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Forest Conservation Easements

Conservation Easements

Forest conservation easements protect land for existing and future forests by limiting certain activities. A forest conservation easement is a perpetual property right granted to the Maryland-National Park and Planning Commission that runs with the title of the land. Its terms, conditions, and area (shown on a record plat or recorded by a metes and bounds description), are recorded in the County’s land records. Most commonly, the agreement prohibits removing vegetation or changing the natural character of the land without written permission from Montgomery Planning.

Forest conservation easements cover forest retention or planting areas and unforested high priority areas, all of which are identified on a forest conservation plan. To date, the county has protected over 10,500 acres – approximately 3.5 percent of the county – through more than 3,500 forest conservation easements.

If you own property with a M-NCPPC held forest conservation easement in Montgomery County, and your easement is not fully forested, you can request free trees through Reforest Montgomery.

Types of Conservation Easements

Category I easements are the most protective type. They prohibit clearing of any tree, bush, or vegetation. They prohibit construction, paving or grading of the ground. They also prohibit the dumping of unsightly materials (trash, ash, non-biodegradable materials, etc). Diseased or hazardous trees or tree limbs may be removed to prevent possible property damage or personal injury, but only after a reasonable notice is given to the Planning Board. Category I easements do not prohibit entry into the easement; homeowners are allowed access in and out of the easement, but they are not allowed to alter the natural landscape. The standard Category I legal description is available to view at the County Circuit Court Land Records Department under Liber 13178 Folio 412 [PDF].

Category I Easement Template in Microsoft Word

Not all Category I easements are placed over existing forest. The purpose of a Category I easement is to preserve and protect existing and future forest. In some cases, through the development process, it may be determined that a developer needs to meet their forest mitigation requirements through on-site or off-site planting. In these cases, an easement will be placed over land that isn’t currently forested. These areas are typically adjacent to existing forest, stream valleys, or other areas that can be enhanced by additional forest cover. Maintenance is required, such as mowing once or twice a year to keep weeds in check until the trees are large enough to shade them out.

If there are no suitable areas on the property being developed, an option for developers is to select an offsite location for protection. These easement areas can include both retention of existing forest and planting of new forest. Alternatively, developers can opt to buy into forest mitigation banks, which can involve retention of existing forest or planting of new forest at the bank location.

Category II/Tree Save easements are typically placed over an area that is not forest, but features large specimen trees that are desired to remain. In a Category II easement area, activities such as mowing and clearing of understory are allowed, provided they do not damage or kill the large trees covered by the easement. Similar to Category I easements, activities such as construction, paving and grading of land are prohibited. These easements are extremely important in protecting large trees that may not be inside forest area. The standard Category II legal description is available to view at the County Circuit Court Land Records Department under Liber 13178 Folio 421 [PDF].

Category II Easement Template in Microsoft Word

Other types of Forest Conservation Easements also protect forest and natural features throughout the county. These easements were created prior to the enactment of the Forest Conservation Law in 1992. As a part of development, conservation easements were often required over sensitive natural land. Unlike standard Category I and II Conservation easements, these easements typically have varying allowances regarding the forest on a property. The language of some of them can be more protective than others, so each easement should be taken at a case-by-case basis. Generally, though, the purpose of each of these easements is to maintain and protect the scenic beauty and natural condition of the land through preservation of forest and other natural features.

Free Reforestation on Your Property

Do you want to have forest planted on your property for free? If you own property with an M-NCPPC held Category I forest conservation easement in Montgomery County or if your property meets the criteria below, you can request free reforestation by completing and submitting the Reforest Montgomery Easement Reforestation Application Form.

We are currently accepting applications for:

  • Reforestation within an established M-NCPPC held Category I forest conservation easement. The planting must be done in unforested areas and must be at least 0.25 acre.
  • Reforestation of 1 acre or more adjacent to a stream or existing forest. In these cases, property owners will be required to establish a new Category I forest conservation easement to protect the planted forest.

Applications from properties in the priority areas shown in the map below will be given first consideration. Enter your address below to determine whether your property is located in one of these priority watersheds or a special protection area.

After you submit your application, a member of our Reforest Montgomery team will be in touch with next steps. If your application is accepted, Montgomery Planning will work with you to coordinate a free reforestation project within the forest conservation easement area, including ongoing maintenance for 5 years. If we are not able to accept your application for free reforestation at this time, we encourage you to explore Reforest Montgomery’s other tree planting programs or apply for free trees through Tree Montgomery.

Find an Easement

To find an easement, type an address into the search bar. Click on any easement, then click the right arrow on the pop-up box to learn more about the easement.

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Report a Violation

Montgomery Planning employs a team of inspectors to monitor areas of the county covered by forest conservation easements and forest conservation plans. To ensure that these easements and plans are followed, inspectors conduct site visits and reference aerial imagery combined with mapped conservation easements and forest conservation plans.

If you witness a potential forest conservation easement violation, such as permanent structures, mowing, grading, paving, construction, or tree removal, you can report it to our inspection team. Click an inspection area in the map below to send an email to one of Montgomery Planning’s forest conservation inspectors or call us at 301-495-4610.

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Frequently Asked Questions