Can I Cut Down These Trees?

Can I Cut Down These Trees?

If your dream is to build a custom home in Worcester County, there are a number of procedural steps necessary to accomplish this goal. There are zoning guidelines, property setbacks and easements to consider.

Ironically, one of the most challenging obstacles may be simply clearing the land for building. You want to be sure any obstructing trees can be removed in order to accommodate the building process.

In 1991 in Worcester County, a new law went into effect to require all counties to adopt a forest conservation program. This law was enacted under the Maryland Forest Conservation Act. The benefit of protecting our trees extends far beyond a specific parcel of land:

  1. The roots of the trees help to prevent soil erosion.
  2. They also filter harsh chemicals from the soil to provide cleaner water for drinking, crabbing and fishing.
  3. The leaves from living trees help filter pollutants from the air.

Ms. Janelle Gerthoffer, Natural Resources Administrator for Worcester County, explains:  “Natural vegetation in Worcester County is protected by the Chesapeake Critical Areas code, the Atlantic Coastal Bays Critical Areas code, and the Forest Conservation code. Details for each of these codes can be viewed within the Natural Resources Article section at https://ecode360.com/14070057. While these codes protect much of the natural vegetation, they do include allowances for tree removals upon approval from this department.”

That being said, a permit is required for any public or private subdivision plan or site plan approval where grading is required on areas in excess of 40,000 square feet. Those permitted for such activates must comply with the Forest Conservation Law which requires:

“Any non-exempt activity that requires an application for major subdivision, site plan approval, or grading and sediment control permits on an area of land 40,000 square feet or greater must submit a Forest Stand Delineation and a Forest Conservation Plan. In the case of a non-exempt minor subdivision on an area of land 40,000 square feet or greater, a Simplified Forest Stand Delineation and Forest Conservation Plan shall be submitted.”

There must be an equal number of remaining trees to those that are removed during the building process. 

Although tree planting must first occur on-site (wherever the trees were removed), there are some plans for re-planting on another parcel of land in Worcester County. This may be accomplished by purchasing an inexpensive parcel of land to be dedicated exclusively to the county for forestry or locating someone with land that is in need of trees to be planted on their land. Again, on-site planting is always top priority for mitigation.

There are a few activities that are exempt from the Forest Conservation Law:

  • State highway construction activities
  • Activities on areas located in Chesapeake Bay Critical Areas
  • Agricultural activities
  • Commercial logging and timber harvesting operations
  • Clearing for public utility construction or rights-of-way
  • Routine maintenance and emergency repairs of public utility rights-of-way
  • Surface mining regulated under state law
  • Activities conducted on a single lot where less than 40,000 square feet of forest is disturbed
  • Preliminary plan of subdivision or grading and sediment control permit approved before 7/1/91 or minor subdivision application for which an application was submitted prior to 7/1/91
  • PUD with Step 1 approval prior to 12/31/91
  • Subdivision for agricultural purposes only
  • Subdivision for conservation purposes only
  • Boundary line adjustment providing no accompanying change in land use
  • Subdivision where the area of non-tidal wetland forest is greater than or equal to area of a reforestation required
  • Construction and maintenance of water and sewage treatment facilities or landfills
  • Construction of linear utilities
  • County road construction
  • Cutting of trees for surveying purposes
  • Habitat programs approved by a government agency
  • Intrafamily transfers, including subdivision

These regulations protect our health and quality of living by protecting our natural resources here on the Eastern Shore, but can cause headaches for some home builders.

I would suggest asking for a feasibility study period for any land purchases.  This would allow time to take your plans to the county and be certain that the land you intend to purchase is suitable for your intended use.

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