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Chesapeake Bay partnership celebrates preservation of 9.1 million acres from development

Rebecca Barnabi
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As of 2022, data shows that 9.1 million acres of land in the Chesapeake Bay watershed is permanently protected from development.

The acreage accounts for approximately 22 percent of the total land in the region. Nearly 1.64 million acres have been added to permanent protection since 2010, achieving 82 percent of the Protected Land Outcome in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement. The overall Protected Lands Outcome is expected to be achieved by its 2025 deadline.

Protected lands are areas throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed with cultural, historical, ecological and agricultural value that have been permanently protected. Chesapeake Bay Program partners secure land conservation by holding easements, accepting donations and purchasing properties and development rights.

“Since 2010, stakeholders have been working hard on the goal to protect an additional two million acres by 2025,” Chesapeake Conservancy President & CEO Joel Dunn said. “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. 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. To achieve that goal here in the Chesapeake, we will need to increase the annual rate of conservation by 350 percent. It’s a massive, but achievable, undertaking and one that is paramount to the future sustainability of our watershed.”

The Chesapeake Bay Program works to extend the acres of protected lands through its Protected Lands Workgroup, which is led by the National Park Service and includes representatives from state and federal agencies, nonprofits and local governments. The partnership set a goal in 2010 to protect an additional two million acres of land in addition to what had already been protected across the watershed. The goal is for 225,000 acres of wetlands and 695,000 acres of forest.

“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,” Aurelia Gracia, Protected Lands Workgroup Coordinator and Outdoor Recreation Planner, National Park Service, said.

State agencies, which own approximately 45 percent of the protected acres in the watershed, are the largest entity contributing to land protection. States often work with private organizations, non-governmental organizations (land trusts and others), 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 percent of protected acres.

To achieve its Protected Lands Outcome by 2025, the partnership must add approximately 130,000 acres of protected lands every year. 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.

The Chesapeake Executive Council signed Directive No. 21-1 Collective Action for Climate Change in 2021, which commits the partnership to conserving 30 percent of the watershed’s lands and waters by 2030, and meets the national goal set by President Biden in January 2021.

The greatest number of protected lands in the watershed is 3.6 million acres in Pennsylvania. Virginia has protected 2.9 million acres, Maryland protected 1.7 million acres, West Virginia protected 440,000 acres, New York protected 332,000 acres, Delaware protected 126,000 acres and the District of Columbia protected 8,700 acres.

Protected lands in the watershed increased by 19 percent between 2011 and 2022.

“The Maryland Department of Natural Resources is excited that the updated Protected Lands data is now available,” Maryland Department of Natural Resources Program Open Space Stateside Supervisor Cheryl Wise said. “This information will highlight the conservation achievements reached so far and assist the many conservation partners working in the Chesapeake Bay watershed moving forward. The Maryland the Beautiful Act has set goals to protect 30 percent of lands in Maryland by 2030 and 40 percent by 2040. This crucial, ongoing conservation work allows us to preserve, protect, restore, and enhance our important and breathtakingly beautiful natural resources.”

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.