What’s At Stake

We have vital natural assets that we need to protect in Montgomery County. Our decision makers should remain mindful of regional environmental planning in the years ahead as we move forward to implement the county’s revised growth policy. Below are the priorities for Conservation Montgomery’s goal of connecting the environment and quality of life in our communities.

Forests and tree canopy in Montgomery County

Our overall countywide forest and tree cover percentage is about 50% with actual forest covering about 30% based on 2008 aerial photos. The Ag Reserve is 34% forested. Other suburban areas are 38% forested. Areas outside of the urban ring are 18% forested and the urban ring of the county is 13% forested. The national non-profit American Forests notes that a healthy urban residential tree canopy goal for our area is 25% and 50% for suburban residential zones. The American Forests goal counting all zones is 40%. (County data from M-NCPPC 2008 forest layer study and American Forests) A forest is an area with a forest floor and complete ecosystem, whereas individual trees are treated in a different way in most county and state laws. The county adopted a Forest Conservation Law (FCL) in 1993 to comply with a State of Maryland mandate. The FCL law seems to be working as intended in the early 1990s, yet it applies to land of 40,000 square feet or more and was originally intended to protect upland forests instead of individual trees on smaller lots or smaller tracts of urban forest.

In 2013, Montgomery County adopted two new laws to try to increase the tree canopy, one dealing with trees on private property and a second law deadling with street trees in the public right of way. To find out about the Trees Montgomery program where you can have trees planted by the Department of Environmental Protection planted on your private property free of charge, please visit this link. To learn more about our street tree law and street maintenance, OR to request that a street tree be planted near your home, visit this link. You can also read more below.

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Street Trees in Montgomery County

Our county road rights-of-way are home to over 425,000 trees cared for by the Department of Transportation (DOT). They provide countless benefits including beauty, shade, stormwater mitigation, traffic calming, and carbon sequestration. They are seen by tens of thousands of residents every day, a powerful symbol of commitment to our environmental quality of life. Every year, the county removes about 2,000 trees and plants about 1,200 trees. The impact of budget cuts to the county street tree program has been significant. In 2015, DOT:

  • Pruned over 11,000 street trees
  • Planted over 1,200 street trees
  • Removed over 2,000 stumps in the right of way
  • Sent arborists out to do over 17,000 inspections of trees that might be diseased or damaged and hazardous.

However, there continues to be a backlog for street tree maintenance due to lack of resources to keep pace with the work load. There is currently a backlog of:

  • Pruning — Over 1,500 trees
  • Removals — Over 1,100 trees
  • Stump remoals — Over 7,300 stumps that still need to be removed to make room for new trees to be planted
  • Planting requests — Over 2,000 tree-planting requests, most of which is due to stumps not being removed yet.
  • Arborist inspections. It is currently taking about four weeks for DOT arborists to be able to get out to do an inspection.

Aggressive tree-trimming by Pepco and relentless efforts on Pepco’s part to blame the trees for poor service instead exascerbates the problem. Our street tree inventory is valuable as a component of the urban tree canopy in Montgomery County. Instead of more than doubling its budget for aggressive tree work, Pepco should invest in upgrading faulty equipment and in replanting trees they have taken down.

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Air quality

Montgomery County is in a non-attainment zone for federal air quality standards along with adjacent communities. Poor air quality is a direct result of tree cover, land use and transportation decisions. Poor air quality has a negative impact on watersheds too. Scientists call it “atmospheric deposition” meaning that polluted particulate matter reaches our waterways from the air. Find information on our regional air quality and to look at the daily air quality conditions in Montgomery County, click onto the website for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments at this link.

Agricultural Reserve

Established in 1980 and located in the upper third of the County, the 93,000 acre Agricultural Reserve is considered a U.S. model for farmland and open space protection. With close to 600 farms and nearly 400 horticultural operations, it is our living heritage and the future bread basket for a sustainable Montgomery County. As the County population grows, pressure to develop here threatens an irreplaceable natural resource.

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Parkland and Green Space

With approximately 35,000 acres of County parkland and over 400 different parks, Montgomery County’s award-winning Park system has acquired open space to protect watersheds and forested areas, habitat for wildlife, provide passive and active recreational areas, preserve cultural and historical sites and create vital urban green spaces where we can connect with the natural world. Virtually every citizen in Montgomery County lives within walking distance of a park.

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Streams and Watersheds

Our County has 1,498 miles of streams. Eventually, they all lead to the Chesapeake Bay. Several of them contribute directly to the public water supply for both Montgomery And Prince George Counties. Recent Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) monitoring data shows that since 1994, only 11% of our streams have improved water quality while 89% have either shown no improvement or been further degraded from polluted runoff. The health of our waters is directly related to forest and tree cover, impervious land use and preventing toxic stormwater runoff from reaching our streams and rivers.

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Our Relationship to the Chesapeake Bay

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Pollution on the land reaches our waterways and eventually the Chesapeake Bay, the nation’s largest estuary and one of our most treasured natural resources. Because Montgomery County covers a large and heavily populated land mass within the 64,000-square mile Bay watershed, we have a significant role to play in saving the Bay. Between 2000 and 2008, the condition of all freshwater streams in the Bay watershed was measured. Average stream health scores in 10,452 sampling locations showed that 5,459 streams in the Bay watershed were in very poor or poor condition and 4,656 were in fair, good or excellent condition.*

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Bay stewardship includes managing polluted runoff from any impervious surface: roofs, parking lots, roads and driveways. New and infill development contributes to the existing problem. By finding new ways to capture more run-off onsite and by using natural features of the land and Environmental Site Design (ESD) we can have trees, rain gardens and barrels, green roofs and permeable surfaces infiltrate the runoff that would otherwise flow to our streams and rivers. There are many ways to curtail stormwater runoff that has been a factor leading to Chesapeake Bay pollution. Restoring the health of the Bay will continue as a long-term effort between city and county governments, six states within the watershed system and our federal partners in the Chesapeake Bay Program. Polluted water that drains along streets and into Montgomery County streams and creeks adds to the ongoing challenges of Bay restoration.

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*Data from the Chesapeake Bay Program Office: http://www.chesapeakebay.net/status_watershedhealth.aspx?menuitem=26057