Friday, April 22, 2016

Mitigating Sprawl

Photo by Matt McGuire (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
The information session on the rewrite of Calvert County's Comprehensive Plan offered many insights on the process, current viewpoints, and the situations we face. Attendees were given an opportunity to submit views on paper regarding the top challenges, changes witnessed, and delights of living in Calvert County. Mine were soil tilth, invasive species, and nature, respectively. The presentation that covered some of the trends since the last major plan rewrite in 2004 brought a related problem to light - land use.

According to the statistics presented, the amount of both farmland and forest lost in our county over a ten year period is approximately 5%. As of 2007, about 60% of the county was forest or farmland. A 5% loss would have brought that figure down to about 55% as of 2014. The National Forest Service projections for forest land in Maryland under various scenarios are for additional losses ranging from 20 to 30% by 2060. If farmland losses remain in step with forest losses, we are then looking at a combined loss rate in Calvert County that continues at more than 5% per decade and at least 23 square miles (15,000 more acres) sacrificed to the god of growth.

In a talk given to the county's Master Gardeners last year, the crisis of ongoing suburban sprawl was also highlighted, with the point made that this results in a loss of connectivity in our ecosystems, reducing biodiversity. The reason Master Gardeners need to understand this is because increasing biodiverse gardens are one small way to mitigate the effects of sprawl on wildlife corridors. By ubiquitously gardening in islands within the developed landscape, the hope is that many of the threatened wee beasties will be able to find sufficient food and shelter.

I wrote down my three responses to the planning questionnaire (soil tilth, invasive species, and nature) before seeing the statistics on land use. In retrospect, it is easy to see a relationship of these three key indicators to the issue of real estate development. The soil that we grow on must be improved, especially if there is going to be less area under cultivation. Invasive species must be curbed in an effort to mitigate the loss of biodiversity caused, in part, by sprawl. Nature, in general, must be given more consideration and care as we continue to spread out across the land. These are action areas that I would like to see promoted in the next Comprehensive Plan update.

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