Forests are one of the most beneficial land use for protecting clean water. Every acre of forestland converted to another type of land use allows more nutrients to flow into the Bay and its tributaries. Historic and current human-related influences have significantly changed the Chesapeake's forests. Retaining and expanding forests is a critical, cost-effective way to reduce pollution and help restore the Bay.
Forests provide critical functions that benefit all plants and animals — including humans — such as filtering pollution, creating habitat and cleaning the air.
Forests are one of the most beneficial land uses for keeping our waterways clean and healthy. Forests are like giant sponges that absorb pollutants such as nitrogen and phosphorus in runoff. Trees also remove pollution from the air.
Healthy forests provide food, shelter, nesting sites and safe migration paths for critters in the water and on the land.
Forests absorb and trap nitrogen, particulates and other pollutants released into the atmosphere by cars, industries, agriculture and construction. Forests retain more than 85 percent of the nitrogen deposited on them from the air. Trees also produce the oxygen that we breathe.
Conservatively, Chesapeake forests provide approximately $24 billion each year from ecosystem services like outdoor recreation, carbon sequestration, flood control and wildlife habitat. Forestry, the second largest industry in Pennsylvania and Virginia and the fifth largest in Maryland, supports many of the region's small cities and towns. The forest industry provides 140,000 jobs, $6 billion in income and a total industry output of $22 billion to the Bay watershed economy each year.
Forests offer us places to reflect and experience natural beauty and solitude. They also foster active outdoor activities like hiking, biking and bird watching.
A healthy forest is a complex, interdependent community of plants, animals and soil. Each layer of the forest provides diverse habitats and helps to protect clean water.
Forests are one of the most beneficial land use for protecting clean water. Every acre of forestland converted to another type of land use—such as agriculture or urban and suburban lands—allows more nutrients to flow into the Bay and its tributaries. Historic and current human-related influences have significantly changed the composition and critical ecosystem functions of the Chesapeake's forests.
Development, parcelization, invasive species and other human influences continue to impact Chesapeake forests. Today, only 40 percent of watershed forests have enough habitat to support healthy populations of interior forest-dwelling species.
When Europeans arrived to the Bay region in the 17th century, they found vast, diverse forests dominating 95 percent of the watershed. European settlement had dramatic and lasting effects on the watershed's forests, as well as water quality in the Bay and its tributaries. By the late 1800s, 40 to 50 percent of forestland had been harvested and/or repurposed for agriculture, fuel, timber and other uses.
Throughout the 20th century, “new” forests grew back on abandoned farmland and in heavily logged forests. However, our forests are now more homogeneous in age, size and species composition than before European settlement of the watershed.
Between 1982 and 1997, the Bay watershed lost over 750,000 acres of forestland to development—a rate of about 100 acres per day. This loss of forestland is a permanent loss of air and water filters, wildlife habitat and other significant functions that forests provide.
Our remaining forestland is also becoming increasingly fragmented. Roads, farms, housing subdivisions and other human uses divide 60 percent of the watershed's forests into disconnected fragments surrounded by other land uses. Fragmented forests are less resilient to major disturbances and more prone to negative influences like wildfires and invasive species.
Parcelization is the breakup of larger land ownerships into smaller parcels. Over the past 10 years, the number of family forest owners in the Bay watershed increased by nearly 25 percent, or 23,000 new family forestland owners per year. Nearly 70 percent of all family forest owners hold less than 10 acres.
Forest parcelization often corresponds with a decline in the percentage of forestland under sustainable management plans. This restricts access to residents and increases the risk of fragmentation and conversion to other uses.
White-tailed deer have become one of the greatest threats to many of the Bay watershed's forests. As forests have become fragmented and surrounded by farms and suburban gardens, deer have more plentiful and nutritious food sources. Fragments also provide refuges for deer where hunting is prohibited.
Locally high deer populations:
Invasive plants are harmful to forests because they:
Kudzu, English ivy and Japanese honeysuckle are a few types of invasive plants that have become permanent residents of Chesapeake forests.
Invasive pests and diseases also harm forests. Gypsy moths, emerald ash borers, chestnut blight, beech bark disease and Dutch elm disease have all had long-term, devastating impacts on the region’s forests.
Retaining and expanding Chesapeake forests is a critical, cost-effective way to reduce pollution and help restore the Bay. Forests are the most beneficial land use for protecting water quality, as they absorb pollution from the air and capture, filter and retain pollutants in runoff. Investing in sustainable forestry will also help address challenges like sprawl, climate change and energy independence.
In December 2007, the Chesapeake Executive Council committed to conserve and restore the forests of the Bay watershed by:
Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania, as well as Washington, D.C., have each involved local urban and suburban communities in setting tree canopy cover goals. Urban tree canopy—the layer of trees covering the ground when viewed from above—is a good indicator of the amount and quality of forests in cities, suburbs and towns.
Targeted tree plantings could improve the environment and our quality of life.
From real to fake to “balled and burlapped,” here are four ways to make your Christmas tree green.
Baltimore County has sold more than 750 oaks, maples and other native trees to augment Maryland's forests.
Winners have been crowned Chesapeake Forest Champions.
From hardwood forests to mountaintops, learn more about our favorite places to take in the changing colors of fall.
Craig Highfield, Forestry for the Bay Coordinator, takes a walk in the woods to explain the importance of healthy forests to the Chesapeake Bay.
Produced by Matt Rath
Music: “A Moment of Jazz” by Ancelin
Publication date: December 05, 2007 | Type of document: Directive | Download: Electronic Version
In 2006, the Chesapeake Executive Council recognized that retaining, expanding, and sustainably managing forest lands is essential to restoring a healthy Chesapeake Bay by signing Directive 06-01. This implementation document responds to…
Publication date: September 01, 2006 | Type of document: Report | Download: Electronic Version
This first-of-its-kind report synthesizes more than a decade's worth of data from public and private sources, highlights current forest conditions, forecasts future trends, and outlines key goals and strategies necessary to conserve and…
Publication date: June 01, 1998 | Type of document: Report | Download: Electronic Version
The purpose of this handbook is to provide professional land managers and planners with the latest information on the functions, design, establishment and management of riparian forest buffers.
Publication date: July 01, 1997 | Type of document: Report | Download: Electronic Version
A literature review was conducted to determine the effectiveness of forestry best management practices (BMPs) in reducing water quality impacts of forestry management operations within the Piedmont and Ridge-and-Valley of the Chesapeake Bay…
Publication date: August 01, 1996 | Type of document: Report | Download: Electronic Version
This publication is a collection of case-studies that highlight accomplishments of local governments and citizen organizations to recognize the importance of forests to their communities and to take action to retain and restore those…