Trees are important to Sussex County

August 20, 2021

It was reported earlier this month that Delaware issued more than 38,000 building permits between 2015-20, ranking fifth in the country in permits issued per 1,000 residents. In Sussex County, the number of total permits – including dwellings, sheds, decks, fences, porches and commercial – continues to increase from 10,719 in fiscal year 2020 to 14,501 in fiscal 2021. Residential building permits jumped from 3,533 in fiscal 2020 to 5,306 in fiscal 2021.

The building boom – so evident while driving through eastern Sussex – has resulted in the loss of a lot of farmland, and it’s also wiped away several heavily forested areas.

Estimates indicate Sussex is losing about 3,500 acres of woodlands every year.

You don’t have to look far to find examples. Arbor-Lyn, under construction on Warrington Road, was once 35 acres of lush forest. Most of the trees, except a few bordering the property, were cut down to make way for 142 single-family homes. More recently, the developer of Monarch Glen approached the county with a plan to build 246 homes on a heavily wooded parcel off Fisher Road near Route 9. If approved, 85 of 99 acres of established forest will be removed.

Woodlands play a key role in Sussex, providing habitats for wildlife, and helping control erosion and water runoff. The rate of tree loss is concerning, and possibly problematic in the long term.

To combat this growing problem, Sussex needs to enact regulations to mitigate tree loss, requiring developers to either replant trees in other locations or donate funds to organizations supporting tree preservation. But as one local land-use attorney recently said, it might not be that simple.

When Sussex officials recently discussed a possible tree ordinance, the attorney said such regulations would compel property owners to clear-cut their land before sale to developers.

But doing nothing is not an option here.

Sussex officials should look to Talbot County, Md., for guidance. Talbot officials take the loss of trees very seriously. Every project over 20,000 square feet must abide by deforestation laws. Thresholds are set for loss of trees, and anything over that threshold requires reforestation efforts or payment into a forest conservation fund.

Tree lines have always been defining features of Sussex’s flat landscape. Let’s hope county officials take action to ensure they’re not lost.


  • Editorials are considered and written by Cape Gazette Editorial Board members, including Publisher Chris Rausch, Editor Jen Ellingsworth, News Editor Nick Roth and reporters Ron MacArthur and Chris Flood. 

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