The idea was first hatched in July 2019 during a break at the biennial Northeast-Midwest State Foresters’ Alliance meeting. As attendees wandered the grounds of the iconic Grey Towers in Milford, Pennsylvania, the ancestral home of the first chief of the Forest Service, Gifford Pinchot, they pondered, what could be done to energize the forest restoration efforts across the Chesapeake Bay watershed?
The answer came just over a year later with the signing of a Shared Stewardship Agreement between the state foresters from the seven Chesapeake Bay watershed jurisdictions—Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia—and the Forest Service. The agreement makes the long-standing partnership between the state foresters of the Chesapeake Bay watershed official and directly ties to the recently updated Chesapeake Forest Restoration Strategy, that was developed specifically with shared stewardship in mind.
The U.S. Forest Service sees shared stewardship as a way to address forestry challenges across the country by working collaboratively with partners across geographic and political boundaries. This new Agreement—specific to the Chesapeake Bay watershed—provides a strong framework for all partners to prioritize where forest restoration is most needed in the region and outline ways in which to implement targeted activities to help meet these goals.
“You cannot tackle a landscape-level challenge like this alone,” said Robert Davies, state forester for New York.
Under the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, partners agreed to advance forestry goals by increasing the acreage of forest buffers and tree canopy across the watershed. But trees influence nearly every one of other outcomes either directly or indirectly.
Efforts to increase tree plantings across the watershed are needed, as acreage of forest buffers and tree canopy continue to lag. In 2017, only 56 miles of forest buffers were planted along rivers and streams throughout the watershed, marking the lowest restoration total of the last 22 years. While communities are making headway in increasing tree canopy through protection, planting and maintenance efforts, they are constrained by a lack of access to reliable data and a coordinated reporting system in which to report their progress.
In fact, keeping trees in the ground and planting new ones are the easiest—and most beneficial—ways to help the Bay. They help prevent pollution from entering waterways, stabilize stream banks, lower energy costs by providing shade and help keep our air clean.
The revised Chesapeake Forest Restoration Strategy builds upon an earlier version from 2012, reflecting the most up-to-date innovations and science related to forestry. Some critical changes include:
- Increased emphasis on the practice of agroforestry. Agroforestry combines agriculture and forestry to produce multiple benefits including stable food crops, increased biodiversity, reduced erosion and the potential for increased income from multi-functional buffers.
- The most current information on how forest restoration can be used for climate mitigation and adaption.
- Taking environmental justice into consideration when developing strategies to increase urban tree canopy.
- Restoring existing forests through good forest management practices that will enhance the benefits derived from them.
- The exploration of innovative financing mechanisms for forest restoration.
These actions will aid in the restoration and preservation of important areas of the watershed that over 18 million people call home, while simultaneously helping to improve the water quality of the Bay. “We all have a story of place,” said Vicki Christiansen, chief of the Forest Service. “And the Chesapeake Bay is really significant in the story of place.”