Council backs conservation move

Submitted to Dorchester Banner/Department of Natural Resources This map provided by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources shows the extent of the Tubman Rural Legacy Area in central Dorchester County.

Submitted to Dorchester Banner/Department of Natural Resources
This map provided by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources shows the extent of the Tubman Rural Legacy Area in central Dorchester County.

CAMBRIDGE – Members of the Dorchester County Council voted 4-0 June 19 to send a letter to the state supporting the creation of the Tubman Rural Legacy Area. Commissioner William Nichols (District 2) was absent.

The decision came after a public hearing on the matter, which attracted a standing-room-only crowd of property owners who backed the move. No one spoke against the county’s support.

The issue was first presented at the council’s previous meeting on June 5, by Bill Crouch. Mr. Crouch is the Maryland state director of conservation acquisition for The Conservation Fund, the group that initiated the project.

He told the council and citizens that the program would buy easements from property owners, in effect paying them to keep their land in agriculture or timber, in perpetuity – in other words, it couldn’t be developed.

“Each easement is personally tailored to meet the landowner’s needs,” a written statement from The Conservation Fund said.

In some rural areas, development is followed by a new population of formerly urban and suburban residents, who object to traditional practices associated with farming or forest harvesting, such as noise, the dust of plows and the – fragrance, shall we say? – of springtime fertilizer. Those objections, in turn, can make life difficult for the original landowners.

The Rural Legacy Areas were authorized by the General Assembly to protect Maryland’s historical and natural resources. The letter of support will allow The Conservation Fund to go before the state’s Board of Public Works to seek approval for the move in Dorchester.

Assistant Director of the Department of Natural Resources Judd Vickers is working on the project. “Typically, we want to eliminate at least one development right,” he said. “It’s strictly voluntary, I can’t stress that enough.”

“The program provides funding for landowners to voluntarily keep their properties in working lands while preserving large, contiguous tracts of land important to our historical heritage and natural resources,” Mr. Crouch said during his presentation. “The appropriation for Rural Legacy in Fiscal Year 2019 is approximately $25 million.”

The potential new area, comprising 28,300 acres in Dorchester, would conserve working lands and historic landscapes associated with the legacy of Harriet Tubman. Mr. Crouch said 53 percent of the area under consideration is already protected or scheduled to be protected.

The area extends from just below Church Creek in the north, to the edge of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in the south. Its eastern side is at Bucktown, where Harriet Tubman was born, while the western limit reaches Woolford.

Several citizens spoke in favor of the letter.

Ralph Lewis of Bestpitch Ferry Road said, “I think most people, as long they can keep landowners’ rights, support this.”

Elizabeth Hill said she had worked in the forest products industry for more than 20 years. “I’m here to support the designation of the new Rural Legacy Area,” she said. “I see this as a valuable tool.”

Bill Giese owns a 118-acre farm on Maple Dam Road. He said his family has farmed in the county for three generations.
“We would like to see our land preserved,” he said. “We very much support this.”

The Conservation Fund intends to implement the program as soon as it gains state approval. To learn more about the Fund, visit www.conservationfund.org.

Dave Ryan is editor of the Dorchester Banner. He can be reached at dryan@newszap.com.

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