Recent Progress: Decrease
Although the planting of over 8,300 acres of community trees since 2014 (as reported through the National Environmental Information Exchange Network) represents significant progress, the latest land use/land cover change data show a net loss of over 25,000 acres between 2013/14 and 2017/18. This net loss moves the Tree Canopy Outcome further from its goal.
While the new land use/land cover change data has illuminated the overall net loss of tree canopy in the watershed, the data are a source of valuable information for state and local officials. Ongoing efforts toward using this data to improve community tree canopies in the watershed are detailed in the Logic and Action Plan section. County level Tree Cover Status & Change Fact Sheets are now available for the entire watershed to help inform local action.
Outlook: Off Course
The Tree Canopy Outcome is off course from being met by 2025, as demonstrated by the net loss of over 25,000 acres of tree canopy shown in the most recent data. While it may take 10-15 years for tree plantings to be reflected in the aerial imagery used for producing the land use/land cover data, the 8,300 acres planted so far are not enough to mitigate the losses. Much effort is needed to reverse the trend of net losses and achieve the net gain specified in the outcome.
Since annual reporting began in 2014, a total of 8,307 acres of trees were planted in community areas across the region This total includes three tree planting best management practices (BMPs) reported by the jurisdictions: urban tree planting, urban forest planting, and urban forest buffers. Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania, which have most of the Chesapeake Bay watershed within their borders, have seen the most acres of tree planting BMPs in community areas. During this timeframe, 6,501 acres have been planted in Maryland, 445 acres in Virginia, 915 acres in Pennsylvania, 33 acres in West Virginia, 40 acres in New York, 359 acres in the District of Columbia, and 14 acres in Delaware, respectively.
Another consideration to note with this data is that tree 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, tree planting data are removed from CAST after 15 years to account for these acres’ reflection in land cover data. Since tree 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 tree plantings reported each year, unaffected by prior years’ practice expirations.
Tree Canopy Net Change
While the overall trend of the watershed’s community tree cover has shown a decline between 2013/14 and 2017/18, some jurisdictions experienced a positive trend. New York and the District of Columbia reported net gains (78 acres and 21 acres, respectively) between 2013 and 2017, with New York showing net gains in that period that exceeded its annual goal of five acres per year. During this same period, Maryland reported the greatest cumulative community tree planting, almost 86% of the acres reported by all watershed jurisdictions (4,537 acres between 2014 and 2017), but also showed the greatest net loss (13,804 acres between 2013 and 2017). This demonstrates that robust tree planting and maintenance programs must be paired with conservation of the existing tree canopy to minimize losses and shift the overall trajectory towards gain.
The tree planting indicator will be updated every year with each jurisdiction’s reported tree 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 trees registering in the land use/land cover data.
To achieve this outcome, Chesapeake Bay Program partners have committed to:
- Supporting training and information-sharing within the urban forestry community.
- Helping partners determine how to develop and fund urban tree canopy programs.
- Expanding community engagement in urban tree canopy implementation.
- Supporting efforts to better incentivize tree canopy planting and protection.
- Supporting the development of watershed-wide high-resolution community tree canopy data and other user-friendly tracking and verification systems.
Monitoring and assessing progress toward the outcome will occur through data related to community tree plantings and gains or losses of tree canopy over time.
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 February of 2023. It will be reviewed and discussed by the Management Board again in February 2025.
Logic & Action Plan
Chesapeake Bay Program partners have committed to taking a series of specific actions that will support the management approaches listed above.
- Sharing new County Tree Canopy Status & Change Fact Sheets and creating additional fact sheets at the municipal scale.
- Implementing state-specific grants and programs to incentivize progress toward community tree canopy targets.
- Holding strategy sessions with each jurisdiction after the Tree Canopy Funding & Policy Roundtable and supporting the development of jurisdiction-specific action plans for the next two years.
- Hosting a virtual Chesapeake Tree Canopy Summit in 2023, in partnership with Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.
- Commencing a new Chesapeake Goal Implementation Team (GIT)-funded project focused on Addressing Regional Tree Supply Challenges & Opportunities.
- Collaborated with the U.S. Forest Service, Chesapeake Conservancy, U.S. Geological Survey and other partners to develop County Tree Cover Status & Change Fact Sheets for the entire watershed.
- Convened a Tree Canopy Funding & Policy Roundtable in March 2023 for state and local leaders, after conducting jurisdiction strategy sessions to prepare for it.
- Collaborated with partners on updates to Capitalizing on the Benefits of Trees, Module 4 of the Local Government Guide to the Chesapeake Bay and produced 2-page Tree Resource Guides for each of the Bay states.
- Completed Trees and Schools: Growing the Connection guide to support collaboration across outcomes for tree canopy, environmental literacy and sustainable schools.
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 Goal Implementation Team.
Participating partners include:
- Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (State of Delaware)
- Delaware Forest Service (State of Delaware)
- Maryland Forest Service (State of Maryland)
- New York Department of Environmental Conservation Division of Lands and Forests (State of New York)
- Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Bureau of Forestry (Commonwealth of Pennsylvania)
- Virginia Department of Forestry (Commonwealth of Virginia)
- West Virginia Division of Forestry (State of West Virginia)
- Department of Energy and Environment (District of Columbia)
- District Department of Transportation Urban Forestry Administration (District of Columbia)
- Chesapeake Bay Commission
- U.S. Forest Service (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
- National Park Service
- U.S. Department of Defense
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
- U.S. Geological Survey
- Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay
- Cacapon Institute