As Bowie officials search for ways to add trees in the city, a survey is in the works to gauge how residents feel about making new rules regarding trees on private property.
Based on the survey results, which are expected to be released by the spring, city officials could create a program that requires residents to replace trees on their property when they cut them down or obtain a permit to cut down mature trees, said Gary Allen, chairman of the city’s Environmental Action Committee.
The results could also help the city forge a program to assist residents who volunteer to plant additional trees on their property. The program could use city funds to provide a reimbursement for residents’ tree purchases and labor, said City Councilman Henri Gardner (Dist. 3).
The city is launching the survey as it looks for ways to reach a goal established in July of growing the city’s urban tree canopy from 43 percent to 45 percent. The $35,000 grant that is funding the survey was provided by the Chesapeake Bay Trust, an Annapolis-based nonprofit agency that funds research and work that could aid the bay, said Tiffany Wright, the city’s watershed manager.
To reach its goal, Bowie would need to add about 20,000 trees to the city’s existing stock of about 1 million trees. Officials estimated that planting that many trees could cost as much as $4 million, and trees would have to be planted on private land as there isn’t enough publicly owned space that could support so many trees, Wright said.
The city endorsed increasing its tree canopy after Allen gave a presentation to the City Council in June 2012 touting trees’ environmental benefits such as controlling harmful emissions, providing shade to keep homes cool and reducing stormwater runoff.
However, council members expressed reluctance to implement part of Allen’s proposal that would call on the city to establish laws to protect and grow the tree canopy, such as requiring permits to cut down a mature tree, one that measures 50 inches in diameter or larger, on their property and requiring property owners to replace mature trees that are cut down.
Should the study indicate sufficient support for the tree canopy goal, the council could revisit adding laws regarding trees on private property, Allen said.
“The support would have to be significant, above 50 percent, to get to the point of the council having active consideration of it again,” said Allen, a former mayor of Bowie. “To have positive conditions for enactment, you have to have broad community support.”
Some council members raised concerns about backing a policy that would require residents to replace trees on private land.
“While I am the lover of the environment, I do not want to see any laws on private residences saying that if you cut down a tree you have to plant another one,” Gardner said. “I would like to see residents do that, but I would not be supportive of requiring them to.”