ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The Chesapeake Bay Program recently announced that as of 2022, data it has collected shows that 9.1 million acres of land in the Chesapeake Bay watershed — roughly 22% of the total land in the region — are permanently protected from development.
The Chesapeake Bay Program works to extend the acres of protected lands through its Protected Lands Workgroup, which is led primarily by the National Park Service and includes representatives from state and federal agencies, nonprofits and local governments, it said.
According to the program, protected lands are areas throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed with cultural, historical, ecological and agricultural value that have been permanently protected from development. Chesapeake Bay Program partners secure land conservation by holding easements, accepting donations and purchasing properties and development rights.
In 2010, the partnership set a goal to protect an additional two million acres of land on top of what had been previously protected across the watershed — specifically, 225,000 acres of wetlands and 695,000 acres of forest. As of 2022, nearly 1.64 million acres have been added since 2010, achieving 82% of the Protected Land Outcome in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, with the overall Protected Lands Outcome expected to be achieved by the 2025 deadline.
“Land conservation plays a crucial role in preserving the environmental integrity of the Chesapeake watershed. By protecting these landscapes, we can ensure that the region’s cultural and natural resources remain preserved, and that habitats for countless species, including aquatic ecosystems, are maintained. It is our responsibility to work towards this goal, so that future generations can continue to benefit from the ecological richness of this area,” said Aurelia Gracia, Protected Lands Workgroup Coordinator and Outdoor Recreation Planner, National Park Service.
Land conservation is one of the best ways to protect the health of the Bay watershed amid a growing population, accordinf to the program. When protected from development, forests and wetlands can improve water quality, provide habitat for wildlife, preserve the region’s history and culture, offer outdoor recreation opportunities and make communities more resilient to the impacts of climate change.
State agencies, which own approximately 45% of the protected acres in the watershed, are the largest entity contributing to land protection, according to the program. The states often work closely with private organizations, non-governmental organizations such as land trusts, local governments and other entities to conserve the land. The second largest entity contributing to land conservation in the Bay watershed is the federal government, which holds approximately 22% of protected acres.
The Chesapeake Bay Program said it is on course to meet its Protected Lands Outcome by 2025, which will require adding roughly 130,000 acres of protected lands each year. To meet this goal, the partnership will focus on increasing funding, incentives and mechanisms for protecting conservation priorities, growing the capacity and effectiveness of land trusts and enhancing public support for and engagement in land conservation, among other strategies.
Additionally, in 2021, the Chesapeake Executive Council signed Directive No. 21-1 Collective Action for Climate Change, in which it committed the partnership to conserving 30% of the watershed’s lands and waters by 2030, meeting the national goal set by President Biden in January 2021.
“Since 2010, stakeholders have been working hard on the goal to protect an additional two million acres by 2025. Using the latest data and technology, Chesapeake Conservancy’s geospatial analysts assessed land conservation progress. The good news is that the data shows that we’re largely on track to meet the 2025 goal, but the reality is that it’s time to move the goalpost,” said Joel Dunn, President & CEO, Chesapeake Conservancy.
“The world’s leading scientists are calling for dramatic increases in conservation efforts to conserve 30% of the Earth’s lands and waters by 2030, which President Biden responded to with an executive order for the United States,” he added. “To achieve that goal here in the Chesapeake, we will need to increase the annual rate of conservation by 350%. It’s a massive, but achievable, undertaking and one that is paramount to the future sustainability of our watershed.”