What is the Critical Area Protection Act?

The Capital, April 26, 2008

The Chesapeake Bay Critical Area Protection Act was enacted in 1984 by the General Assembly to help reverse the deterioration of the Chesapeake Bay. The act designated all land within 1,000 feet of tidal waters or wetlands as a "Critical Area" - areas with the greatest potential to affect water quality, wildlife habitats and overall ecological health. The act addresses three primary goals: minimization of runoff; conservation of fish, wildlife and plant habitat; and accommodation of future growth with respect to the environmental impact of development. Maryland's Critical Area Program was expanded in 2002 to include the Atlantic coastal bays and currently there are 64 jurisdictions with local Critical Area programs. The programs are implemented primarily through local zoning codes and subdivision regulations. They include provisions that limit the percentage of development on a site, restrict development on steep slopes, control forest clearance, require stormwater quality management and specify a 100-foot forested buffer area as part of development projects.

This year, Gov. Martin O'Malley, the Critical Areas Commission and state agencies worked with the General Assembly to make comprehensive changes to the law, reaffirming the significance of the Chesapeake Bay as a resource, and the Critical Areas in the restoration of the bay. The amendments focused primarily on strengthening provisions relating to enforcement, the location of future growth, shore erosion control measures and lot coverage - as these are as essential to Maryland's efforts to restore the Chesapeake.

Answered by: Mary Owens, education and conservation coordinator, Critical Areas Commission

Ever heard the call "who-cooks-for-you" on a spring or summer evening? If so, you have been listening to the hoot of the barred owl, which also produces calls that sound like squirrel barks, monkey hoots and screams.

Barred owls are large owls, standing about 20 inches high and weighing 2 pounds, with a wingspan of 44 inches. They have brown eyes, and lack the ear tufts present in other Maryland owls, such as the great horned owl or the Eastern screech owl. They are mostly gray and brown, with feathers on their chest and belly that form brown and white bars and lengthwise streaks.

For the most part, barred owls will feed on small creatures such as mice, voles, rabbits, flying squirrels, snakes, frogs, insects or other small birds. They have even been known to wade into shallow water to capture small fish or young terrapins. Their hunting skills are greatly enhanced by the structure of their feathers, which allow them to fly silently.

The barred owl prefers to live in mature oak forests, but also is found throughout the mixed pine-hardwood forests and low, wet woodlands of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. They build their nests in hollow trees and usually lay two to four eggs in late February which hatch in May.

Yard trimmings and food residuals together constitute 23 percent of the U.S. municipal solid waste stream. However, if these items were composted, the resulting composted soil would aid in the suppression of plant diseases and pests, and reduce or eliminate the need for residential fertilizer. For basic information about composting, visit www.epa.gov/compost/basic.htm.

Recycle water at home by collecting the cold water that first comes out of your shower and using it to water plants. Or use a device such as the sink positive system, which reuses sink water for flushing your toilet. For more information, visit www.sinkpositive.com.

(Revised April 2008)