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What Do You Think? Beyond the Lorax

Feb 01, 2018 02:55PM
By Jesse Iliff, South RIVERKEEPER®

The Lorax, Dr. Seuss’ famous conservationist, is renowned in environmental circles because he “speaks for the trees.” But if the pace of development in Maryland is any indication, speaking for the trees isn’t enough.

The 2018 Maryland General Assembly is considering a bill to strengthen the State’s Forest Conservation Act. If enacted, the bill will protect more priority forests, empower local
governments to fund innovative forest creation and management efforts, and require honest accounting of the costs of forest cleared during development.

Opponents of the bill complain that developers will make less profit and local governments will collect less tax revenue. Each argument ignores the cost of forest loss to human health and the Chesapeake Bay that are now well-understood and quantifiable. A 2014 University of Maryland study calculates that, among other benefits, Maryland’s forests generate $238 million in stormwater mitigation, $142 million in groundwater recharge, and $119 million in ozone removal, each year.

Unlike agriculture, wastewater, and industry, stormwater pollution is growing in the Bay. Forests stop stormwater pollution better than anything people can build. But if environmental benefit is not persuasive, consider this: last summer Howard County announced it needs $18 million more taxpayer dollars for stormwater mitigation, on top of the $10.8 million already spent repairing flood-ravaged Ellicott City. That was stormwater damage. Many communities across the State could save that cost if we protect more forest. A recent study by NOAA showed that Annapolis experienced a 925 percent increase in annual flooding in the past 50 years, more than any other U.S. city. How will Maryland fare when another Hurricane Harvey comes our way? Answer: the more forest we protect, the better off we will be.

Groundwater from aquifers provides drinking water for 1.9 million Marylanders. (The rest get their drinking water from rivers, which forests protect from stormwater pollution). The State’s aquifers already have trouble keeping up with demand. The Maryland Geological Survey estimates that if Southern Maryland growth continues, Charles County could be out of water in 25 years. In 2004, the State shut down all construction in Middletown, in Frederick County, due to lack of water supply. When we pave the surface of our State, rain does not sink back into our aquifers, and they will eventually go dry.

Forests also clean our air. The Maryland Department of Environment notes that ozone has been our worst air pollutant for more than 30 years. Ozone causes a variety of respiratory issues in all people, but is especially profound for children, the elderly, and those with pre-existing lung diseases like asthma and COPD. Forests filter the air 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for free.

This bill will go far toward saving the Bay, but it does not stop there. If you value the Bay, your home, your money, or your health, thank a forest. Better yet, tell your legislator to save them. Will you support this bill in the 2018 Maryland General Assembly?

What do you think and why?

Please email your thoughts to our Publisher and Editor at: Veronica@whatsupmag.com and Editor@whatsupmag.com.