Recent Progress: Increase

Forest buffer planting has steadily increased over the last two years with 457 forest buffer miles restored in 2022 and 640.5 in 2023, more miles of new buffers than any year since 2016. This represents a 50.8% attainment of the annual goal in 2022 and 71.2% in 2023; this goal of 900 miles per year has only been met once, in 2002, since tracking of tree plantings began. The development and expansion of flexible, effective buffer programs, which have become increasingly popular with landowners, have contributed to the positive trend these past two years.

Outlook: Off Course

The Forest Buffers Outcome is off course. The pace and scale of forest buffer implementation is inadequate to meet the ambitious goals set in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement or in the state WIPs. The Chesapeake Bay Program has not met its annual restoration goal for riparian forest buffers since 2002, often achieving less than 10% of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement goal. Based on new land use/land cover data, 68.85% of the riparian land area is forested throughout the watershed, but the trend is a net loss. Based on this trend, it is unlikely that the goal of 70% forested riparian areas will be met.

Of the 457 miles of forest buffers restored in 2022, 340 miles were reported in Pennsylvania, 50 miles were reported in Virginia, 34 miles were reported in New York, 31 miles were reported in Maryland, 2 miles were reported in West Virginia and less than 1 mile was reported in Delaware. In 2023, 298 miles were reported in Virginia, 268 in Pennsylvania, 40 miles in Maryland, 21 in New York, 13 in West Virginia and less than 1 mile in Delaware. The totals for 2022 and 2023 continue an upward trend, with each year’s plantings increasing from the last since 2019.

Despite recent increases in progress, the miles of forest buffers planted each year since 2010 average just 29% of the yearly restoration target. 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 190,557 acres of cumulative forest buffer implementation in their Phase III WIPs to achieve by 2025. To put this in context, as of 2023, states had reported a cumulative total of 57,911 acres of forest buffers. This reflects a gap of 132,645 acres or 10,943 miles, assuming an average 100-foot buffer width.

Another consideration to note with this data is that riparian planting progress numbers reported for this outcome may be higher than the official progress scenarios from the Chesapeake Assessment Scenario Tool (CAST). To avoid double-counting, riparian planting data are removed from CAST after 15 years to account for these acres’ reflection in land cover data. Since plantings and high-resolution land use/land cover data are reported as two separate metrics for this outcome, custom CAST scenarios were developed to track all new riparian plantings reported each year, unaffected by prior years’ practice expirations.

Riparian Forest Cover Within a 100-Foot Buffer From Stream Network

Although watershed-wide only 68.85% of the riparian area was forested as of 2017/18, Virginia and West Virginia achieved greater than 70% riparian forest cover (73.8% and 75.5% respectively). However, it is important to note that the 70% goal was set as a minimum, and additional work is needed watershed-wide to restore forest buffers. The overall trend of the watershed’s riparian forest cover has shown a loss of 21,743 acres between 2013/14 and 2017/18, with only New York showing a net gain (148 acres). Virginia showed the greatest net loss over this time period (15,829 acres). The decline in riparian forest cover demonstrates that robust forest buffer planting and maintenance programs must be paired with conservation of existing forest buffers to minimize losses.

The riparian forest buffer planting indicator will be updated every year with each jurisdiction’s reported plantings, while net change will be reported every four years as the land use/land cover data becomes available. This will create a necessary fluctuation in the reported data between gains and losses, along with the delay in newly planted buffers registering in the land use/land cover data.

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, stormwater programs and funding).
  • Improving existing forest buffer programs (e.g., amending state Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program agreements, increasing and improving technical assistance, conducting outreach and education) to make them more appealing to landowners.
  • Using science and technology (e.g., high-resolution satellite imagery, 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 December of 2022. It will be reviewed and discussed by the Management Board again in June of 2024.

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.


  • Renewing and maintaining leadership at the jurisdiction and Partnership levels, especially to support implementing jurisdiction Riparian Forest Buffer Action Strategies.
  • Supporting and developing effective, flexible buffer programs with innovative financing and comprehensive services (e.g., planning, planting, maintenance).
  • Building capacity and improving equity in staff, contractors, and outreach.
  • Improving Riparian Forest Buffer outreach and communication.
  • Using new data and tools to improve strategic planning, climate resilience, equitable and effective buffer delivery, and reporting.
  • Conserving existing buffers.

Recently Completed



  • Convened the Chesapeake Riparian Forest Buffer 2022 Leadership Workshop and organized two pre-workshop webinars and a pre-workshop synthesis effort
  • Developed high-level Action Strategies in each jurisdiction to help focus and coordinate riparian forest buffers efforts.


  • Continued to convene riparian forest buffer task forces or coordinating bodies in states where goals are regularly not being met.
  • Improved riparian forest buffers verification by working with states on reporting and extending the credit duration of forest buffers in the model to 15 years.

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)

  • Natural Resources Conservation Service (U.S. Department of Agriculture)

  • 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

  • The Nature Conservancy
  • Parks and People Foundation
  • Pennsylvania Conservation Districts

  • Potomac Conservancy

  • Stroud Water Research Center
  • TreeBaltimore
  • Trout Unlimited