Chesapeake Bay Watershed Report Released Today

Richmond, Virginia: Senator Bill Bolling, Delegate Robert S. Bloxom, the Trust for Public Land and the Chesapeake Bay Commission presented the findings of an historic new report, “Keeping Our Commitment: Preserving Land in the Chesapeake Watershed” today at the Capitol, Richmond, Virginia.

The study details, for the first time ever, the results of regional watershed land conservation initiatives in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. The findings show that in order to keep the land conservation commitment set out in the Chesapeake 2000 agreement, an additional 1.1 million acres in the Chesapeake Bay watershed need to be preserved in the next 10 years. The report estimates that nearly half the acreage can be preserved through existing programs if funding is continued at current levels and private efforts continue. The remainder must be secured through new and enhanced efforts, representing a need for an estimated $1.8 billion in local, state and federal funding.

Signed on June 28, 2000 by the Chesapeake Executive Council, Chesapeake 2000 is intended to guide the next decade of restoration in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The agreement contains more than thirty land use-related commitments, including a commitment to permanently preserve from development twenty percent of the land area in the Chesapeake Bay watershed by 2010.

Soon after the Council signed the agreement, the Chesapeake Bay Commission and the Trust for Public Land forged a public-private partnership focused on the achievement of this goal. The report is the result of their partnership.

“Keeping Our Commitment” profiles land conservation achievements through an overview of conservation transactions, existing funding and incentive programs, local government initiatives and creative conservation partnerships. According to the report, approximately 6.7 million acres (or 17.2%) of land within the watershed has already been conserved.

Between 1992 and 1999, more than 90,000 watershed acres were protected within the Commonwealth of Virginia, approximately 80% of which was protected through the donation of land and easements to private conservation organizations and the Virginia Outdoors Foundation. The remaining 18,000 acres were protected with $54 million in state and federal funds.

“We have made much progress in Virginia in recent years, but in order to reach our land preservation goals, we must do more,” said Senator Bill Bolling.

“Preserving land is a critical component of our overall efforts to restore the Chesapeake Bay,” said Delegate Robert S. Bloxom.

“The commitment made in the Chesapeake 2000 agreement identified the need for significant land conservation within the 64,000-square mile watershed,” said Debi Osborne, Chesapeake Field Office Director for the Trust for Public Land. “Our report looks at achievements to date in each state and identifies the need for new funding and programs on all levels in order to fulfill that commitment.”

“Funding for the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation is an essential beginning. The state should also consider a more permanent and substantial funding effort to meet the extensive land conservation needs,” said Osborne.

The report also recommends local taxing and bonding authority, a purchase of development rights program, public/private partnerships, and the possible refinement of the existing conservation tax credit as viable conservation opportunities in Virginia.

The Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national land conservation organization, called on nearly three decades of experience in conservation real estate, law, legislative issues and conservation finance to produce this report that provides a framework with specific recommendations to accomplish the Chesapeake 2000 commitment.

The agreement was signed by the Chesapeake Executive Council – Chesapeake Bay Commission Chairman Senator Bill Bolling, Maryland Governor Parris N. Glendenning, Pennsylvania Governor Thomas J. Ridge, Virginia Governor James S. Gimore III, District of Columbia Mayor Anthony A. Williams and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Carol M. Browner. The Chesapeake Bay Commission is a tri-state legislative commission created in 1980 to advise the members of the General Assemblies of Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania on matters of Bay-wide concern. The commission is a partner and leader in the multi-jurisdictional Chesapeake Bay Program, known for its ability to explore new ideas and negotiate shared solutions.

The Chesapeake Bay is the nation’s largest and most productive estuary. Over the years, development and industry have negatively impacted the Bay. There is a need to restore the Bay’s living resources while balancing the needs of the eosystem and the people who live, work and play in the watershed. Preserving 20% of the watershed from future development is one part of the solution.