Our National Heritage at Risk
The failure to fund Maryland’s successful land conservation programs over the last few years has scaled back preservation efforts and threatened the state’s unspoiled farms and forests and the health of the Chesapeake Bay.
Over the past five years, the Maryland General Assembly has diverted $400 million from programs that protect Maryland’s natural heritage to cover the state’s ongoing operational expenses. These cuts affected Program Open Space, which has preserved over 287,000 acres of critical natural and recreational areas in Maryland since its establishment in 1969; the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation (MALPF), which has purchased development rights on over 230,000 acres of working farms; and the Rural Legacy Program, which has worked with land trusts to protect more than 40,000 acres of farmland since 1977; and other programs designed to conserve Maryland’s natural heritage, protect its quality of life and preserve its cultural heritage in the face of rapid suburban and exurban development.
Cuts in these programs have altered the delicate balance between growth and preservation that Maryland has achieved in the past decades. This report illustrates the potential impacts of continued shortfalls in preservation funding by highlighting how seven important areas embodying elements of Maryland’s natural heritage could be affected.
Specifically, continued shortfalls in preservation funding could:
Allow runoff pollution from poorly planned development and agricultural practices to contaminate the Prettyboy Reservoir, part of Baltimore’s drinking water supply;
Increase the pace of forest clearing on the Annapolis Neck and other lands that drain to the Chesapeake Bay, contributing to the dead zone that forms in the bay every summer;
Degrade wildlife habitat in areas like Assawoman Bay in Worcester County, one of the richest, most diverse estuaries on the East Coast, and in marshlands adjacent to the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, a critical part of the Atlantic Flyway and home to more than 250 species of birds;
Fragment forests in the Allegheny Mountains, such as the headwaters of Terrapin Run, a stream that flows into the neighboring Green Ridge State Forest, the second-largest state forest in Maryland; and
Slow efforts to preserve farmland in Cayots Corner, part of Cecil County’s horse country, and in the Patuxent River Rural Legacy Area, a farming district of historic and cultural significance in Prince George’s County.
These seven places are just some of the many areas in Maryland that could be negatively impacted by reduced preservation funding.
Maryland should recognize that its natural lands are the long-term foundation of a successful economy; these places should not be mortgaged to cover short-term fiscal constraints. Instead, the state should renew its commitment to long-term investment in land conservation by:
Assuring that all future real estate transfer tax revenue will only fund land conservation programs such as Program Open Space, Rural Legacy, MALPF, and others— and not serve as a back-up for the state general fund;
Vigorously implementing smarter growth strategies to keep new development out of our most important natural areas.
Consistent funding for land conservation, coupled with strong growth management tools, will help ensure that future generations of Marylanders will enjoy the same quality of life that citizens enjoy today.