported a bill (SB 109) sponsored by Senator Simonaire that rewards land owners for taking action to protect the Chesapeake Bay.
The bill expands a property tax credit to landowners who build living shorelines (e.g., wetlands and marshes) that reduce erosion and runoff from their properties entering the bay. This tax credit already existed for structural practices, such as sea walls and groins, but will now be expanded to include living shorelines.
Compared to the traditional structural approach, living shorelines provide additional benefits to the landowner and the Bay. Not only do living shorelines protect coastal property from erosion, but also from damage due to storms, by absorbing flood waters and slowing the pace of waves as they move towards shore.
These shorelines also provide habitat for fish and other species critical to Bay health and our seafood economy. This tax credit will reward property owners in Maryland for stewarding their land for the benefit of all Marylanders.
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