In the 1600s, forests covered 95 percent of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Today, our most recent data show that 57 percent of the watershed—about 24 million acres—is forested. More than 70 percent of this sensitive ecosystem should be forested if it is to remain healthy in the face of continued pollution.
Forests are crucial to the health of the Chesapeake Bay. Forests protect clean air and water, provide habitat to wildlife, store carbon, control floods and support the region’s economy. But human activities have reduced tree cover and fragmented the forests that still exist.
Almost all of the forest land in the region has been cut at one time or another. Virgin forests that have never been cut exist only in small, isolated quantities. While many of the forests that were cleared in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries for farmland, timber and fuel were allowed to regrow, those forests that have been cleared in recent decades for development are considered permanently lost.
Between 1990 and 2005, the watershed lost an estimated 100 acres of forest land each day. This rate fell in 2006 to an estimated 70 acres per day, but is still unsustainable.
When forests are destroyed and fragmented by development, their ecological services and economic benefits are lost. Conserving and expanding forest cover is a critical, cost-effective way to reduce pollution and restore the Bay. In the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, the Chesapeake Bay Program committed to restoring streamside trees and shrubs, increasing tree plantings in urban, suburban and rural communities, protecting forest land from development and working with local governments to reduce the rate of forest loss.