The hard work of updating Baltimore’s Tree Ordinance by Sarah Lord
In 1991 the state of Maryland passed the Forest Conservation Act to minimize valuable tree loss as development occurs. By 2018, it was confusing to make use of Baltimore’s Forest Conservation Code and landscape manual because they had fallen 10 years behind in compliance.
When Jill Jonnes suggested that the Forestry Board assist the City in updating its regulations regarding trees, the idea caught on. Our stalwart, Amanda Cunningham, volunteered for two years alongside representatives from environmental non-profits, city departments, state experts and the private sector. “I’m always about balancing gray with green,” is how Amanda described her dedication to the effort.
The task: squaring Baltimore’s environmental regulations with Maryland law, correcting the City Code and Manual to reflect current tree and forest conservation policies, and accomplishing this in support of Baltimore’s goal to build a 40% tree canopy.
The work: researching, strategizing, coordinating, defining, educating, winnowing, choosing, improving, and line-by-line reading.
The result: City Council Bill 20-0545 – updating references between the City and State codes and manuals, adding afforestation and reforestation equivalency requirements, increasing specimen trees in the mitigation policy, adjusting fees for mitigation, encouraging the creation of a mitigation bank, clarifying requirements regarding variances and easements, and defining terms such as “specimen tree,” “critical root zone,” and “Net Tract Area.” When passed, these regulations will coordinate with development requirements, updating and clarifying those protecting tree canopy. A Forest Stand Delineation will be required for Site Plan Review, subdivision applications, grading permit reviews, and sediment and erosion control reviews. The regulations will reduce the square footage of disturbance which trigger a Forest Conservation Plan, and make all approvals conditioned on compliance.
A city with healthy air and sufficient shade is a city with a 40% urban tree canopy (or more). At present, Baltimore’s UTC is calculated by the US Forest Service to be 28%. Since this is up from 27%, we are quite proud of our forestry department’s determined support of tree planting and maintenance under Erik Dihle. However, in too many of our neighborhoods healthy tree shade and air exchange are nowhere near 28%, let alone 40%. Baltimore’s tree coverage deficit remains a social equity issue in need of redress. Among the goals of these updated regulations is the continued increase of Baltimore's urban tree canopy in communities where tree planting are urgently needed. No less important is preservation of the existing urban tree canopy (“the lungs of the city”) currently greening our parks and neighborhoods.
No doubt about it, CB 20-0546 is a bill to be proud of. It is expected its regulations will be enacted without amendment. We sincerely thank Amanda and all those who served so ably on this tree ordinance committee representing not only our FTT, but the Forestry Board, Baltimore Green Space, the Planning Department, its Office of Sustainability and its Law Department, the Urban Forestry Division of Department of Recreation and Parks, Blue Water Baltimore, Parks and People Foundation, Johns Hopkins University, the Baltimore Tree Trust and the Department of Public Works, and with assistance from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Forest Service.