ANNAPOLIS — As the 441st session of the Maryland General Assembly convened Jan. 8 in Annapolis, Queen Anne’s County already garnered additional funding for conservation at two locations in the Rural Legacy Program.
The county had submitted a grant application to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources to preserve farmland at the Lands End Rural Legacy Area and the Farm and Branch Rural Legacy Area. The $1,079,509 award will preserve three farms in total.
“These particular parcels are usually waterfront and non-tidal wetlands,” said Donna Landis-Smith, a soil conservation aid for the Queen Anne’s County Soil Conservation District. “They are ecologically challenged and these preservation monies will make sure those properties are permanently preserved as agricultural land. Within the county, we have 25,000 acres of preserved land.”
Landis-Smith said county commissioners have been among the strongest proponents for conservation efforts. That includes county-matching funds toward land preservation programs and the use of a small amount of general funding for attorney fees and title policies.
County Commissioner Jim Moran was among those in Annapolis to represent the county. He said farmland preservation is what makes the Eastern Shore a picturesque destination and economically viable.
“Farming is our top industry in the county, and I think it’s one of our top attractions for tourism,” Moran said. “We also have some of the richest soil on the Eastern Shore, so it just makes good sense to preserve it for future generations. Anytime we can get money to do that, especially grant money that doesn’t cost county tax payers anything, it’s a win.”
The Rural Legacy Program is one area of funding set aside for conservation by the state. Moran said Queen Anne’s County saw an additional 2,500 acres set aside for conservation efforts in 2019.
“This is just another sign this county is committed to its agricultural and rural heritage and protecting our environment and natural resources,” said Jay Falstad, executive director of Queen Anne’s Conservation Association. “This is tremendous funding and we applaud the state and Maryland Board of Public Works for allocating these funds for such an important program.”
Enacted by the General Assembly in 1997, Maryland’s Rural Legacy Program has dedicated over $305.6 million to preserve 86,103 acres of farmland, forests and natural areas.
The program provides funding to preserve large, contiguous tracts of land and to enhance natural resource, agricultural, forestry and environmental protection while supporting a sustainable land base for natural resource based industries.
The program creates public-private partnerships and allows those who know the landscape best, such as land trusts and local governments, to determine the best way to protect the landscapes that are critical to their economy, environment and quality of life.