Chesapeake Bay Marks 9.1 Million Acres of Protected Land

Chesapeake Bay Program data shows 9.1 million acres of land in the Chesapeake Bay watershed is permanently protected from development. 

BayAs of 2022, data collected by the Chesapeake Bay Program (CBP) shows that 9.1 million acres of land in the Chesapeake Bay watershed—roughly 22% of the total land in the region—are permanently protected from development.

The CBP works to extend the acres of protected lands through its Protected Lands Workgroup, which is led primarily by the National Park Service and includes representatives from state and federal agencies, nonprofits, and local governments. In 2010, the partnership set a goal to protect an additional two million acres of land on top of what had been previously protected across the watershed. In particular, the goal calls for 225,000 acres of wetlands and 695,000 acres of forest.

As of 2022, nearly 1.64 million acres have been added since 2010, achieving 82% of the Protected Land Outcome in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement. The overall Protected Lands Outcome is expected to be achieved by its 2025 deadline.

Protected lands are areas throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed with cultural, historical, ecological, and agricultural value that have been permanently protected from development. CBP partners secure land conservation by holding easements, accepting donations, and purchasing properties and development rights. Land conservation is one of the best ways to protect the health of the Bay watershed amid a growing population. When protected from development, forests and wetlands can improve water quality, provide habitat for wildlife, preserve the region’s history and culture, offer outdoor recreation opportunities, and make communities more resilient to the impacts of climate change.

The CBP is on course to meet its Protected Lands Outcome by 2025, which will require adding roughly 130,000 acres of protected lands each year. To meet this goal, the partnership will focus on increasing funding, incentives, and mechanisms for protecting conservation priorities, growing the capacity and effectiveness of land trusts, and enhancing public support for and engagement in land conservation, among other strategies. Additionally, in 2021, the Chesapeake Executive Council signed Directive No. 21-1 Collective Action for Climate Change, in which they committed the partnership to conserve 30% of the watershed’s lands and waters by 2030, meeting the national goal set by President Biden in January 2021.

Data Breakdown: 

Of the 9.1 million acres of protected land in the watershed, 76% or 7,438,317 acres are forested, and 455,853 acres are wetlands. Of the wetland acres, 176,071 of those are non-forested, and 279,782 are forested (i.e., swamps).

State agencies, which own approximately 45% of the protected acres in the watershed, are the largest entities contributing to land protection. The states often work closely with private organizations, non-governmental organizations (land trusts and others), local governments, and other entities to conserve the land. The second largest entity contributing to land conservation in the Bay watershed is the federal government, which holds approximately 22% of protected acres.

Pennsylvania currently has the greatest number of protected lands in the watershed at 3.6 million acres. They are followed by Virginia with 2.9 million acres, Maryland with 1.7 million acres, West Virginia with about 440,000 acres, New York with about 332,000 acres, Delaware with about 126,000 acres, and the District of Columbia with 8,700 acres.

Watershed-wide, protected lands have increased by about 19% from 2011 through 2022. While some increases in acreage can be attributed to improvements in data collection—for instance, by reporting previously protected but newly digitized, corrected, or refined parcels of land—the data indicates a general increase in protected lands in the watershed over time. Due to the changing nature of development pressures, conservation incentives, funding for land acquisition, and political and public sentiment, experts anticipate some variation between the number of additional acres that are protected each year.

Important Work 

For decades, CBP’s partners have permanently protected lands with cultural, historical, ecological, and agricultural value by holding easements, accepting donations, and purchasing properties and development rights. Because protected lands can support sustainable fisheries and wildlife habitat, protect clean water and healthy watersheds, and preserve cultures, putting land under protection is one way to ensure the watershed withstands population growth and sustains the plants, animals, and people that live here.

Tracking the CBP’s progress toward protecting land from development is also critical to understanding our progress toward enhancing climate resiliency. Protected lands prevent the expansion of paved surfaces that can exacerbate upstream floods, as well as increased nutrient pollution caused by stormwater runoff. Along the coast, protected lands guard against floods and sea level rise. For these reasons, protected lands help us prepare for some of the disruptions climate change can cause.

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MACo Winter Conference

At the 2023 MACo Winter Conference general session, “ Engineering for the Environment: Collaborating with the Nonprofit Sector,” panelists will highlight nonprofit partners and examine the benefits of collaborating on certain projects.  

MACo’s Winter Conference, “Eye of the Storm,” is scheduled for December 6-8, 2023, at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Hotel in Cambridge, MD. More information can be found on our conference website.

Learn more about MACo’s Winter Conference: