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Planting Forest Buffers

From July 2012 to June 2013, about 229 miles of forest buffers were planted along the Bay watershed’s streams and rivers.  A total of 7,994 miles have been planted watershed-wide since 1996*.

*Prior to 2010, the Chesapeake Bay Program tracked riparian forest buffer planting in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia.  In 2010, CBP began including planting data from New York, West Virginia and Delaware

Riparian Forest Buffer Restoration (2013)

Map: Riparian Forest Buffer Restoration (2013)

Date created: Apr 14 2014 / Download

This map shows the locations of riparian forest buffer restoration projects throughout the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Project locations were provided by Forestry Workgroup representatives from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the Virginia Department of Forestry, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the West Virginia Division of Forestry, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and the Upper Susquehanna Coalition.

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 are trees and other plants that line the banks of waterways. Forest buffers are important because they:

  • Provide wildlife habitat
  • Stabilize stream banks from erosion
  • Keep river water cool, which is important for many fish.

Well-maintained forest buffers also absorb pollution, which helps improve the health of neighboring streams and rivers as well as the water downstream.

Bay Program partners are planting forest buffers along thousands of miles of streams, creeks and rivers throughout the Bay watershed.


Bay Program partners achieved the original 2010 forest buffer restoration goal of 2,010 miles in 2002. In 2003, they set a new, long-term goal to conserve and restore forests along at least 70 percent of all streams and shoreline in the Bay watershed. They also set a near-term goal of restoring at least 10,000 miles of forest buffers in the Bay watershed portions of Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and the District of Columbia by 2010. 

In 2007, the Chesapeake Executive Council committed to continue progress toward the 2003 goal of restoring at least 900 miles of forest buffers per year (2007 Response to Forest Directive 06-1). West Virginia, Delaware and New York also signed on to this 2007 commitment.

This provided the foundation for the Forest Buffer Outcome established in the 2010 Executive Order Strategy for Protecting and Restoring the Chesapeake Bay. The forest buffer outcome states: “Restore riparian forest buffers to 63 percent, or 181,440 miles, of the total riparian miles (stream bank and shoreline miles) in the Bay watershed by 2025” (Executive Order Strategy, p. 51). Currently, 58 percent of the 288,000 total riparian miles in the Bay watershed has forest buffers in place.

Achieving this outcome requires that 14,400 new miles of forest buffers are restored between 2010 and 2025. This translates to a rate of 900 miles per year.

Note: Prior to 2010, the Chesapeake Bay Program tracked riparian forest buffer planting in MD, PA and VA.  In 2010, CBP began including planting data from NY, WV and DE.

Amount completed since 1996 (baseline year)

7,994 miles

Amount completed since 2010

1,101.2 miles

Amount completed in 2013

Between July 2012 and June 2013, 228.9 miles of forest buffers were reported being planted, achieving 25 percent of the annual target to restore 900 miles per year.  The state-by-state breakdown was:

  • Maryland: 15.9 miles
  • Pennsylvania: 138.7 miles
  • Virginia: 38.3 miles
  • West Virginia: 4.7 miles
  • Delaware: 0 miles
  • New York: 31.3 miles

These numbers represent a slight decrease in forest buffer planting from the previous year, when 285 miles were planted and a significant decrease from the 2002-2010 average of around 670 miles planted per year. Between 2012 and 2013, New York planted more forest buffers than during the previous year; Maryland planted slightly more; Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia planted fewer; and Delaware stayed the same.

As in past years, Pennsylvania contributed the majority of miles in 2013.  Since 2000, Pennsylvania has restored 58% of the riparian forest miles in the watershed.

Additional Information

This indicator includes stream bank and shoreline miles in the Bay watershed that are buffered by at least a 35-foot-wide area of woody vegetation.

This indicator tracks documented plantings of forest buffers along the Bay watershed’s streams and rivers. However, the gains do not necessarily represent a “net resource gain” Because the reporting does not take into account any buffers that have been lost. Approximately 58 percent of the riparian area in the Bay watershed is forested. Future assessments of forest buffer extent will more accurately capture forest buffer loss as well as gain.  Also, future reporting of forest buffers to this indicator and to the Chesapeake Bay model will account for known losses of forest buffers.

Progress Restoring Forest Buffers

The rate of restoration of riparian forest buffers has slowed significantly in recent years as documented in a recent paper Buffering the Bay by the Forestry Workgroup.   This slow-down happened even while the Chesapeake TMDL went into effect and forest buffers were identified as the #2 practice that states identified to reduce nitrogen in the Chesapeake Bay.  In 2014, a team led by USDA-EPA will hold a Leadership Summit with leaders from federal and state government to figure out ways to accelerate riparian forest buffer restoration in the watershed.

In 2011-2012, the Forestry Workgroup partners collaborated with over 65 representatives from federal, state, local and nongovernmental partners to develop a Chesapeake Forest Restoration Strategy. The Strategy, signed by leadership of US Forest Service, Bay State forestry agencies, and the Chesapeake Bay Program partnership in December 2012, contains a number of actions to support riparian forest buffers and other targeted tree planting in priority areas.

Riparian forest buffers are a good fit for Chesapeake Stewardship Grants according to a new strategic plan by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Grants awarded in recent years leveraged funding from U.S. Forest Service, EPA, and other sources, to support innovative forest buffer outreach and technical assistance projects throughout the watershed.

Directive to Protect Chesapeake Forests

In 2006, Bay Program partners produced a comprehensive report on forests in the Chesapeake entitled The State of Chesapeake Forests, which was the impetus for two Executive Council directives in 2006 and 2007 The 2007 Directive Protecting the Forests of the Chesapeake Watershed established a watershed-wide goal to protect forests that are important to water quality, such as riparian forests and re-establishes goals for restoring riparian and urban forests.

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