Data collected between 2015 and 2016 show that, since 2010, approximately 936,639 acres of land in the Chesapeake Bay watershed have been permanently protected from development. This marks an achievement of 47 percent of the land conservation goal adopted in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement and brings the total amount of protected land in the watershed to 8.74 million acres.
Chesapeake Bay Program partners have identified millions of acres of lands with high conservation value. These lands protect water quality, sustain fish and wildlife, maintain working farms and forests, preserve our history, and provide opportunities for outdoor recreation. But population growth, development and climate change increase pressure on some of the most valuable lands in the watershed.
Land is a finite and fragile resource. For decades, our partners have permanently protected from development lands that have cultural, historical, ecological or agricultural value. Partners have purchased properties, accepted donations, arranged for easements and purchased development rights.
Conserving land relies on public support. Reporting on the status of land protection in the watershed can help generate that support and provide transparency related to these efforts.
In 2014, the Chesapeake Bay Program adopted a goal to, by 2025, protect an additional two million acres of lands throughout the watershed—currently identified as high-conservation priorities at the federal, state or local level—including 225,000 acres of wetlands and 695,000 acres of forest land of highest value for maintaining water quality.
The baseline for this goal is the amount of land conserved in 2010: 7.8 million acres.
In 2000, the Bay Program set a goal to permanently preserve from development 20 percent of the land area in the watershed portions of Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and the District of Columbia. The 6.8-million acre goal was achieved and surpassed in 2007.
In December 2007, all watershed jurisdictions agreed to permanently protect an additional 695,000 acres of forested land by 2020. In 2009, this commitment was incorporated into the Chesapeake Bay Executive Order, which set a goal to protect an additional two million acres of lands throughout the watershed by 2025, including 695,000 acres of forest land of highest value for maintaining water quality. This goal initiated the watershed-wide tracking of land protection progress from a 2010 baseline. It also formed the basis for the goal adopted in the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement.
Through 2016, a total of 8,736,639 acres of land have been permanently protected in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. This figure includes permanent protection for:
Since 2010, approximately 936,639 acres of land in the Chesapeake Bay watershed have been permanently protected from development. This marks an achievement of 47 percent of the land conservation goal adopted in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement.
State agencies are the largest entity contributing to land protection: they own approximately 46 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.
Defining Protected Lands
The Chesapeake Bay Program defines protected lands as lands that are permanently protected from development, whether by purchase, donation, a perpetual conservation or open space easement, or fee ownership for their cultural, historical, ecological or agricultural value. This definition includes non-traditional conservation mechanisms like transfer or purchase of development rights programs. Lands protected through easements and purchase of development rights typically remain in private ownership.
Protected lands include: county, town, city, state and federal parks; designated open space and recreational land; publicly owned forests and wetlands; privately owned working farms or forests with conservation easements; historically important lands, such as protected battlefields, colonial towns and farms; military-owned parks and recreational areas.
A New Approach to Tracking Protected Lands
Until 2010, the regional tracking of protected lands was conducted through a tabular data cell process. Advances in geospatial data, the expansion to watershed-wide tracking and a broad commitment among partners to share data through LandScope Chesapeake fueled a transition to tracking protected lands in a GIS environment.
Unlike pure tabular data, land protection information associated with a GIS database better serves the needs of multiple users and objectives. It allows us to visualize protected lands on the landscape and assess progress relative to various conservation goals, such as protecting certain ecological areas, wildlife corridors or forested shorelines.
More information on this transition can be found in the Analysis & Methods documentation above.
Chesapeake Bay Program