By Mary Hoover, Chesapeake Conservation Corp Intern ’21-’22
Rural Lands Forum Educates Citizens and Candidates on Land Preservation
The Sustainable Calvert Network convened a rural lands forum on Thursday, April 21. Held at the aptly bucolic Jefferson Patterson Park, the forum advocated for the importance of preserving Calvert’s rural lands in light of upcoming local elections. The event was attended by Calvert residents and several candidates for Calvert’s Board of County Commissioners, offering a candid setting for citizens to engage in conversation with their future representatives.
Those who spoke at the forum were members of the Sustainable Calvert Network, each representing different roles in the community and providing unique perspectives toward a common vision for Calvert County. Following an introduction by Greg Bowen, Executive Director of the American Chestnut Land Trust (ACLT), President of the Calvert Farm Bureau, Cathy Cosgrove, gave a farm owner’s perspective on the importance of agriculture in Calvert. Cosgrove remarked upon the decline in family farm profitability over time, emphasizing the need to revitalize Calvert’s agriculture going forward. To ensure farms are profitable, sustainable, and affordable for subsequent generations, Cosgrove offered solutions such as buying local, joining the Farm Bureau to endorse beneficial agricultural legislation, and supporting a variety of land preservation programs.
Many of the night’s speakers shared their personal experiences and connections with Calvert’s natural landscapes, reiterating the importance of land preservation in such an ecologically rich county. President of the Calvert Nature Society, Joyce Baki, championed the power of land preservation to give “our children and our grandchildren the opportunity in the future to walk into a forest, or to the bay, or to wherever, and enjoy themselves.” Chris Banks, former President of the Calvert Historical Society, similarly shared her connection to Calvert’s rural lands through the story of her great grandmother Christiana Parran, a passionate landowner in the county’s history. Ben Hance, President of the Southern Maryland Sierra Club, nostalgically relayed several anecdotes about the prior state of the county’s natural lands, as told by family members who lived through Calvert’s building boom and saw first-hand the drastic changes to its natural landscapes. Each of these speakers upheld the importance of Calvert’s natural landscapes to their pasts as well as their futures, expressing strong sentiments towards seeing Calvert’s critical lands undeveloped well into the future.
Scott Knoche, director of Morgan State University’s Patuxent Environmental and Aquatic Research Laboratory and economist by training, provided an economic perspective of Calvert’s natural landscapes by ascribing numerical values to several of the county’s ecosystem services.
For instance, Knoche said the local favorite blue crab rakes in “over $50 million in economic impacts.” Because of preserved land and healthy waterways, Calvert continues to offer invaluable ecosystem services to the region. However, potential development remains a threat to these services, and the forum’s speakers all verbalized the critical role of land preservation to counteract this threat.
Following a lineup of speakers who articulated the necessity of land preservation, Greg Bowen concluded with a presentation on how this land preservation happens. According to Bowen, many landowners sell their land for “highest and best use” to developers, assuming development generates the most profit. Bowen disagrees. In fact, this presumption has been disproven on several occasions in Calvert wherein the highest bidders were land trusts. These land trusts have been able to make back all of their money, taking on the role of “critical lands buyers”, by subsequently selling both the property and its development rights. Ultimately, Bowen hopes to shatter the notion that selling to developers is the most economical option for landowners. Land preservation is not only a lucrative alternative course of action for landowners, but it is also highly beneficial to the quality and sustainability of the environment as well as the innumerable services we gain from it.
The night closed with short introductions by each of the candidates present, including Mike Hart, Steve Jones, Catherine Grasso, Chelsea Monague, Myra Gowans, Todd Ireland, Tricia Powell, Buddy Hance, Christopher Gadway, and Evan Turzanski. Attendees were given the opportunity to speak with the candidates and further discuss their hopes for the future of Calvert in preparation for the primary elections on July 19, 2022.