Thursday, April 18, 2024

Chesapeake Bay Program Highlights Increase in Wetlands Across the Watershed

American black ducks visit salt marsh wetlands at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Dorchester County, Maryland in January 2023. (Photo by Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program)

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The Chesapeake Bay watershed gained 4,310 acres of newly created or restored wetlands between 2014 and 2022, the Chesapeake Bay Program reports.

This marks a 5.1% increase, progress toward the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement goal to create or reestablish 85,000 acres of tidal and non-tidal wetlands, primarily on agricultural or natural landscapes, it said. This figure includes 616 acres of wetlands on agricultural lands.

The Watershed Agreement outcome also calls for the function of 150,000 degraded wetlands to be enhanced by 2025. The latest data shows that 60,666 acres of wetlands have been enhanced between 2014-22, meeting 40.4% of this goal.

“It is promising that the Chesapeake Bay Program is moving in the right direction to increase wetland acreage throughout the watershed. We need to keep a focus on this important work to offset historic losses and anticipated impacts due to development and sea level rise,” said Pam Mason, Chair, Wetlands Workgroup and Professor, Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

Previously, the Wetlands Outcome was tracked using data collected through the National Environmental Information Exchange Network (NEIEN), reported by each of the watershed jurisdictions — Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia — as part of their annual Watershed Implementation Plan tracking to the Environmental Protection Agency under the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load.

Under that system, only wetlands that were created or restored for the purposes of meeting water quality goals were reported, and NEIEN does not track the acreage of wetlands enhanced, and the process in which these data were collected varied from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

In 2023, the Wetlands Workgroup released a new tracking system, Habitat Tracker, that allows data for all created, restored and enhanced wetlands to be reported, the program said. Due to this reporting transition, the program cautioned it is likely that all reported gains and enhancements are not yet accounted for. It also notes wetland losses are not yet available through the Habitat Tracker.

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