County Comment: Forest Conservation Program Honored

CUTLINE: L-R Neil Rotruck, MD Dept. of Agriculture, John Barr, Betty Myers, District Chair, Elmer Weibley

County Comment
Forest Conservation Program Honored
by Norman Bassett, Public Information Officer
Washington County, Maryland

In the April 29th meeting of the Washington County Board of County Commissioners, Elmer Weibley, District Manager of the Soil Conservation District for Washington County (WCSCD) and staff received a Certificate of Merit from the Board, to honor the program for being selected to receive the District Excellence Award for Forestry Resources for 2007 by the National Association of Conservation Districts from the 3,000 soil conservation districts across the United States.
The District's Payment in Lieu of Program was judged the most outstanding program of its type. WCSCD works cooperatively through a formal Memorandum of Understanding with Washington County to implement certain aspects of the State of Maryland's Forest Conservation Act (FCA). The FCA requires developers to mitigate forest resource losses resulting from residential or commercial developments, by preserving existing forests or planting new forest areas either on-site or off-site.
In certain cases, retention or creation of forests is not feasible due to the nature of the proposed developments or site constraints. In these cases, developers pay a fee to Washington County that is to be used to retain important existing forests or plant new forest acres and create a permanent conservation easement on those acres. WCSCD entered into a formal MOU in 1998 to facilitate this process and provide services to the County to accomplish this goal.
WCSCD markets the program, identifies potential landowners, coordinates the assessment of existing forests and development of planting plans for the sites, arranges for a site survey by a registered professional surveyor, coordinates the preparation of the easement document with a local attorney and conducts the closing to distribute the easement payment to the landowner. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Forest Service, provides for a modest fee, the planting plans and existing forest stand delineations and characterizations the FCA requires. For projects that involve tree planting, the WCSCD prepares bid documents for tree planting services, executes the bidding process, selects qualified vendors, supervises the site preparation and actual tree planting activities.
A total of 495 acres of forest have been placed under permanent conservation easement and during 2008 it is expected an additional 105 acres will be conserved. WCSCD is committed to stewardship of each of these projects for at least a period of twenty years and has returned to each of them to monitor and perform required maintenance such as removal of tree shelters and re-planting of areas of high tree mortality. Washington County pays the District $700.00 per acre for each acre placed under easement. The significant amount of funding this program provides has enabled the District to fund several grant requests for tree planting projects, enhance employee salary and benefits, as well as strengthen educational and outreach to the urban community.
WCSCD is the only District in Maryland to develop such a program that works so closely with Washington County, and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Forest Service and has resulted in the completion of high quality projects that enhance the forest resource base of Washington County as it moves forward and experiences continuing urbanization pressures.