Perhaps the most prevalent public concern about growth is the effect-or potential effect-that development can have on the Earth's fragile environment. This has been particularly true in Maryland because of the longstanding concerns citizens have had about the effect development is having on the Chesapeake Bay and its thousands of miles of tributaries.
Many of Maryland's oldest land use management and environmental protection laws were enacted out of concern about the deterioration of the water quality in the Chesapeake Bay and the loss of underwater grasses and the fish, crabs and oysters that live in the Bay. These have included programs for parkland acquisition, reforestation, stormwater runoff, farm preservation, and a variety of nutrient reduction or removal efforts related to Bay water quality. One of the most significant environmental efforts in Maryland is a 1,000-foot buffer along the shoreline of the Bay and its tidal tributaries that is subject to special development oversight. As with virtually all coastal states, the pressure in Maryland to develop along the shoreline is intense.
By its very nature, development disturbs the landscape. Hills are leveled; valleys are filled; forests are cut; watersheds altered; and streams and rivers polluted. Wildlife habitats can be impaired or destroyed. The very existence of certain species of flora or fauna can be threatened. As more impervious surfaces are built, the speed and temperature of stormwater runoff increases, often with damaging consequences to streams or other bodies of water.
Natural ecosystems can provide a variety of benefits by filtering pollutants, helping to manage or mitigate flood damage, protecting drinking water recharge areas, providing for pollination of food crops and other plants; and protecting wildlife habitats. But after nearly 400 years of development since the first European colonists arrived on Maryland's shores, the state's inventory of ecologically significant lands has been substantially reduced.
A healthy environment can be a selling point for a state's economic development efforts. Businesses - and their employees - like to live in a safe and healthy environment. This is increasingly true in the information technology era when businesses and jobs can relocate almost anywhere they wish. Increasingly, areas that offer the best environmental resources are often the most attractive to business interests that have the ability to move.
A healthy environment can also be a draw to tourists and outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds, from fishermen and hikers to sailors or bird watchers. Unfettered or unplanned development, by contrast, can fragment natural areas and/or deplete them of their wildlife, their pollution mitigating qualities, or their natural beauty.