Anne Arundel and Howard counties have approved significant revisions to their forest conservation requirements that will increase the amount of development sites dedicated to forest retention and planting; increase mitigation ratios for forest clearing; escalate in lieu fees; and require a finding of “unreasonable hardship” before approval of regulatory waivers.

Both county bills include forest conservation concepts that have been repeatedly rejected by the Maryland General Assembly.

Emotional, anti-growth sentiment suppressed discussion of implications and alternatives in both counties. More than a dozen state-wide environmental and local community organizations collaborated on social media, organized “lattes and letters” sessions and filled hearing rooms with witnesses urging council members to pass the bills to fight climate change, clean up the Chesapeake Bay and stop growth in their communities.

Nonetheless, both councils included moderating provisions in the final bills and resisted persistent calls for “strengthening” amendments.

Contrary to claims by advocates, the bills undermine the state’s blueprint for Bay cleanup and its greenhouse gas reduction plan by making it more difficult to achieve density in the two counties. Both plans depend heavily on concentrating growth inside the water and sewer service areas of the central Maryland counties. The plans achieve forest planting and preservation more strategically throughout the state, producing more environmental benefit at lower cost than will result from the county bills.

The recent forest conservation changes are the latest in a series of steps taken by the two counties that reduce remaining development capacity, slow the pace of growth and increase costs. Together, Anne Arundel and Howard counties are expected to account for 39 percent of job growth and 41 percent of household growth in the Baltimore region by 2045. Both are entering the early stages of updating their land use master plans.