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Planting Forest Buffers

Between July 2013 and June 2014, about 114 miles of forest buffers were planted along rivers and streams in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. This is 13 percent of the Chesapeake Bay Program’s goal to plant 900 miles of forest buffers each year. It brings the total amount of forest buffers planted since 1996 to 8,152 miles.

July 26, 2011

Healthy forests clean our air and water, support industries and economies, and provide us with a place to relax. Craig Highfield, Forestry for the Bay Program Manager, explains how a healthy forest works and why they are so important to the Chesapeake Bay watershed.


Forest buffers, or the trees, shrubs and other plants that grow along streams and rivers, are critical to the health of the Chesapeake Bay. Forest buffers prevent pollution from entering waterways, stabilize stream banks, provide critters with food and habitat, and keep streams cool during hot weather (to the benefit of sensitive aquatic species).


In 2014, the Chesapeake Bay Program adopted a goal to conserve existing forest buffers and restore an additional 900 miles of forest buffers each year until at least 70 percent of the watershed’s riparian areas are forested.

Since 1996, a total of 8,152 miles of forest buffers have been planted along rivers and streams in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. While progress is being made to restore streamside trees and shrubs, it is slow: since 2009, plantings have declined almost every year.

Between July 2013 and June 2014, about 114 miles of forest buffers were planted. Individual states reported the following plantings:

  • Delaware: 0 miles
  • Maryland: 16.9 miles
  • New York: 32.2 miles
  • Pennsylvania: 34 miles
  • Virginia: 23.6 miles
  • West Virginia: 7.2 miles

Note: While Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia provided detailed data that directly calculated miles planted, Delaware, New York and Pennsylvania did not. The miles planted in these latter states were estimated using acreage data submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to track progress toward the Bay’s “pollution diet,” or Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL). The conversion of acreage to miles for these states used an average width of 100 feet for Pennsylvania and 50 feet for Delaware and New York.

Prior to 2010, this indicator only included data from Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia. From 2010 on, we have included data from other watershed jurisdictions where available.

Additional Information

This indicator tracks stream bank and shoreline miles in the Chesapeake Bay watershed that are buffered by areas of woody vegetation at least 35 feet wide. Because it does not take into account those buffers that have been lost, it does not necessarily represent a net resource gain.

Directive to protect Chesapeake forests

In 2006, Chesapeake Bay Program partners published The State of Chesapeake Forests, which served as the impetus for a 2007 directive to protect forests important to water quality (including riparian forests and urban forests). But the rate of forest buffer restoration has slowed in recent years, as documented in the report Buffering the Bay.

In 2012, our Forestry Workgroup collaborated with more than 65 representatives from federal, state, local and nongovernmental agencies to develop a Chesapeake Forest Restoration Strategy. The strategy contains a number of actions to support riparian forest buffers and other targeted tree plantings.

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