Data collected between 2015 and 2016 show that, since 2010, approximately 1,004,577 acres of land in the Chesapeake Bay watershed have been permanently protected from development. This marks an achievement of 50 percent of the land conservation goal adopted in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement and brings the total amount of protected land in the watershed to 8.8 million acres.
Watershed-wide, protected lands have increased 13 percent since 2010. While some increases in acreage can be attributed to improvements in data collection—for instance, by reporting previously protected but newly digitized, corrected or refined parcels of land—other increases can be attributed to newly protected parcels of land. Because state and other protected lands databases do not consistently include the date of protection (i.e., the “date established”) for parcels, it is impossible to determine the extent to which either factor has influenced observed increases in acreage over time. Due to the changing nature of development pressure, conservation incentives, funding for land acquisition and political and public sentiment, experts anticipate some variation between the number of additional acres that are protected each year.
The 8.8 million acres of protected lands in the watershed—which account for 22 percent of the total land in the region—include: 3.3 million acres in Pennsylvania; 2.9 million acres in Virginia; 1.7 million acres in Maryland; close to 410,000 acres in West Virginia; close to 323,000 acres in New York; close to 108,000 acres in Delaware; and more than 11,000 acres in the District of Columbia.
State agencies are the largest entity contributing to land protection: they own approximately 46 percent of the protected acres in the watershed. Watershed-wide, the federal government holds approximately 25 percent of the protected acres. Private organizations, non-governmental organizations, local governments and other entities have also been extremely active in land conservation and will remain critical partners in land protection efforts.
For decades, our partners have permanently protected lands that have cultural, historical, ecological and agricultural value by holding easements, accepting donations and purchasing properties and development rights. Because protected lands can protect water quality, support fish and wildlife, and preserve our history, putting land under protection is one way to ensure the watershed withstands population growth and sustains the plants, animals and people that live here.