Last year's Chesapeake Executive Council Meeting was held at Oxon Hill Manor in Prince George's County, Md., on Sept. 5, 2019. (Image by Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program)

In what has become the sign of the times, the Chesapeake Executive Council gathered today, virtually, for their annual meeting to set conservation and restoration goals for the Chesapeake Bay Program. When planning for this meeting began back in February, the agenda centered around the importance of trees and the need to escalate progress in meeting our forest buffers and tree canopy goals. Members of the Council did acknowledge the Forestry Workgroup’s updated Chesapeake Forest Restoration Strategy at today’s meeting, but the topic of conversation centered on two significant issues.

“As our country works to overcome a pandemic and a legacy of racial injustice, we need to have safe and accessible public spaces to recreate; places to interact with nature; sustainable, locally-produced food; clean air and water,” stated Chesapeake Bay Commission Chair Gene Yaw. “When our local communities have clean water, the Chesapeake Bay will also have clean water, at no additional cost.”

Members of the Executive Council—the governors of Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia, the mayor of the District of Columbia, the chair of the Chesapeake Bay Commission and the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency—discussed the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic has brought upon their respective jurisdictions and how the continued investment in Bay restoration can be used to help the economy and public health throughout the watershed.

Matt Ehrhart, chair of the Citizens Advisory Committee, noted in his remarks to the Council, that "the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted some critical issues that have been on the Citizens Advisory Committee's agenda for some time. Environmental quality and public parks and wildlands are closely linked to public health. Protecting and improving the quality of our watershed is essential for the Chesapeake Bay and the citizens of our communities."

Despite this robust conversation, perhaps the most defining moment of the meeting came when chair of the Executive Council, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, announced the adoption of a historic statement reaffirming the partnership’s commitment to embracing diversity, equity, inclusion and justice in all forms. The Statement in Support of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice commits the Chesapeake Bay Program to strengthen and improve diversity, equity, inclusion and justice in all areas of the partnership, recruit and retain staff and volunteers that reflect the diversity of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, foster a culture of inclusion and respect across all partner organizations and ensure the benefits of our science, restoration and partnership programs are distributed equitably without disproportionate impacts on vulnerable populations.

Maryland Governor Hogan also reflected on his tenure as chair of the Executive Council for the past three years before symbolically handing over the reins to Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, elected unanimously to succeed him.

“In my past three years as chair, we have worked together to implement real, bipartisan, common sense solutions to the challenges facing the Chesapeake Bay, and the results speak for themselves,” he noted. “Maryland remains fully committed to this partnership as we continue making strides to preserve this national treasure.”

The Executive Council also heard from the partnership’s three advisory committees—citizens, local government and scientific and technical, before the new chair brought the meeting to a close.

“I grew up on the Chesapeake Bay, and I am excited to take on the role of Chair of the Executive Council as we continue our critical restoration work,” said Virginia Governor Ralph Northam. “As my first official act as Chair, I call on the Council’s principal staff to immediately begin work on the diversity, equity, inclusion and justice goals adopted today. I look forward to working closely with my colleagues to build a cleaner, healthier, and more sustainable Bay.”

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