Director, Office of Watersheds & Local Government Assistance
Virginia Department of Environmental Quality
1111 East Main Street, Suite 1400
P.O. Box 1105
Richmond, VA 23218
Dear Mr. Williams:
I am writing to you today on behalf of the Audubon Naturalist Society (ANS), Washington, D.C. region’s oldest independent environmental organization. On behalf of our over 28,000 members and supporters, we advocate for the protection of open space, for healthy communities for people and nature, and for strong environmental policies.
ANS appreciates the opportunity to provide comments on the proposed amendments to the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Area Designation and Management regulations.
Mature Trees Preservation Provisions
We support of the amendment referencing the preservation and protection of mature trees. Mature trees in RPAs are critical to maintaining streambank stability. Their extensive root systems prevent erosion by holding back soils while also absorbing and filtering stormwater. Mature trees also effectively remove and filter pollutants from the water and air while providing important habitat for native wildlife. Robust tree canopies from mature trees also protect their surrounding environment from the impacts of climate change, such as cooling streams in RPAs to allow for broader range of organisms to use the waterway. Mature trees also remove more carbon from their air than their smaller counterparts, an important tool in carbon sequestration.
We offer the following comments and recommendations with the aim of further clarifying and improving the draft language.
Provide a more specific definition of “mature tree” in the regulations While we commend the inclusion of requirements to protect existing mature trees and to promote tree plantings in buffers, we recommend proving more specific guidance on what the regulations mean by “mature tree.” Different species of trees have different visual levels of maturity – size alone is not indicative of maturity. Additional details included in the regulations would help localities be sure they are implementing these regulations appropriately. Ideally, the definition should be provided in a clear and approachable way to evaluate whether a tree is considered mature.
Provide clarity in the definition of “to the maximum extent practicable” Similar to our recommendation regarding the climate change and resiliency amendment proposals (found online http://cleanstreams.anshome.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/20210503-ANS-comments-on-CBPA-draft-regs.pdf), we recommend additional clarity in defining “to the maximum extent practicable” to ensure localities implement these regulations with the maximum understanding of the goals and intent behind the regulations. Ideally, we recommend these regulations go a step further to empower local governments to require tree preservation, thereby strengthening these provisions.
Do not allow removal of trees in RPAs for sight lines or vistas We recommend updating the regulations to specifically prohibit tree removal in an RPA for the purpose of providing for sight lines and vistas. We appreciate the addition of language which prioritizes the preservation of matures trees in the case of sight lines or vistas, however, if the trees in question exist in an RPA, stronger regulations to protect those trees in this case of modifying a viewshed only makes practical sense given the new focus of environmental resiliency and climate change planning.
Taking this next critical step in addressing climate change and environmental resiliency will help ensure we are protecting the very resources that allow human life to thrive on this planet. We are excited to support the overall goals of these draft regulations and look forward to reviewing the final language.
Thank you for the consideration of these recommendations and comments.