Recent Progress: Increase

According to data collected through 2022, nearly 1.64 million acres of land in the Chesapeake Bay watershed have been permanently protected since 2010. This marks an achievement of 82% of the land conservation goal adopted in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement and brings the total amount of protected land in the watershed to 9.1 million acres.

Outlook: On Course

The Protected Lands Outcome is on course to meet its target by 2025, based on the current rate of land protection. This rate is estimated at roughly 130,00 acres per year due to uncertainty around the exact date of protection for some areas of land.

Over the past few years, the workgroup has made efforts to standardize jurisdictions’ data and streamline the data collection process, which required broad efforts to clean up the data sets. Improvements to the Protected Areas Database of the United States (PAD-US), the authoritative source for federally protected lands, included removing Federal and Tribal “proclamation areas” without long-term conservation protections from being counted as “protected.” This version of the database, released in 2022, changed the calculations of protected lands not only for newly added lands but also for earlier reporting periods. While this decreased the current total number of acres of protected lands reported, it provides more accurate information, and the outlook to reach the target by 2025 remains positive.

Watershed-wide, protected lands have increased about 19% from 2011 through 2022. 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—the data indicates 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 9.1 million acres of protected lands in the watershed—which account for 22% of the total land in the region—include 3.6 million acres in Pennsylvania; 2.9 million acres in Virginia; 1.7 million acres in Maryland; about 400,000 acres in West Virginia; about 332,000 acres in New York; about 126,000 acres in Delaware; and about 8,700 acres in the District of Columbia.

State agencies, in collaboration with land trusts and local partners, are the largest entity contributing to land protection: they own approximately 45% of the protected acres in the watershed. Watershed-wide, the federal government holds approximately 22% 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.

About 76% of the protected lands in the watershed are forests, about 7,438,317 acres. An additional 279,782 acres of protected lands are forested wetlands and 176,071 acres are non-forested wetlands, totaling 455,853 acres of protected wetlands. These numbers have been updated based on the new protected lands data set and the use of high-resolution land use/land cover data.

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, agriculture 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.

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.

Learn About Factors Influencing Progress

Management Strategy

To achieve this outcome, participating 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.
  • 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 June 2025. The 2023 quarterly progress meeting was not held due to revisions to the SRS process; however, the workgroup shared updates on Protected Lands during the October 2023 Management Board meeting.

Download Management Strategy (.pdf)

Logic & Action Plan

To achieve the approaches identified in the management strategy above, participating partners have committed to a series of specific actions. An updated two-year action plan for 2024-2025 will be completed in early 2024.


  • Completing and determining applications of high-resolution land cover datasets.
  • Compiling and publishing a dataset of protected lands in the watershed every two years.
  • Convening annually to advance programs and projects that support conservation priorities.
  • Committing annually to enhancing and contributing to diversity and inclusion in conservation planning and stewardship.
  • Developing and advancing messaging around key farm, forest, heritage and habitat conservation goals.
  • Expanding partners’ awareness of funding resources (especially federal sources) available to protect land in the watershed.
  • Securing partnership and other support for key Chesapeake Conservation Partnership initiatives.
  • Completing and publishing the Protected Lands Viewer, a web portal dashboard to display data and trends for protected lands and other land uses.
  • Creating and convening a GIS Community of Practice to further refine and improve data sets for each jurisdiction for protected lands within the watershed.
  • Assembling and publishing an annual compilation of land conservation success stories throughout the Chesapeake watershed, highlighting the public benefits.
  • Working to advance the protected lands work outlined in the 2021 Chesapeake Executive Council’s Climate Directive, which states, ”Prioritize achieving our outcomes to conserve and restore wetlands, forest buffers and urban tree canopies for both increased resilience to climate impacts and to assist in meeting national goals for achieving 30% of lands and waters conserved by 2030.”
  • Working across outcomes to inform progress and targeting for land conservation, incorporating considerations about healthy watersheds, wildlife and stream habitats.
  • Using mapping, data and analysis resources to enable better forecasting of high value lands vulnerable to land conversion and lands vulnerable to climate change to inform long-term conservation decisions.

Recently Completed


  • Partnered with the National Park Service and National Trust for Historic Preservation on a community-driven initiative for documenting sites and landscapes important to African American history and culture.
  • Expanded training and network building events throughout the year to share information, skills, successes and initiatives to further advance land conservation and build the capacity of partnership and community.
  • Completed the Chesapeake Finance Network (CFN) survey report on the levels of private capital investment allocated by Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia for identified restoration and land conservation projects.
  • Implemented a scoping project (supported by 2021 CBP funding) to review and determine needs for updating the existing Important Habitat data set and additional datasets related to wildlife movement corridors.
  • Updated the progress tracking indicator including completion of 2022 data including the number of acres of protected lands within the watershed.


  • Revitalized the Protected Lands Workgroup to include representation from each of the jurisdictions within the watershed.
  • Collaborated with USGS and other partners to map lands and factors key to protecting the watershed’s public drinking water sources, both surface and groundwater, for water quality and quantity.
  • Used mapping, data and analysis resources to identify communities historically underserved regarding land conservation and public lands, in order to prioritize where to focus outreach, collaboration, engagement and resources to fill gaps.
  • Used working groups to develop proposals for consideration by states and local governments on restoration policies and practices, including factors necessary to allow Bay watershed jurisdictions to compete for a share of expanding voluntary carbon markets and other forms of ecosystem markets addressing stormwater, habitat, climate resiliency and BMPs.
  • Developed a research report on various models for the aggregation of parcels of private forest and agricultural lands to allow landowners to sell carbon offsets in growing markets. This highlights common success factors and recommendations for approaches in the watershed.

Learn About Logic & Action Plan

Participating Partners

The Fostering Stewardship Goal Implementation Team leads the effort to achieve this outcome. It works in partnership with the Water Quality and Healthy Watersheds goal implementation teams.

Participating partners include:

  • Delaware State Parks (State of Delaware)
  • District of Columbia Department of Energy and Environment (District of Columbia)
  • Maryland Department of Natural Resources (State of Maryland)
  • New York Department of Environment and Conservation (State of New York)
  • Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (Commonwealth of Pennsylvania)
  • Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (Commonwealth of Virginia)
  • West Virginia Division of Forestry (State of West Virginia)
  • West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (State of West Virginia)
  • Chickahominy Tribe
  • Lenape Tribe of Delaware
  • Accokeek Foundation
  • The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay
  • American Farmland Trust
  • Anacostia Watershed Society
  • Appalachian Trail Conservancy
  • Baltimore Green Space
  • Catoctin Land Trust
  • Chesapeake Bay Commission
  • Chesapeake Conservancy
  • Chesapeake Research Consortium
  • CleanWater Conservancy
  • The Conservation Fund
  • Defensores De La Cuenca
  • Ducks Unlimited
  • Finger Lakes Land Trust
  • James River Association
  • The Land Trust Alliance
  • Lower Shore Land Trust
  • National Parks Conservation Association
  • The Nature Conservancy
  • Nature Serve
  • National Aquarium
  • National Trust for Historic Preservation
  • Piedmont Environmental Council
  • Piscataway Conoy Tribe
  • Potomac Conservancy
  • Preservation Virginia
  • Susquehanna National Heritage
  • Trust for Public Land
  • U.S. Endowment of Forest and Communities
  • We Conserve PA
  • West Virginia Forest Legacy Program
  • West Virginia Outdoor Heritage Conservation Fund
  • U.S. Bureau of Land Management
  • U.S. National Park Service
  • U.S. Geological Survey
  • U.S. Forest Service
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • U.S. Department of Defense
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency