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Column: Tree Canopy — It’s Important

WMCCA Meeting

The West Montgomery County Citizens Association

will meet at the Potomac Community Center on Wednesday, May 8, 7:15 p.m. If schools are closed because of inclement weather, the meeting will be cancelled.

Speakers will be District 15 state Sen. Rob Garagiola and Delegates Brian Feldman, Kathleen Dumais and Aruna Miller.

Each year WMCCA asks the District 15 senator and delegates to give a wrap-up of Maryland's legislative session in Annapolis. Join the association for insider views of the just-ended 2013 session as the legislators provide their recap of the session and describe the work done on residents’ behalf. The public is welcome.

Several of this year’s WMCCA meetings directly or indirectly focused on our area’s tree canopy. There is good reason for this attention to tree canopy — everything from the quality of our streams to our enjoyment of the outdoors is dependent on trees. The need for trees to remove pollution from the air and water, reduce flooding and limit the heat-island effect cannot be overstated. Already under considerable stress from age, deer damage and the effects of pollution, our tree canopy is experiencing a net loss from ongoing infill and redevelopment, a loss exacerbated by Pepco’s extensive tree removal.

Many trees are lost in older neighborhoods as the small houses built a half-century ago are replaced with much larger houses, and, with the county’s decreasing inventory of buildable lots, there is more pressure for infill development. Montgomery County’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is endeavoring to switch large areas of the Glen Hills neighborhood from septic systems to sewer service. If this change is approved, the infill development will thin the lush Glen Hills tree canopy as well as damage sensitive stream valleys. And it seems that DEP is looking at bringing sewer into neighborhoods similar to Glen Hills.

The Maryland Public Service Commission, in an attempt to improve reliability, has directed Pepco to increase tree cutting along power lines. At our April meeting Pepco representatives told us that, in the past, trees were pruned sufficiently to last two years before needing to be trimmed again. The current standard is now four years, and trees that can’t be cut back enough to last four years need to be removed. The resulting tree removal has been substantial, and the power company’s drastic pruning may stress many trees too much for survival.

Two bills being considered by the County Council are designed to limit the loss of tree canopy by providing incentive to preserve trees where possible and bringing in funds to replant trees when removal is necessary.

  • Tree Canopy Conservation (Bill 35-12, proposed by County Executive Leggett and sponsored by the Council President) endeavors to limit the amount of tree removal when properties are redeveloped or new development occurs. Legislation would not prevent a development from being approved, but if trees on a property cannot be saved, a fee would be collected to provide funds to replant trees, either on the same property or elsewhere.

  • Roadside Trees Protection (Bill 41-12, sponsored by Councilmembers Berliner and Elrich) would require a permit and ensure protection of trees in the right-of-way. As in Bill 35-12, if a tree cannot be saved, a payment to a tree-planting fund would be required to replace the lost tree canopy.

Efforts to slow the loss of tree canopy are essential. The two tree bills being considered by the County Council work together to reduce canopy loss and provide protections to trees not covered by the Forest Conservation Law. The proposed bills are facing opposition. These bills are an important step in slowing canopy loss and need our support.