Leggett: Bill would protect Montgomery’s tree canopy -- Gazette.Net


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Montgomery County has a lot of trees. I would like to keep it this way.

The County Council currently is considering a bill I proposed that will help fund the replacement of trees lost to development. Any discussion of trees in Montgomery County stirs a lot of passion, which sometimes clouds the facts. I want to explain why I believe this bill is needed and what it would and wouldn’t do.

It is widely accepted that trees clean the air and water and reduce the cost of cooling and heating our homes and businesses. Equally well-documented is that trees increase the value of our neighborhoods, and shopping areas with trees generate more revenues. Studies show trees reduce domestic violence and aggressive driving.

The good news is that trees cover more than half of the county. So why do we need this bill? The reason is that our urban tree canopy is now being endangered by new development patterns. As the land available for new development in our county grows scarce, we increasingly redevelop our older, urban areas. While this revitalizes aging communities, provides new homes, creates infrastructure close to existing employment centers and transportation networks and creates jobs vital to the county’s economy, it also affects our tree canopy. We must act now to protect and restore this valuable community resource.

Bill 35-12, Tree Canopy Conservation, would do just that in a straightforward way. When the tree canopy is disturbed during development, a fee would be paid into a dedicated tree replacement fund. Contrary to the claims of the bill’s opponents, the bill does not prevent the development of a property, and only applies when disturbance to land is significant enough that a sediment control permit is required. The bill would not affect homeowners who are trimming trees or removing one or several trees to plant a vegetable garden, provide sunshine to a deck, or provide open space for the kids to play ball in the backyard. It would not apply to agricultural activities.

Most importantly, the dedicated tree replacement fund will be used to plant new trees along our streets, in backyards, in parking lots and other areas in our community where trees are lost. These new trees will ensure that our beautiful tree-filled neighborhoods remain that way for generations to come.

The current bill strikes a balance between those who want more stringent regulations to protect individual trees and those that feel any additional protection is a burden. It establishes an efficient process with minimal costs for those who will be required to comply and for the county. As the council deliberates on the bill this spring, my staff will continue to engage in discussions on how to improve the bill.

Isiah Leggett, Burtonsville

The writer is the Montgomery County executive.