Plan­ning com­mis­sion looks to re­ward preser­va­tion

State ac­counts for how much preser­va­tion costs in Charles County

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By MICHAEL SYKES II msykes@somd­

Pro­tect­ing the en­vi­ron­ment and pre­serv­ing nat­u­ral re­sources have taken prece­dence like never be­fore af­ter the Charles County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers rat­i­fied the new com­pre­hen­sive plan.

With that comes the new chal­lenge of find­ing ways to de­velop the county’s eco­nomic struc­ture and abil­ity to al­low its cit­i­zens to profit from the county’s ru­ral char­ac­ter­is­tics as well as its ur­ban ones.

Dur­ing last week’s plan­ning com­mis­sion meet­ing, Chris­tine Conn and El­liot Camp­bell, two mem­bers of the in­te­grated pol­icy and re­view unit for the state’s De­part­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources, pro­posed a way to po­ten­tially do so.

With “ecosys­tem ser­vices,” Camp­bell said, the county’s in­vest­ment in na­ture can ben­e­fit it both eco­nom­i­cally and en­vi­ron­men­tally.

“This is cer­tainly a con­cept we have be­lieved in for a very long time,” Conn said. “We think in­vest­ing in na­ture is a very good strat­egy.”

In short, the sys­tem quan­ti­fies what the eco­nomic ben­e­fits of preser­va­tion in spe­cific ar­eas are to the county and cal­cu­lates what sav­ings the county could have and what earn­ings land own­ers could bring back in through ser­vices such as tourism, cul­tural ac­tiv­ity, stormwa­ter con­trol, ero­sion re­duc­tion and other en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly ac­tiv­i­ties.

Camp­bell said the de­part­ment looked at net present value, which is an ac­count­ing strat­egy, to see what the costs were for per­form­ing these ser­vices. That value re­turned from cal­cu­la­tions is called an “eco­price.”

The de­part­ment mea­sured how much ser­vices such as stormwa­ter man­age­ment, wildlife habi­tat preser­va­tion, car­bon re­duc­tion and air pol­lu­tion re­duc­tion costs the county each year.

The de­part­ment’s cal­cu­la­tions are de­rived from how many acres the county ser­vices per year, Camp­bell said. They also cal­cu­lated how much money went into ser­vices for both ru­ral and ur­ban ar­eas around the county.

Stormwa­ter man­age­ment and wildlife habi­tat preser­va­tion were by far the most costly ac­tiv­i­ties for the county with $1,754 and $520 per acre spent each year, re­spec­tively, on each ser­vice.

Over­all, Camp­bell said, the county spends $535.5 mil­lion per year on these ecosys­tem ser vices. That is the fourth high­est ecosys­tem value in the state, Camp­bell said, which puts the county in a good place en­vi­ron­men­tally.

Charles County is one of the best places to ac­count for ecosys­tem ser­vices, Camp­bell said, be­cause of the “rich abun­dance of nat­u­ral re­sources and high de­vel­op­ment pres­sure.”

“This in­for­ma­tion can be of the most use to Charles,” Camp­bell said.

The de­part­ment is still work­ing on sum­ma­riz­ing the re­sults of its cal­cu­la­tions, cre­at­ing a web tool for ac­cess and com­ing up with strate­gies to put this land to use eco­nom­i­cally, Camp­bell said.

Nancy Schertler, board mem­ber of the plan­ning com­mis­sion, said “this is re­ally, re­ally fas­ci­nat­ing and in­ter­est­ing.”

“Again, it’s how do you use all of the in­for­ma­tion?” Schertler said.

The key, Schertler said, is find­ing ways to mon­e­tize this in­for­ma­tion and en­cour­ag­ing more landown­ers to con­tinue to pre­serve in en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly ways.

Camp­bell said one thing that has not been fully de­vel­oped in the state, as of yet, are ecosys­tem ser­vice mar­ket­places. There is a nu­tri­ent trad­ing mar­ket, but it still has room to grow, he said. And in the past landown­ers have put their land into ease­ments to pro­tect en­dan­gered species, but that is a rar­ity.

But the hope, Camp­bell said, is more mar­ket­places will de­velop and landown­ers will even­tu­ally see com­pen­sa­tion for their high value lands.

Conn said there is also room for new county pol­icy de­vel­op­ment that will pay landown­ers through tax rev­enues or other funds.

“That’s a pol­icy de­ci­sion at var­i­ous lev­els of gov­ern­ment,” Conn said.

County Plan­ning Di­rec­tor Steve Ball said the county al­ready has ac­tive con­ser­va­tion pro­grams in place such as the ru­ral legacy pro­gram and the pur­chase of de­vel­op­ment rights. Some of them over­lap with the con­cept of com­pen­sat­ing landown­ers, he said.

Ball said the pro­gram is “in­ter­est­ing” from a plan­ning point of view be­cause when­ever there are set­tle­ments, there is an im­pact on some nat­u­ral re­source. At some point, he said, the sys­tem starts to break down — a point still be­ing heav­ily dis­cussed.

“A lot of it comes down to what the county is will­ing to ac­cept as a com­mu­nity,” Ball said.

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