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.

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 attribute the slowed progress to lack of technical assistance, inconsistent buffer programs that are difficult to use, competing water quality practices, and low incentives.

Many of the Bay states' 2019 Phase III Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs) established even more ambitious goals for forest buffers. 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.

Learn About Factors Influencing Progress

Management Strategy

To achieve this outcome, Chesapeake Bay Program partners have committed to:

  • Facilitating connections between federal, state and local leaders and the U.S. Department of Agriculture;
  • Aligning forest buffer programs with related projects and funding sources (e.g., land conservation, stream restoration and stormwater programs and funding);
  • Improving existing forest buffer programs (e.g., amending state Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program agreements, increasing and improving technical assistance, and conducting outreach and education) to make them more appealing to landowners; and
  • Using science and technology (e.g., high-resolution satellite imagery and geographic prioritization tools) to improve the forest buffer practice.

Monitoring and assessing progress toward the outcome will occur through data related to the miles of forest buffers planted each year, as collected through annual progress reports. High-resolution satellite imagery will confirm these buffers are there and represent a net gain for that part of the watershed.

As part of the Chesapeake Bay Program’s partnership-wide implementation of adaptive management, progress toward this outcome was reviewed and discussed by the Management Board in August of 2020.

Download Management Strategy (.pdf)

Logic & Action Plan

Chesapeake Bay Program partners have committed to taking a series of specific actions that will support the management approaches listed above.

Learn About Logic & Action Plan

Participating Partners

The Forestry Workgroup, which is part of the Water Quality Goal Implementation Team, leads the effort to achieve this outcome. It works in partnership with the Vital Habitats and Healthy Watersheds goal implementation teams.

Participating partners include:

  • State of Delaware
  • State of Maryland
  • State of New York
  • Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
  • Commonwealth of Virginia
  • State of West Virginia
  • Chesapeake Bay Commission
  • Farm Service Agency (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
  • National Park Service
  • Natural Resources Conservation Service (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
  • U.S. Department of Defense
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • U.S. Forest Service
  • U.S. Geological Survey
  • Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay
  • Baltimore Greenspace
  • Cacapon Institute
  • Casey Trees
  • Chesapeake Bay Foundation
  • Delaware Center for Horticulture
  • Ducks Unlimited
  • Maryland Farm Bureau Federation
  • The Nature Conservancy
  • Parks and People Foundation
  • Pennsylvania Conservation Districts
  • Pheasants Forever
  • Potomac Conservancy
  • Smithsonian Institution
  • Stroud Water Research Center
  • TreeBaltimore
  • Trout Unlimited
  • Virginia Agribusiness Council
  • Virginia Cattlemen’s Association
  • Virginia Dairymen’s Association
  • Virginia Farm Bureau
  • Virginia Grain Producers