Recent Progress: Increase
According to data collected through early 2019, nearly 1.36 million acres of land in the Chesapeake Bay watershed have been permanently protected since 2010. This marks an achievement of 68% of the land conservation goal adopted in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement and brings the total amount of protected land in the watershed to 9.16 million acres.
Outlook: On Course
The Protected Lands Outcome is on course to meet its target by 2025. Additional emphasis is now being placed on conserving large forest tracts and wetland acres, as well as on working to exceed the original two million acre target, instead reaching to protect 30% of the watershed by 2030, in concert with the America the Beautiful Initiative and the Chesapeake Executive Council’s Directive No. 21-1: Collective Action for Climate Change.
Watershed-wide, protected lands have increased 17 percent since the 2010 baseline. While some increases in acreage can be attributed to improvements in data collection—for instance, by reporting previously protected but newly digitized, corrected or refined parcels of land—other increases can be attributed to newly protected parcels of land, and data indicate a general increase in protected lands in the watershed over time. Due to the changing nature of development pressure, conservation incentives, funding for land acquisition and political and public sentiment, experts anticipate some variation between the number of additional acres that are protected each year.
The 9.2 million acres of protected lands in the watershed—which account for 22 percent of the total land in the region—include: 3.5 million acres in Pennsylvania; 3 million acres in Virginia; 1.8 million acres in Maryland; about 400,000 acres in West Virginia; about 327,000 acres in New York; about 109,000 acres in Delaware; and close to 10,300 acres in the District of Columbia. (While new data was not obtained for West Virginia or Washington, D.C., in 2018, data corrections resulted in a change in protected land values for the latter jurisdiction.)
State agencies are the largest entity contributing to land protection: they own approximately 44 percent of the protected acres in the watershed. Watershed-wide, the federal government holds approximately 26 percent of the protected acres. Private organizations, non-governmental organizations, local governments and other entities have also been extremely active in land conservation and will remain critical partners in land protection efforts.
For decades, our partners have permanently protected lands with cultural, historical, ecological and agricultural value by holding easements, accepting donations and purchasing properties and development rights. Because protected lands can support sustainable fisheries and wildlife habitat, protect clean water and healthy watersheds, and preserve our cultural values, putting land under protection is one way to ensure the watershed withstands population growth and sustains the plants, animals and people that live here.
Tracking our progress toward protecting land from development is also critical to understanding our progress toward enhancing climate resiliency. Protected lands prevent the expansion of paved surfaces that can exacerbate nutrient pollution, harmful algal blooms and upstream floods. Along the coast, protected lands guard against floods and sea level rise. For these reasons, protected lands help us prepare for some of the disruptions climate change can cause.
In the future, this indicator may be enhanced to express the value of protected lands to climate resiliency and the quality of their protection against the impacts of climate change. A tract of land could be considered more valuable, for instance, if it provided habitat to a plant or animal threatened by climate change. A means of land protection could be considered more valuable if it prohibited shoreline hardening or allowed tidal wetlands to migrate inland in response to rising seas.
The Chesapeake Bay Program is also working to improve the data standards and best practices associated with this indicator. While we are currently able to update this indicator only every two years, our work to improve the accuracy of this data could allow us to generate real-time status updates of protected land in the watershed. These data improvements will help our partners incorporate land conservation into their Phase III Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs) and accurately evaluate their conservation progress.
To achieve this outcome, Chesapeake Bay Program partners have committed to:
- Identifying shared conservation priorities;
- Increasing funding, incentives and mechanisms for protecting conservation priorities;
- Improving the quality, quantity and accessibility of conservation data;
- Increasing the capacity and effectiveness of land trusts;
- Building an active network of land conservation organizations in the watershed; and
- Increasing public support for and engagement in land conservation.
Monitoring and assessing progress toward the outcome will occur through the compilation of land conservation data from watershed jurisdictions, the Protected Areas Database of the United States (PAD-US) and the National Conservation Easement Dataset.
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 2021. It will be reviewed and discussed by the Management Board again in August 2023.
Logic & Action Plan
Chesapeake Bay Program partners have committed to taking a series of specific actions that will support the management approaches listed above.
Participating partners include:
- Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (State of Delaware)
- Maryland Department of Natural Resources (State of Maryland)
- Maryland Department of Planning (State of Maryland)
- Maryland Historical Trust (State of Maryland)
- Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (Commonwealth of Pennsylvania)
- New York Department of Environmental Conservation (State of New York)
- New York Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (State of New York)
- Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (Commonwealth of Virginia)
- Virginia Department of Forestry (Commonwealth of Virginia)
- Virginia Department of Historic Resources (Commonwealth of Virginia)
- Bureau of Land Management
- National Park Service
- U.S. Department of Defense
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
- U.S. Forest Service
- U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
- Accokeek Foundation
- American Farmland Trust
- Appalachian Trail Conservancy
- Cacapon-Lost Rivers Land Trust
- Chesapeake Bay Commission
- Chesapeake Conservancy
- Chesapeake Conservation Partnership
- Chickahominy Indian Tribe
- Eastern Shore Land Conservancy
- James River Association
- Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership
- Journey Through Hallowed Ground Heritage Area
- Lancaster County Conservancy
- Land Trust Alliance
- Living Landscape Observer
- Maryland Environmental Trust
- Maryland Commission on Indian Affairs
- National Parks Conservation Association
- National Trust for Historic Preservation
- Otsego Land Trust
- Pennsylvania Land Trust Association
- Piedmont Environmental Council
- Piscataway-Conoy Tribe
- Potomac Conservancy
- Rappahannock River Basin Commission
- Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation
- Susquehanna Gateway Heritage Area
- The Conservation Fund
- The Nature Conservancy
- Trust for Public Land
- Virginia Environmental Endowment
- Virginia Outdoors Foundation
- Wildlife Management Institute