by Alicia Pimental
December 01, 2007
At its annual meeting in early December, the Chesapeake Executive Council (EC) signed the Forestry Conservation Initiative, committing the Bay states to permanently conserve an additional 695,000 acres of forested land throughout the watershed by 2020.
Chesapeake forests are crucial to maintaining water quality in the Bay and its tributaries. They also safeguard wildlife habitat, contribute billions of dollars to the economy, protect public health, provide recreation opportunities and enhance quality of life for the watershed's 17 million residents.
Despite these benefits, forests in the Bay watershed are at risk. In the Bay region alone, some 750,000 acres - equivalent to 20 Washington, D.C.s - have been felled since the early 1980s, a rate of 100 acres per day. By 2030, 9.5 million more acres of forest will see increased development pressure.
There are four overarching goals to the Forestry Conservation Initiative:
By 2020, permanently protect an additional 695,000 acres of forest from conversion to other land uses such as development, targeting forests in areas of highest water quality value. As part of this goal, 266,400 acres of forest land under threat of conversion will be protected by 2012.
By 2020, accelerate reforestation and conservation in:
- Urban and suburban areas by increasing the number of communities with commitments to tree canopy expansion goals to 120.
- Riparian forest buffers by reaching a restoration rate of 900 miles per year until 70 percent of all stream miles in the watershed are buffered over the long term.
- By 2010, work with local governments, legislative delegations, land trusts or other stakeholders to create or augment dedicated sources of local funding, such as through ballot initiatives, for the conservation of forests important to water quality. Where possible, the states will support these through incentive programs (e.g., matching grants).
- By 2009, establish and implement a mechanism to track and assess forest land cover change at the county and township scale every five years, and to deliver this capacity to local governments, watershed groups and other partners.
In addition, each state and the federal agencies will implement strategies and actions to:
- Establish policies that discourage conversion of valuable forestlands.
- Collaborate with local governments to incorporate forest conservation into their land use plans and ordinances.
- Establish strong economic incentives for working forest landowners.
- Use forests as green infrastructure to reduce nutrient loads from development.
- Use federal Farm Bill programs to support working forest conservation.