2020 Update: Forest Conservation Easement 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 development occurring within the city limits.
Updates to the City’s forest conservation code (Article 7 – Natural Resources; Division IV – Forest and Tree Conservation – see page 140) and supplement to the state manual became effective on December 28, 2020. These updates were made to meet updated state requirements, add existing policies to the code, and align the code with other related codes and policies. The most significant updates include:
- Reducing the trigger for forest conservation review from 20,000 square feet of disturbance to 5,000 square feet of disturbance
- Adding the existing specimen tree variance policy and mitigation requirements to the code and supplement
- Establishing policies and criteria for requests to modify existing forest conservation easements
- Adding the existing afforestation credit ratios to the supplement
- Clarifying inclusions and exclusions for calculating Net Tract Area
- Increasing the mitigation fee-in-lieu rates and fines for violations
- Making a Forest Stand Delineation (FSD) required as applicable for Site Plan Review, subdivision applications, grading plan reviews, and sediment and erosion control plan reviews
Current Requirements (As of 12/28/2020)
All projects that disturb or subdivide 5,000 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 professionalto complete a Forest Stand Delineation (FSD), which shows what forest and other natural resources exist on site, and a Forest Conservation Plan (FCP), 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.
For the full requirements for Forest Stand Delineations, see both the State Forest Conservation Technical Manual which contains the state’s standard requirements, and the Baltimore City Supplement to the State Forest Conservation Manual, which identifies instances where the City requirements differ from state requirements. Depending on the extent of existing forest and the extent of proposed impacts to existing trees or forests, a project may require a Full, Intermediate, or Simplified Forest Stand Delineation. If no forest or specimen trees exist on a site, an email or letter and site photographs confirming this may be submitted in lieu of a Simplified Forest Stand Delineation.
For the full requirements for Forest Conservation Plans, see the State Forest Conservation Technical Manual and the Baltimore City Supplement to the State Forest Conservation Manual. The Forest Conservation Plan may be combined with the Landscape Plan for purposes of City reviews, as long as all required information is provided. Projects requiring protection of existing forests or trees may require a separate Forest Conservation Plan. For projects requiring both forest conservation and landscape manual compliance, applicants should be aware that where requirements differ, the more stringent will be applied.
- City Forest Conservation Code – Article 7 – Natural Resources; Division IV – Forest and Tree Conservation – see page 141
- State Forest Conservation Technical Manual
- Baltimore City Supplement to the State Forest Conservation Manual
- Forest Conservation Application
- Forest Stand Delineation Checklist
- Forest Conservation Plan Checklist
- Forest Conservation Worksheet
Currently, Forest Stand Delineations and Forest Conservation Plans should be submitted as PDFs via email. Within 45 calendar days of receipt, applicants will be notified whether submittals are complete and correct, or whether more information is required.
When an applicant seeks a Use & Occupancy permit for a project with required on site planting to meet forest conservation or landscape manual requirements, photographs demonstrating implementation of required planting may be required for permit approval.
Afforestation, Reforestation, & Specimen Tree Mitigation
When forest preservation is not sufficient to meet the requirements of the site, first preference should be given to meeting afforestation or mitigation requirements via on-site plantings. Minimum planting standards and credit ratios for afforestation, reforestation, and specimen tree mitigation can be found in the Baltimore City Supplement to the State Forest Conservation Manual
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), establishment of an off-site forest conservation easement, credit from an approved forest conservation bank, or via payment of a fee-in-lieu at a rate of $600 per tree required for afforestation and/or reforestation, and $300 per inch required for specimen tree mitigation.
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, the forest retention requirement for the property is met, even if more than 5,000 square feet of land is disturbed again in the future. For more information about this process, please contact Amy Gilder-Busatti.
The recent updates to the forest conservation code include conditions and criteria for the review of requests to amend forest conservation easements. Minor requests can be reviewed and approved by Planning Department staff, while major modifications require approval by the Baltimore Planning Commission. For more information about this process, please contact Amy Gilder-Busatti.
Forest Conservation Fund
Article 7, Section 46 of the Baltimore City Code contains the regulations related to the collection of mitigation fees-in-lieu and the use of funds deposited into the Forest Conservation Fund.
As required by SB 234, passed in 2019, the Baltimore Department of Planning/Office of Sustainability has prepared a report that addresses the following requirements of the Maryland Forest Service. The report contains:
- A general plan identifying appropriate and potentially available areas for mitigation projects,
- Detailed accounting procedures for accurately tracking money received into and expended out of the forest conservation fund, and
- The method that the local government will make the forest conservation plan funds and accounting procedures available to the public.
- A Citizen’s Guide to the Forest Conservation Act in Maryland (Chesapeake Bay Foundation)
- Street tree pit dimension requirements
- Street Tree Species and Prohibited Species List for Baltimore (BCRP Forestry)
- Baltimore City Landscape Manual