Forest Conservation Act
The Forest Conservation Act was signed into Maryland law in 1991. It establishes rules for development sites that minimize the loss of existing forests and replenish tree cover. The City of Baltimore has adopted local legislation in compliance with the State law, and enforces the Forest Conservation Program for developers in the city limits.
All projects that disturb or subdivide 20,000 square feet of land or more must receive approval from the City’s Forest Conservation Program before beginning clearing. Applicants must work with a qualified forest conservation professional to complete a Forest Stand Delineation, which shows what forest and other natural resources exist on site, and a Forest Conservation Plan, which shows how the law will be met via forest preservation and/or tree planting. Preference should be given to preserving existing forests, specimen trees, and other sensitive natural features such as steep slopes and streams.
At a minimum, Forest Stand Delineations must include:
- The location and quality of any forests on site. Forests are defined as a biological community dominated by trees and other woody plants covering a land area of 4,000 square feet or greater, with a live tree density of at least 100 trees per acre, with at least 50% of those trees having a 2.5″ or greater diameter at 4.5′ above the ground.
- The location, health, species, and size of any specimen trees on site. Specimen trees are defined as trees of 20″ diameter or greater at breast height.
- Any other sensitive environmental features, such as steep slopes, streams, wetlands, etc.
If no forest or specimen trees exist on site, an email or letter confirming this may be submitted in lieu of a Forest Stand Delineation.
At a minimum, Forest Conservation Plans must include:
- Indications of all impacts to forests and specimen trees.
- A calculation showing the amount of either forest preservation, reforestation, or afforestation required and the amount provided, as per the State’s Forest Conservation Worksheet.
- If specimen trees are being impacted, a calculation showing the amount of mitigation required and the amount of mitigation provided on-site, as per the City’s Variance Policy for Specimen Tree Removal.
- Locations, species, and sizes for all new plantings.
- Information on how any mitigation required beyond on-site plantings shall be met.
- Specifications for tree protection measures for all forests and specimen trees within 50′ of the limit of disturbance that are to be preserved.
- Specifications for planting and maintenance pf any new plantings, including a two-year guarantee for either survival or replacement of all plantings that are being used to meet Forest Conservation requirements.
The Forest Conservation Plan may double as the site’s Landscape Plan for purposes of City reviews.
Forest Stand Delineations and Forest Conservation Plans may be submitted either on paper (1 copy, minimum 11″x17″) or via email, and either separately or simultaneously. Within 45 calendar days of receipt, applicants will be notified whether submittals are complete and correct, or whether more information is required.
When forest preservation is not sufficient to meet the requirements of the site, first preference should be given to meeting mitigation requirements via on-site plantings. This may be accomplished by the planting of overstory trees at a rate of 100 trees for every acre of mitigation owed, or by the planting of 2 understory tree for each overstory tree owed, or by the planting of 10 shrubs for each overstory tree owed (shrubs may not account for more than 20% of the total mitigation requirement). If mitigation for specimen tree removal is owed, it may be met via on-site plantings at a rate of 2″ counted for each overstory tree planted or 1″ counted for each understory tree planted.
Where meeting the entire mitigation requirement on site is not feasible, it may be met either by off-site plantings (such as on city streets, in parks, on schoolyards, or on private properties where the private property owner agrees to preserve the plantings in perpetuity via a forest conservation easement) or via a fee-in-lieu of $400 for each overstory tree owed (this amount accounts for the tree, the labor to plant, and two years of maintenance or replacement).
Forest Conservation Easements
Where an amount of forest is being retained that is equal to or greater than the “break even point” for the site (calculated as per the State law), site owners may choose to place the forest into permanent conservation via an easement. When this is done, no future Forest Conservation reviews shall be required for the site, even if more than 20,000 square feet of land is disturbed again in the future. For more information about this process, please contact Abby Cocke.
- A Citizen’s Guide to the Forest Conservation Act in Maryland (Chesapeake Bay Foundation)
- Street tree pit dimension requirements
- Street tree species permitted and not permitted lists