Historic Chesapeake Bay Watershed Report Released Today (MD)

Annapolis, MD: Senator Brian Frosh, 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 in Annapolis, Maryland.

The study details, for the first time ever, the results of regional watershed land conservation initiatives in Maryland, Virginia 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 of 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.

“We have made substantial progress, but this study shows that we have more work to do to meet the Bay Agreement’s goal of preserving 20 percent of the Bay’s watershed from development. We can meet the goal, but not without strong government programs, increased local effort and active private participation,” said Maryland Senator Brian Frosh, Chairman of the Chesapeake Bay Commission.

Between 1992 and 1999, more than 152,000 watershed acres were protected within the state of Maryland. Maryland has been a leader in land conservation for decades with a long history of funding and incentive programs.

“With Program Open Space, the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation, Rural Legacy and loans and grants through the Maryland Environmental Trust, the state is able to conserve significant land, while encouraging local government funding, private conservancy efforts and federal agency partnerships,” said Osborne. “The flexibility and creativity of the dedicated funding source allows the state to respond quickly to protect unique and large properties when they become available.”

“Current efforts within the Maryland General Assembly to supplement the state land acquisition funds through the Governor’s “GreenPrint Program” initiative and an income tax credit for the donation of land and easements will further enhance the collaborative land conservation accomplishments in Maryland,” said Osborne.

The report also recommends increased local authority to raise revenue for open space, an incentive program for local governments or matching requirements for state funds, expanded funding for the state’s agricultural land protection program and an income tax credit for the donation of conservation land or easements to any government or nonprofit entity.

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 public 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 – former Chesapeake Bay Commission Chairman Senator Bill Bolling, Maryland Governor Parris N. Glendening, Pennsylvania Governor Thomas J. Ridge, Virginia Governor James S. Gilmore 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 ecosystem 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.