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The Second Layer-Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay Critical Area Act

Updated: Jul 17, 2020

Tree in the foreground with a lake in the background (Photo by Edwin Remsberg).

The second layer to Maryland’s two layer program for nontidal wetlands protection is the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area Act. As you might recall, nontidal wetlands are inland freshwater areas that are typically covered or saturated with water for long periods of time. Under the Critical Area Act, all farms located within the 1000-foot strip of land around the shorelines of the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Coastal Bays are subject to regulation. Unlike the Nontidal Wetlands Act, agriculture is not a blanket exemption.

Man in an apple orchard (Photo by Edwin Remsberg).

The Code of Maryland Regulations gives local jurisdictions (or counties) the power to develop an agricultural protection plan as part of their Critical Area program if the county borders the Critical Area shorelines. These plans are developed in collaboration with the soil conservation districts, the county agricultural land preservation advisory board, and possibly other local agencies if appropriate. Every agricultural protection plan should have the following characteristics:

(1) An identification, inventory, and mapping of agricultural lands occurring within the Critical Area;

(2) An identification of agricultural lands which include habitat protection areas defined in the Maryland Code of Regulations;

(3) Programs for maintaining the agricultural land in agricultural use and for protecting water quality, and plant and wildlife habitat, which shall include at a minimum:

(a) Development of measures for encouraging the preservation of agricultural lands;

(b) Provisions for the protection of habitat protection areas within agricultural lands as required in the Maryland Code of Regulations; and

(c) Provisions requiring forest management plans for those farms which harvest timber to conform with the harvesting practices requirements

Workers loading produce into a truck on a field (Photo by Edwin Remsberg).

Maryland Code of Regulations

However, the law prohibits the following, as well as other, agricultural activities in the Critical Area:

(1) Diking, draining, or filling of wetlands, unless mitigation is performed;

(2) Clearing of forests or woodland on soils with a slope greater than 15 percent or clearing in highly erodible soils;

(3) Land clearing that will adversely affect water quality or will destroy plant and wildlife habitat;

(4) Clearing of existing natural vegetation within 100 feet of tidal waters or wetlands; or

(5) Livestock feeding or grazing within 50 feet of the mean high-water line of tidal waters, tidal wetlands, or streams

Unless your farm is operating under a “cooperator’s agreement,” which is a written agreement with your local soil conservation district to have your soil and water quality plan prepared for you, you will be required to have your soil and water quality plan approved by your local soil conservation district. Additionally, you will need to have a nutrient management plan prepared by a certified nutrient management consultant or certified farm operator in order to show you are minimizing your contribution of pollutant loadings to the Bay, tidal waters, and their tributaries while carrying out activities of your agricultural operation. If you have specific questions concerning your requirements, please see you local soil conservation district and other local representatives so they can direct you in the right direction.

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