Between 2017 and 2018, about 158 miles of forest buffers were planted along rivers and streams in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, followed by about 83 miles in 2019. While this marks progress toward the outcome, it is 742 and 817 miles below the 900-mile-per-year target, respectively.
Forest Buffers Planted (2010-2019)
Since 2010, the miles of forest buffers planted each year has averaged just 25% of the yearly restoration target that will help us reach our clean water goals. Of the forest buffers reported in 2018 and 2019, 143 miles were reported in Pennsylvania, 54 miles were reported in Maryland, 18 miles were reported in New York, 13 miles were reported in Virginia, 12 miles were reported in West Virginia, and less than 1 mile was reported in Delaware. Experts contribute the slowed progress to lower incentives paid to landowners, unpopular and inconsistent buffer programs, competing water quality practices, and lack of effective technical assistance to help with outreach and education of landowners.
In 2019, the states established ambitious new goals for forest buffers in their Phase III Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs). In total, the states put 190,500 acres of cumulative forest buffer implementation in their Phase III WIPs to achieve by 2025. To put this in context, as of 2019, states had reported a cumulative total of 38,255 acres of forest buffers. This reflects a gap of 152,245 acres or 12,448 miles, assuming an average 100.9 ft buffer width. Between 2020 and 2025, states would need to add 2,075 miles per year to meet the targets in their Phase III WIPs.
Forest buffers are critical to the health of the Chesapeake Bay: they stabilize stream banks, prevent nutrient pollution from entering waterways, provide food and habitat for wildlife, and keep streams cool during hot weather. Because of these and other benefits, forest buffers are considered one of the most cost-effective best management practices to benefit the Bay.