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Work Group May Set Stage for More Conservation of Trees

Lawmakers considered a bill that would have given local governments more authority to require that developers preserve or replace tree canopy.

They rejected the idea for now. But they also set the stage for potential action next year.

Remember when Joni Mitchell sang about the dangers of paving paradise to put up a parking lot? That's exactly what lawmakers are hoping to avoid with a work group aimed at giving local governments more authority to require that developers preserve or replace trees.

Delegate Nancy Guy of Virginia Beach had a bill that would have done that this year, but she says she agreed to create a work group instead to get the bill through the Senate.  "The builders always want a study. They always want to push it down the road because then they think it's not going to happen," according to Guy. "But it is going to happen. There's a real commitment I think. We lose 16,000 acres of trees a year."

Speaking to a group of business leaders in Arlington, Senator Janet Howell said she hopes this work group finds common ground between environmentalists and homebuilders.  "To the public, a work group may not sound like much. But in this case it's really crucial because we've been at an impasse literally for decades. In fact, about 20 years ago I was going to put in a bill dealing with this topic and was told not to because the opponents would probably make the situation worse."

The work group is expected to issue findings late this year, just in time for lawmakers to take action in the next General Assembly.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.