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Frequently Asked Questions: Can the State Highway Administration Plant Trees Adjacent to My Farm?

Updated: Jul 8, 2020

Field in front of a farm (Photo by Edwin Remsberg).

Today I attempt to answer a question I’ve had from many of you over the past month and a half. Many of you are concerned that the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) will potentially be planting trees on state highway right-of-ways which could mean trees get planted on areas currently being used as agricultural fields. The question that many of you ask me is: Can the SHA do this?

Road going through a farm (Photo by Edwin Remsberg).

Maryland has established a Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) to reduce pollutant levels entering the Chesapeake Bay to the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) by 2025. Currently, Maryland is on Phase II of the WIP with targets set for 2017. To help meet the goals developed in Phase II of the WIP, SHA has developed a plan for SHA’s lands.

In looking over the SHA’s State Highway Administration’s Bay TMDL WIP II Narrative it does reference using agricultural best management practices (BMPs), but those BMPs are currently not available to SHA. Currently, SHA is considered to be in the “Regulated Urban Stormwater Sector,” no matter the location of the road. Regulated Urban Stormwater BMPs include forest buffers, urban filtering practices, urban infiltration practices, and urban nutrient management — just some of the BMPs that could potentially work for SHA to help meet WIP goals. SHA is currently not allowed to report agricultural practices in the Maryland Assessment Scenario Tool (MAST). In the future SHA will hopefully be able to use agricultural BMPs to offset pollutant loads from state roads, but at this time that option is not available.

Road passing a farm (Photo by Edwin Remsberg).

SHA does not generally lease their right-of-ways (ROWs). Landowners adjacent to the ROWs may be using the existing ROW. SHA will work with landowners adjacent to ROWs, who may be using a ROW, before using the ROW for a transportation use. One such transportation use is planting trees to offset environmental impacts of a highway. For example, if you use a portion of the ROW for grazing, you may potentially lose the use of the ROW to tree plantings, if SHA decides to plant trees to offset the environmental impacts of the highway.

SHA may potentially lease properties that are either reserved for future highway projects or are remnants of a highway project, but SHA does not typically lease their ROWs. SHA would not modify the tenant’s current use of the property, unless the lease with SHA allows for SHA to do this. SHA is currently limiting tree plantings to ROWs or parcels that are not leased, and not on parcels that SHA may be leasing out.

To summarize, SHA is looking at implementing approved BMPs for ROWs, which include tree plantings. For landowners near SHA’s ROWs who currently use the ROW, SHA will coordinate with the landowner prior to using the ROW for a transportation use, which potentially includes planting trees to offset environmental impacts of a highway.

If you have further questions, please contact SHA at

My thanks to the SHA and Maryland Department of Environment for helping me put this post together.

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