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Environmental Protection and Sustainability
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Phase II Watershed Implementation Plan: Reforestation Efforts

Baltimore County's Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability (EPS) is interested in working with citizens and communities in Baltimore County to increase our tree canopy through rural and urban (street-side) reforestation plantings. Reforestation projects include free planting design, the installation of County-purchased trees and tree shelters, and a maintenance period.

For a quick synopsis of the reforestation planting program, download our fact sheets for rural plantings (PDF) or urban plantings (PDF).

Program Background

An image of a pin oak tree.

Baltimore County is mandated by the State of Maryland to reduce sediment and nutrient loads entering the Chesapeake Bay to improve the health of the Bay and its surrounding watershed. Our role in this mandate, called the Phase II Watershed Implementation Plan (Phase II WIP), is to manage and reduce stormwater runoff.

State-mandated pollutant load reductions address water quality impairments (particularly nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment runoff) through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) program. Phase I of Maryland’s WIP was completed in December 2010. Phase II, developed at the county level, is currently in process. Reforestation is one part of the County’s Phase II WIP and involves three separate actions: rural reforestation, urban reforestation, and urban riparian buffer reforestation.

Reforestation Benefits to the Bay

  • Tree canopies intercept and help treat stormwater. If you’ve ever stood under a tree during a rain storm, you've experienced this phenomenon. Precipitation falls and rests on the leaves and can evaporate back into the atmosphere, be absorbed by the tree, or slowly trickle downward to infiltrate in the soil. These functions help decrease runoff and reduce the amount of nutrients and sediment flowing into nearby storm drains, rivers, and streams, all of which eventually enter the Bay.
  • In big tree species, such as red oak or swamp white oak, one two-foot diameter tree can intercept as much as 8,000 gallons of stormwater per year.
  • Tree roots stabilize soil, decreasing erosion and sediment transport to the Bay.
  • Tree shade keeps streams cool and crisp, guarding against the growth of bacteria and increasing the diversity of stream organisms.

Reforestation Benefits to Residents

Trees also provide many other ecosystem functions as well as economic benefits to home and land owners.

  • Trees decrease energy costs. According to the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service, “trees properly placed around buildings can reduce air conditioning needs by 30 percent and can save 20 to 50 percent in energy used for heating.”
  • Trees increase property values by softening the hard lines of building structures with foliage. The USDA Forest Service estimates that healthy mature trees can increase a property’s value by 10 percent.
  • Trees recharge and improve groundwater quality (used for drinking water) by increasing water infiltration into the soil, which cleanses stormwater of pollutants.
  • Trees mitigate climate change and purify the air. According to the USDA, “one acre of forest absorbs six tons of carbon dioxide and puts out four tons of oxygen. This is enough to meet the annual needs of 18 people.”
  • Trees provide wildlife foods that are an integral part of the food chain. For example, hundreds of caterpillar species that feed primarily on oak foliage are a critical staple food for the hatchlings of many perching birds in eastern forests. Acorns produced by oaks sustain numerous wildlife species in the winter when other food sources are scarce.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do urban and rural reforestations differ?

No matter where they are planted, trees provide similar environmental benefits. However, trees provide different economic benefits depending on the manner and location in which they are planted.

In urban and suburban areas, trees are planted in a landscape style to shade and cool houses and add character and beauty to streetscapes. The County plants these “street trees” primarily in median strips and equips each tree with a watering bag, mower guard, and wooden stakes to stabilize the tree. Spacing among crowded buildings or existing trees is of larger concern when designing urban reforestation plantings.

In rural areas, trees are planted with the intention of converting existing open spaces into forest. Because of this, the County gives preference to areas one acre or larger. The County plants rural trees in rows for ease of seasonal mowing and equips the trees with stakes and shelters to protect them from deer and pest damage. Converting lawn to forest reduces the cost of mowing and adds value to property.

How is reforestation funded? Will this cost me anything?

Trees planted through the WIP program incur no cost to homeowners or landowners. Funding for Phase II of the WIP was generated through Baltimore County's Stormwater Remediation Fee.

How much space is required for planting?

Image of a tree planted along a street.

For rural reforestations, the County is interested in areas of one acre or larger. Preferably, this area should be open space (lawn or grass). However, landowners can still request areas smaller than one acre or larger fragmented areas to be evaluated for feasibility of planting.

For urban reforestation, planting street-side trees in the median/right-of-way is an excellent space to consider planting a new urban tree. However, certain specifications must be met to ensure both long-term survival and that tree root systems and canopies do not interfere with sidewalks, driver visibility, existing infrastructure, or utilities. Ideal areas are:

  • At least six feet wide between the curb and sidewalk and 30 feet from any buildings or existing infrastructure. Additionally, the County will install root barriers in areas between six and eight feet to protect sidewalks from breakage by tree roots.
  • At least 25 to 35 feet from existing trees depending on the species and size, 25 feet from intersections, 25 feet from road signs, 10 feet from fire hydrants, and 15 feet from underground utilities.
  • Not located under overhead power lines.

These guidelines may vary based on tree species. The County will also consider planting street-side trees in private front yards with the permission of homeowners where medians are absent when the plantings are part of a larger community-wide project. However, planting areas must meet additional structural and safety criteria, which will be determined by the County after a visit to the site. 

How are tree species selected? Can I pick the species planted?

Tree species are carefully selected by EPS for factors such as ecosystem functions, mature size, native range, safety, and aesthetics. Planting plans are created with selection criteria in accordance with EPS's Policy and Guidelines for Community Tree Planting Projects (PDF). EPS will work with landowners to ensure suggestions and preferences are incorporated in final planting plans where possible so long as those species can meet the selection criteria.

What maintenance is required for newly planted trees?

Trees are maintained by County-selected contractors for specified maintenance periods. Maintenance includes seasonal mowing, vine and invasive species suppression, and stake and shelter upkeep. Maintenance may also include watering during times of heavy drought and the use of pesticides, herbicides, and/or rodenticides. To ensure long-term survival, the County will monitor and conduct maintenance and replacement plantings, as needed, after the contractor maintenance period.

How will the County access my property and when will access occur?

The first visit by the County to your property will be scheduled at your convenience. The purpose of this initial site assessment is to determine feasibility of planting. If the County determines that planting is practical on your property, a “right of entry” agreement will be created. This agreement will require your signature and will grant the County and its contractors access to your property only for the initial planting and for periodic maintenance.

How to Get Started

Contact EPS today using the information below. If interested, we will schedule a visit to your property to determine feasibility of planting. Unless requested, homeowners do not need to be present during the scheduled site assessment. If conditions are deemed favorable by the County to ensure tree survival, EPS will develop a planting plan and initiate the planting.

Carrie Oberholtzer
Phone: 410-887-5684

Revised February 6, 2015

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