by Rachel Felver
September 19, 2019
Protecting our lands is critical to keeping our waters clean and healthy. Actions taken on land, for instance, paving a parking lot, spraying pesticides on crops or cutting down trees, impacts our water quality. This happens because no matter where we reside, everyone lives in a watershed—an area of land that drains into a particular body of water.
The Chesapeake Bay watershed spans over 64,000 square miles from New York down to Virginia and has one of the largest land-to-water ratios in the world at 14:1. This means that there is 14 times the amount of land than there is water. That’s a pretty big area to have impact the Chesapeake Bay, so it’s important that Chesapeake Bay Program partners continue to take steps to help conserve lands throughout our watershed.
The Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement calls for an additional two million acres of land to be protected by 2025. To help meet this outcome, a coalition of more than 50 organizations and government agencies engaged in land conservation, came together to form the Chesapeake Conservation Partnership (CCP). The CCP provides a forum for these organizations to improve conservation across the watershed through policy and funding opportunities.
The CCP recently undertook the most comprehensive survey of land conservation and funding throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed in over a decade, resulting in Marking Milestones: Progress in Conserving Land in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.
The report offers a wealth of information, including the most recently available data from each state and a library of success stories that celebrates land conservation progress in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
The report celebrates the hard work of conservation organizations and government agencies to preserve land across the Chesapeake Bay region. Thanks to their efforts, the watershed is home to:
- More than four million acres of state-owned parks, forests and wildlife management areas.
- Over 2.1 million acres of privately-owned farm, forest and historic lands protected through conservation easements.
- Hundreds of nature preserves and cultural sites management by non-governmental organizations.
- Over 1,300 public access sites along rivers and the Chesapeake Bay.
- Fifty-seven units of the National Park System, 17 national wildlife refuges and two national forests.
But the report also reminds us that we’ve only achieved 68% of the goal to protect two million additional acres by 2025. And our ecosystem continues to face challenges every day thanks to threats like climate change, land conversion due to population growth and the extinction of plant and animal species.
With these facts in mind, perhaps the most important piece of Marking Milestones is to remind us why it is so critical to conserve land in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and the benefits that it can offer:
- In 2017, 59 million visitors spent an estimated $1.7 billion in local towns and cities while visiting National Park Service sites. These expenditures supported a total of 24,300 jobs and almost $2.4 billion in economic output.
- People spend more than $52 billion on recreational activities annually.
- Outdoor recreation employs almost one million people at over 700 businesses.
- Lands provide goods such as food, wood and raw materials, as well as plants, animals and other organisms that provide services like pollination, prevent erosion, control flooding and purify water.
- They support businesses like farms and vineyards and sustain populations that provide substantial economic value and jobs like blue crab, rockfish and trout.
- Access to conserved lands provides benefits to human health, including obesity, mental health and loneliness.
- Homes located near well-maintained natural areas have higher property values.
Thomas Lovejoy, a senior fellow at the United Nations Foundation, cautions that “emerging scientific consensus recognizes the need to protect 30% of the watershed by 2030 and 50% by 2050.” The CCP accepts this challenge and urges leaders in Bay restoration to conserve an additional 2.5 million acres of land beyond the 2025 goal, marking 30% of the land in the Chesapeake Bay watershed as protected by 2030.
“The Marking Milestones report provides very convincing evidence that if we sustain and enhance current public funding and attract new private capital investments,” said Joel Dunn, president of the Chesapeake Conservancy, “then it will be possible for us to meet our 2025 goal of protecting two million acres and more ambitious goals in the future.”