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Protected Lands

As of the end of 2011, 8,013,132 acres of land have been permanently protected throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed.  This constitutes permanent protection of approximately 20% of the land in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Protected Lands 2011

Map: Protected Lands 2011

Date created: Nov 15 2012 / Download

This map represents a complete, aggregated layer of protected lands in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed and intersecting Counties as of 2011. It is a combination of multiple State, Federal and Non-Governmental Organization sources. Overlapping and duplicate areas have be deleted to address double counting.


States, local governments, federal agencies and non-governmental organizations have identified millions of acres of lands with important conservation values—lands key to working farms and forests, to maintaining water quality, to sustaining fish and wildlife, to preserving our history, and to providing for outdoor recreation. These lands are what form the ecological and cultural heritage of the Chesapeake watershed. Population growth, development and climate change increase pressure on some of the most valuable lands. For decades, Bay Program partners have pursued land conservation through permanently protecting important conservation lands by buying key properties, accepting donations, arranging for easements and purchasing development rights.


The Strategy for Protecting and Restoring the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, issued under Executive Order 13508, sets a goal of protecting an additional two million acres of lands throughout the watershed currently identified as high conservation priorities at the federal, state or local level, including 695,000 acres of forest land of highest value for maintaining water quality. This goal, set for 2025, expands the scope of previous land conservation tracking efforts to include protected lands throughout the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Past Goals

The Chesapeake 2000 Agreement established a goal to permanently preserve from development 20 percent of the total watershed acreage in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and the District of Columbia, or 6.8 million acres, by 2010. This goal was achieved and surpassed in 2007, though tracking towards continued through 2010.  Tabular tracking data related to this goal is still available in the Protected Lands Data Download.

In December 2007, all watershed states and the District of Columbia committed to permanently protect an additional 695,000 acres of forested land by 2020.  This commitment was incorporated into the Executive Order protected lands goal.

A New Approach to Tracking Protected Lands

Regional tracking of permanently protected lands towards the Chesapeake 2000 Agreement goal was conducted from 2000 to 2010 through a tabular data call process. The expansion to watershed-wide tracking, advances in geospatial data, and a broad regional commitment among many partners to land conservation data sharing through LandScope Chesapeake created a need for transitioning 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 visualizing protected lands on the landscape and assessing progress relative to various conservation goals, such as protecting targeted ecological areas, wildlife corridors, forested shorelines, etc.

Additional information on the transition from tabular to GIS data tracking for protected lands in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed is provided in the Analysis & Methods documentation.

In 2008, USGS staff at Chesapeake Bay Program Office undertook a data collection effort to track protected lands in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed in a geospatial environment. At the time, the data were the most recent and best available. However, this initial effort was challenging due to lack of geospatial data, decentralized GIS systems, and overlap between many properties in the datasets.  Topology editing was used to correct overlap between parcels and the resulting dataset constituted the first comprehensive GIS layer of protected lands for the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed; it indicated a total of 7.6 million protected acres in the watershed.

With advances in GIS and many new datasets becoming available, and to support implementation of LandScope Chesapeake, the USGS undertook another data collection effort between December of 2011 and July 2012. This more expansive data collection effort shows an increase of approximately 400,000 acres over 2008, bringing the cumulative total to approximately 8 million acres of protected lands within the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. The difference between the two data collection efforts (2008 and 2011) is the result of two factors: (a) the addition of previously protected (prior to 2008) but newly digitized parcels to GIS databases; and (b) the addition of parcels newly protected since the last collection effort.  Unfortunately, on a watershed-wide basis it is not yet feasible to determine the extent of either factor because state and other protected lands databases have not consistently included the date of protection (aka “date established”) for each parcel.

Cumulatively, 8,013,132 acres of land have been permanently protected in the Chesapeake Bay watershed through 2011.  This figure includes permanent protection for:

  • 95,581 acres of land in Delaware (21% of DE land within the watershed)
  • 10,572 acres of land in the District of Columbia (27% of DC land within the watershed)
  • 1,247,568 acres of land in Maryland (21% of MD land within the watershed)
  • 299,745 acres of land in New York (08% of NY land within the watershed)
  • 3,231,252 acres of land in Pennsylvania (23% of PA land within the watershed)
  • 2,771,257 acres of land in Virginia (20% of VA land within the watershed)
  • 357,157 acres of land in West Virginia (16% of WV land within the watershed)

State agencies are the largest entity contributing to land protection; they own approximately 49% of the protected acres in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Watershed-wide, the federal government owns approximately 28% of the protected acres.  Private organizations, non-governmental organizations, local governments, and other entities have also been very active in land conservation, and will remain critical partners in protection efforts that will be counted towards the two million acre goal.

Additional Information

Land Included in this Indicator

As currently defined by the Chesapeake Bay Program, protected lands means lands permanently protected from development, whether by purchase or donation, through 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, including transfer of development rights programs that require a conservation easement for the “sending” property and 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.

Baseline Acreages

Tracking progress towards a conservation goal requires the ability to measure acres protected from one interval to the next. The 2011 data collection effort forms a “working baseline” of geospatial protected lands data from which to measure future watershed-wide land conservation progress. However, this working baseline is anticipated to be revised in the coming two years as state and local protected lands databases are continuously updated to capture previously protected but unreported parcels.

Source of Data

Chesapeake Bay Program

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Annapolis, Maryland 21403
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