a group of people standing around a tree
| |

Change in Tree Law Means a Greener Baltimore

On May 1st, Mayor Brandon Scott signed City Council Bill 23-04654 into law to protect trees on recreation and parks property. This was a change Blue Water Baltimore supported, and will help our goal of increasing Baltimore’s tree canopy, improving water quality and combating the urban heat island effect that makes our city hotter than surrounding areas.

What this change does:

All construction projects completed by any party (local government or utility) must have their project reviewed and approved by Recreation and Parks. If removing trees the party must provide inch for inch replacement of those trees or pay mitigation fees on an inch per inch basis:

  • Park trees greater than 8” in diameter
  • Street trees greater than 1” in diameter

For example, a utility needs to be replaced and the approved plan removes:

  • Twelve 12” diameter park trees and six 3” street trees
  • Then the mitigation would be 162” inches of trees which equates to eighty-one 2“ trees, or an equivalent payment for planting and maintenance

Why this change: 

This policy has stricter mitigation fees than the state Forest Conservation Act and was already being implemented by city forestry staff on projects such as utility work, new recreation center construction and road work, but was not part of the city code. Therefore, a new administration could have stopped this practice and it was open to legal challenge by those being charged these fees.

Watersheds with higher forest cover and tree canopy have healthier streams with better water quality . All trees help to absorb nutrients from the groundwater. Trees planted in grass mowed areas or as street trees can slow runoff by intercepting water in their canopy, but it’s not as effective as forests because there is pavement and turf grass under their canopy that send more flooding and pollution to our streams. 

Baltimore City’s tree canopy goal is 40% of land covered by trees. The City currently has a tree canopy of 28% and growing, unlike Baltimore County’s tree canopy which is shrinking. Watersheds with more forest cover have less flooding and more stream flow between rain storms, cooler streams in the summer, and less erosion on their stream banks. Forests absorb more water with their complex root systems and in their soil leaf layer. Forests also intercept more water, provide higher cooling benefits, have higher wildlife values and higher air quality improvements than any other canopy type.

How the bill was passed:

Councilman Mark Conway worked with the Department of Recreation and Parks Forestry Division and a coalition of tree-loving partners to pass this legislation, including Baltimore City Forestry Board, Baltimore Green Space, Baltimore Tree Trust, Blue Water Baltimore, the Department of Public Works, the Office of Sustainability and a few key neighborhood leaders.

This law is stronger than requirements for developers on private property under the current Forest Conservation Act, which requires replacement of trees that are 20 inches or more in diameter at breast height. This new change makes that eight inches.This demonstrates Baltimore City’s commitment to retention of the urban tree canopy and healthy forests by requiring the planting of more trees and meaningful penalties for removing them. This will not prevent the removal of large trees but the scale of replacement planting requires no net loss from our forests due to human development. It’s possible the fees will also result in more construction plans with fewer tree removals for such projects.

Policy changes like this show Baltimore’s leadership in protecting tree canopy and forests. Baltimore city is one of the few jurisdictions across the nation where tree canopy continues to grow because of legislation like this and the strong partners devoted to protecting trees for the community.


  • Katie Lautar, Baltimore Greenspace’s Executive Director
  • Darin Crew, Blue Water Baltimore’s Director of Restoration
the blue water baltimore logo
the city of baltimore logo

See the full text of the bill

Similar Posts