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Tree preservation bill survives first cut

A bill directing the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to convene a stakeholder advisory group for the purpose of studying the planting or preservation of trees as a land cover type and as a stormwater best management practice (BMP) has cleared its first legislative hurdle, passing out of subcommittee on Monday, January 20.

HB 520 (Bulova) was the result of several months of stakeholder conversations and negotiations between Arlington County, the Home Builders Association of Virginia (HBAV), VACo, and VML about urban forestry and ways local governments could embrace tree preservation or replanting as a potential stormwater BMP and help meet the goals of the Chesapeake Bay Phase III Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP).  While many paths forward were discussed, it was eventually agreed that the best course of action was to assemble a workgroup to further study this issue.  HB 520 convenes this workgroup and directs the DEQ to report the group’s findings by November 1, 2020, and to include a recommendation as to whether the planting or preservation of trees shall be deemed a creditable land cover type or BMP and, if so, how much credit shall be given for its optional use. As drafted, the bill listed future stakeholders as development and construction industry representatives, environmental technical experts, local government representatives, and others and that technical assistance shall be provided to the DEQ by the Department of Forestry and the Department of Conservation and Recreation.

Members of the House’s Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee’s Chesapeake Subcommittee made two minor, friendly amendments to the bill as it was debated.  First, HB 520 was amended to include the Virginia Forestry Association as a workgroup stakeholder. Second, the bill was amended to include language clarifying that the purview of the workgroup would only pertain to urban forestry.

Ultimately, HB 520 received broad support before the subcommittee.  VACo was pleased to speak on behalf of the bill and was joined by representative from Arlington County, the HBAV, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF).  By a unanimous, 8-0 vote, the Chesapeake Subcommittee ultimately recommended HB 520 to report to the full House Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources.

HB 520 will now be heard by the House’s Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday, January 22.

VACo Contact: Chris McDonald, Esq.

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