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These trees grow on money

July 15, 1998|By BRENDAN KIRBY

There is no forest at the Staples Distribution Center off Hopewell Road, but its construction provided about $200,000 to plant trees elsewhere in Washington County.

Developers who cannot save existing forest land or plant new trees on site have the option of paying a fee to the county's forest preservation program.

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The county spent $237,640 this year to protect and plant trees on three properties, officials from the county's Planning Commission told the Washington County Commissioners.

The commissioners voted 4-0 on Tuesday to continue the program. Commissioner James R. Wade was absent.

"That program, then, is working. This indicates that it is," Commissioner John S. Shank said.

It was the second year of the forest conservation program after a $25,968 pilot program last year.

The state legislature created the program in 1991 and instructed counties to set up their own procedures.

Similar to agriculture preservation efforts that pay farmers to not sell their land to developers, the forest program pays property owners to maintain forest land.

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This year officials planted new trees on slightly more than 50 acres and paid to protect an additional 80 acres of existing forest land.

Elmer Weibley, the Washington County Soil Conservation District manager, said the properties were selected based on their environmental attractiveness.

Trees within 300 feet of a body of water are more desirable because they act as a buffer to filter out pollution and slow the speed at which water runs across land, preventing erosion. They also provide shade to cool the water and create a corridor for wildlife, Weibley said.

Property owners receive $800 for every acre set aside or planted within 300 feet of bodies of water. The county pays $500 for every acre outside that zone.

The sites picked for forest preservation this year included:

- A farm owned by Anna Bowers at 16047 Mount Tabor Road north of Conococheague. Bowers is not related to County Commissioner Ronald L. Bowers.

Bowers was paid $49,898 to preserve existing trees on about 65 acres. In addition, the county planted new trees on a little more than 23 acres.

- A farm owned by Charles Downs at 13448 Broadfording Road northeast of Clear Spring.

Downs was paid $21,464 to allow the county to plant new trees on almost 27 acres of land.

- A private property owned by Brian Taylor at 21053 Boonsboro Mountain Road east of Boonsboro.

Taylor received $8,225 to preserve more than 16 acres of existing forest land.

Under the agreement, property owners agree to maintain the forest land forever. After five years, owners are allowed to harvest a portion of the existing trees for profit, according to a plan that must be approved by the Washington County Soil Conservation District.

Steve Goodrich, a senior planner for the county, said officials are extending the moratorium on cutting to 10 years beginning next year.

Weibley said the weather has been more conducive to growing trees this year.

"This year's planting is doing much better," he said. "We're really pleased with it."

The preservation program is funded by fees developers pay when they opt not to plant trees.

Developers who do not preserve existing forest or plant new trees on their residential and commercial projects must pay 10 cents per square foot.

Goodrich said there is about $112,000 left in the fund. Of that, he said between $5,000 and $10,000 is to be used for planting trees at Antietam National Battlefield.

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