Protecting Trees in Potomac

Trees are front line workers to clean our water.

Spurred on by two recent cases of unlawful tree cutting on private property in Potomac, the West Montgomery County Citizens Association invited representatives from Montgomery County Planning Department to speak at its December meeting.

Stephen Peck, Senior Planner and Forest Conservation Inspector, and Kristin Taddei, Forest Conservation Planner Coordinator, joined the meeting via Zoom to share, “a fact-filled discussion of trees and forests – how to protect what we have and how to increase them,” as the meeting was billed in the WMCCA December newsletter.

Following the meeting, WMCCA President Ken Bawer gave two examples of recent incidents of tree cutting leading to investigation and, in one case, a $1,000 fine.

The first was on a vacant lot on Valley Drive.

“The vacant lot was on the market and sat for quite a while,” Bawer said. “Then they [basically] clear cut the lot.”

Speculation, Bawer said, was that the owner hoped a potential buyer would be more interested if they could envision a house on the lot.

Neighbors called Peck, who visited the site and found that there was a violation of a tree cutting ordinance. In this case, it also turned out that there were two small streams on the property for which there are more protective ordinances. In addition to the fine, the owner is required to have a wetlands survey done.

The second incident, on S. Glen Road, was also reported by a neighbor who was alerted by the sound of chainsaws. Again, Peck investigated and found the property owner in violation for cutting trees in a forest conservation easement.

Conservation easements protect the water supply, Peck said. They also preserve forest communities or a collection of plants. They can protect specimen trees and specific small landscape areas.

Peck also offered suggestions for things that should be done in a conservation area. Among them were planting native trees, honoring standing dead trees, respecting wildlife, and managing invasive plants.

Taddei, who coordinates Reforest Montgomery, discussed forest statute amendments pending before the Montgomery County Council.

Among other things she said, her group tracks forest removal and works with the State of Maryland to uphold the standards of the Maryland Forest Conservation Act of 1991.

“Montgomery County opted to create our own law, which must follow the state but can be stronger,” she said.

“We do our best to plant trees in [nearby watersheds],” she said.

Taddei answered questions about Forest Banks, a method of substituting trees in one area by planting them in another and said residents can conserve trees by caring for those on their own property and encouraging neighbors to do the same.

On its website WMCCA states, “…The look and feel of Potomac today is no accident. Much of what we hold dear is due to the vigilance of volunteers working to preserve what is best here – a community that values our history, the environment, and our role as “Green Wedge” in the overall vision of county planners.”

The December meeting shows that WMCCA is doing its part to maintain that Green Wedge.

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