Land Use Options Evaluation
By the end of 2017, with the direct involvement of local governments or their representatives, evaluate policy options, incentives and planning tools that could assist them in continually improving their capacity to reduce the rate of conversion of agricultural lands, forests and wetlands as well as the rate of changing landscapes from more natural lands that soak up pollutants to those that are paved over, hardscaped or otherwise impervious. Strategies should be developed for supporting local governments’ and others’ efforts in reducing these rates by 2025 and beyond.
Recent Progress: Increase
Increased coordination and better understanding of local needs and priorities have helped the Healthy Watersheds Goal Implementation Team increase progress towards this outcome. Recent efforts to update land use change data and develop an Impervious Surface Cover Change indicator in support of the Land Use Methods and Metrics Outcome provide a valuable source of information to inform strategies for supporting local governments. The communication of these metrics serves as a valuable tool for local planners when making policy decisions. In addition, the Community Response to Land Use Change project was initiated, which will use audience research and land use data to identify and engage communities in the watershed that experience land use changes that threaten valuable habitats. Team members contributed to a new local government engagement strategy to ensure the latest technical resources and land use change metrics support local land use decisions. Members of relevant workgroups and goal teams have continued to present on updates and policy implications of high-resolution land use/land cover data, as well as related tools and resources.
Outlook: On Course
The Land Use Options Evaluation Outcome is on course. This outcome is focused on developing and implementing strategies to increase the capacity of local governments and others to reduce land conversion of natural land cover types to impervious surfaces. With this qualitative outcome, there are challenges in assessing the degree to which efforts are helping to reduce the rate of land conversion, but the development of a local government engagement strategy and the communication of available land use data and tools are expected to lead toward meeting the outcome.
Each state in the Chesapeake Bay watershed operates at least one land conservation program. These programs differ in how they incentivize conservation and dis-incentivize development. A local government’s decision to adopt a land use policy tool can depend on the existing regulatory and political landscape, the tools that are in place in their own or in neighboring jurisdictions, and their administrative capacity. Regulatory land use policy tools can include:
- A comprehensive plan, which articulates a strategy to guide the future development of a county, city or township;
- A zoning ordinance, which controls the physical development of property within the borders of certain parcels of land;
- A subdivision ordinance, which regulates the division, consolidation, boundary change or development of parcels of land;
- Impact fees, which require developers to fund the new or expanded public capital facilities that will serve their developments; and
- Urban service boundaries, which limit the extension of public services (e.g., water and sewer infrastructure) in order to dis-incentivize development outside of a particular area.
Voluntary land use policy tools can include:
- A conservation easement, which restricts uses or development that would damage resources on a landowner’s property; and
- A transfer of development rights program, which allows a landowner to sell the development rights from her land to a buyer for use on her land while maintaining existing agricultural or forestry uses.
An evaluation of policy options, incentives and planning tools that can help local governments conserve forestland, in particular, was also published in June of 2017. Considered Phase I and Phase II of a three-phase task, the Healthy Watersheds Forest Retention Project explains how local governments can save resources by using forest conservation as a method of managing stormwater and includes “toolkits” of policies and practices that can support forest conservation in Pennsylvania and Virginia.
Phase III of the Healthy Watersheds Forest Retention Project will be completed in 2019 and will train local leaders in the implementation of the policies and practices described in Phase II. The project leads will work with a pilot locality in Virginia to quantify the impacts of land conversion, evaluate the policies and incentives that support conservation, and create a “How To” guide to help local governments across the region prioritize land protection.
Phase III of the Healthy Watersheds Forest Retention Project will also produce a financial model to incentivize private investment in land conservation. To create this model, the project leads will develop an inventory of existing land use programs and funding sources, evaluate and target investor interest, and aggregate demand.
To achieve this outcome, Chesapeake Bay Program partners have committed to:
- Exploring existing local and state-level land use policy options, incentives and planning tools;
- Gathering, summarizing and placing online studies and reports on the costs, benefits and effectiveness of local and state-level land use policy options, incentives and planning tools; and
- Surveying local governments and interest groups to determine which local or state-level land use policy options, incentives and planning tools have most effectively reduced land conversion rates, whether an online compilation of studies and reports meets their needs, and, if not, what more they need to reduce land conversion rates.
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 March of 2023. It will be reviewed and discussed by the Management Board again in March of 2024.
Logic & Action Plan
Chesapeake Bay Program partners have committed to taking a series of specific actions that will support the management approaches listed above.
Completed actions from this outcome's Logic & Action Plan include:
- In June of 2017, two projects were completed to support the evaluation of existing land use policy options, incentives and planning tools that can reduce the rate of farm, forest and wetland conversion. The Conservation Land-Use Policy Toolkit describes and evaluates seven policy tools that local governments can use to slow the conversion of farms, forests and wetlands. The Healthy Watersheds Forest Retention Project explains how local governments can save resources by using forest conservation as a method of managing stormwater and includes “toolkits” of policies and practices that can support forest conservation in Pennsylvania and Virginia. Both projects were completed with Chesapeake Bay Program funding administered by the Chesapeake Bay Trust.
The Healthy Watersheds Goal Implementation Team leads the effort to achieve this outcome. It works in partnership with the Water Quality and Fostering Stewardship goal implementation teams.
Participating partners include:
- State of Delaware
- District of Columbia
- State of Maryland
- Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
- Commonwealth of Virginia
- Chesapeake Bay Commission
- Natural Resources Conservation Service (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
- U.S. Geological Survey
- National Park Service