ANNAPOLIS – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should reconsider revisions to the national wetland plant list that could increase wetland areas in several shore counties, pushing development into crop fields and increasing development costs, some lawmakers said.
Three plants – American beech, American holly and loblolly pine – were reclassified in the 1998 revisions, which have not been adopted by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Although plants are only one indicator of three necessary for wetland classification, Sen. Richard Colburn, R-Dorchester, said loblolly pines grow all over the Eastern Shore and don’t necessarily indicate that an area is a wetland.
“To me this is one more attempt by the government to encroach on our private property rights without even knowing if the action is needed or what the economic or environmental costs will be,” Colburn said in a written statement.
Residents are concerned changes could have a negative economic impact on property owners, who would be subject to difficult building requirements, pushing development into other areas.
“We could be forcing development into agricultural areas,” said Ron Gatton, a wetland consultant and resident of Trapp, Md.
Gatton said properties are usually assessed for wetland status before building permits are issued or if property owners want to know the status of their land.
Karen Houtman, a Dorchester County planner, said federal officials at a recent meeting estimated about 17 percent of non-wetland areas could be reclassified as wetlands, but she predicts closer to a 30 percent increase.
“The critical area program encourages (planting loblolly pines) because it’s a native species,” Houtman said. “(The changes) will put more pressure on the agricultural lands.”
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources said pines are easier to grow and planting loblollies was encouraged for reforestation efforts.
Jeff Horan, DNR chief of forestry source planning, said 4 million of the 5 million seedlings in the state nursery are pines, but the department encourages planting a diverse mix of species.
John Cooper, branch chief of habitat assessment for the federal wildlife service, said it could take up to two years to implement the list, and until then regulators are relying on aging science from the last revision in 1988.
The 1998 version of the plant list is the third since it was created in 1982. Cooper said new scientific evidence about wetland habitats prompted the changes.
“If we’re not availing ourselves to that (science),” Cooper said, “that’s a problem, too.”