Monday, February 25, 2008

Getting Started

Here goes. The point of this blog is to allow us (not just me) to have an extended conversation about the issues that come before the Montgomery County Council. I really want to find ways to improve our ability to work with one another. In order to keep us all on the same page when it comes to information and context, I will try to keep you updated as to our ever-changing schedules, and I'll include links to related staff work so you can know what I know around the time I know it. No doubt you know way more than I do on many subjects, and I'm looking forward to learning from you.

Understanding the Forest Conservation Bill

The first issue up is forest conservation. We've already heard the "seeing the forest for the trees" joke, so we can skip that one. The Planning Board has proposed changes (mostly cleanup) to the current Forest Conservation Law, and Councilmember Elrich has proposed various changes to that. We had our first work session on the subject on February 19, which was spent largely on trying to understand the whole thing. What does the current law entail? Who is subject to it? What is a "forest"? That sort of thing.

The law acknowledges that trees and forest cover constitute an important natural resource because they filter groundwater, reduce surface runoff, help alleviate flooding, and supply necessary habitat for wildlife, among other things. The law, therefore, is designed to prevent the loss of forest as a result of development and other land disturbing activities through procedures, standards and requirements for afforestation and reforestation as well as tree conservation projects and other forest conservation methods.

While the law supposedly applies to "forests" (wooded areas of 10,000 square feet or more) on lots 40,000 square feet or larger, it apparently is applied to smaller land areas under certain circumstances, such as with champion trees. While I am a lawyer, and have spent many years parsing this land use stuff, I am not sure the Planning Board's and/or Marc's changes help to clarify where the law applies and where it does not. It has been suggested that a separate tree ordiniance may help to straighten things out.

Do you also find the law unclear? What would be your advice for dealing with this? Because we are so busy with budget, I am not sure when we will return to this, but I'd love to have your comments now, so we can think on them.