So, You Live in the ‘Critical Area’…

So, You Live in the ‘Critical Area’…

…What does that mean?

It’s no secret to anyone living in the Southern Maryland area the pivotal role the Chesapeake Bay plays in not only our little community, but its far-reaching watershed in which an estimated 13 million people live. The Chesapeake Bay has spawned the development of commercial opportunities such as fishing, agriculture, manufacturing, shipbuilding and more. Its waterways are a major artery; a direct line of imports and exports to and from our nation and others. The Bay is also home to a diverse ecosystem of over 2,700 species of plants and animals. Most notably: The Blue Crab.  

However, the decades of growth in and around the watershed of the Chesapeake Bay have had detrimental environmental impacts on the fragile ecosystems it houses. As a safeguard from the negative impacts of intense development along the shores of the Bay, the Maryland General Assembly established the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area Commission back in 1984The ‘critical area’ is a ribbon of land within 1,000 feet of the tidal influence of the Bay that is subject to heightened regulation because any development that close to the water is more likely to affect the health of Bay. 

What does the Critical Area Commission do?  

The Chesapeake Bay Critical Area Commission is responsible for creating and maintaining a set of criteria which would minimize the adverse effects of human activity to the natural habitats and overall health of the water. These criteria would also promote more thoughtful and consistent development within these sensitive critical areas. The Critical Area Commission works closely with local government agencies whose jurisdictions are partially or entirely within the Critical Area.  

The regulations set forth by the Critical Area Commission help to categorize land by its predominant use (development and/or designation of natural resource areas for protected habitats and forestry). These regulations help maintain the intention of the Critical Area Commission: to protect the Chesapeake Bay from the harmful effects of human activity. The Critical Area Commission also requires that each of the 61 jurisdictions within the Critical Area identify and provide for the establishment and preservation of Habitat Protection Areas. These areas include a naturally vegetated 100-foot buffer, the habitats of threatened or endangered species, significant plant and wildlife habitats as well as protected fish spawning areas for fish who migrate into the Bay each year.  

What do I need to do? 

The most common issue we see our clients facing regards removing vegetation from the Critical Area. Often homeowners will remove trees or other plant life from their property, perhaps to enhance water views, without thinking anything of it. However, doing so without approval can result in steep fines. Typically, homeowners can obtain approval to remove vegetation through their local planning office as long as that vegetation is not in the Buffer. The Critical Area law requires no net loss of forest or developed woodland cover in the Critical Area. Replacement planting may be required to make up for what is taken down to help maintain the health of the Buffer. In general, a tree cannot be removed from the Buffer unless it is dead, dying, diseased, or poses a threat to life or property.  

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ website has a wealth of information on this and other subjects for homeowners or business owners who live within the Critical Area. You can learn more about the history of the Critical Area Commission as well as find the regulations and responsibilities governing those who live in or near the Critical Area. Some of these regulations may restrict or impact home renovation projects (like deck building or pool installation), so it’s important to brush up on these before breaking ground on any major project. As always, if you have any questions, you can give us a call at (410) 535-6100 or send an email to We will do our best to help you understand the regulations as they apply specifically to you and your situation.  


This blog post that is published by Ferrante & Dill is only available for informational purposes and should not be considered legal advice. By viewing these blog posts, the reader understands there is no attorney-client relationship between the blog publisher and the reader. The blog post should not be used as a substitute for legal advice from a licensed professional attorney, and we recommend readers to consult their own legal counsel on any specific legal questions concerning a specific situation.