Historic Chesapeake Bay Watershed Report Released Today (PA)

Harrisburg, PA: Representative Russ Fairchild, 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 capital rotunda in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The study details, for the first time ever, the results of regional watershed land conservation initiatives in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia. 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.

Between 1992 and 1999, more than 153,000 watershed acres were protected within the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The state has demonstrated its commitment to financing land conservation through state bond measures and dedicated taxes, including a realty transfer tax and a cigarette tax. These funding sources have been used to establish grant programs that have encouraged local governments and nonprofit organizations to undertake additional conservation efforts. The vast majority of Pennsylvania’s protected acres are agricultural lands, protected through the state Farmland Preservation Program, often with local matching funds.

“We can’t focus our attention on water without simultaneously focusing our attention on the land–the two are directly tied together,” said Senator Russ Fairchild, chairman of the Chesapeake Bay Commission’s Pennsylvania delegation. “I think this reports helps to demonstrate two very important things: (1) that Pennsylvania has been a leader in land preservation, and (2) that we need to enhance our existing programs if we want to reach our Chesapeake 2000 commitments and maintain our quality of life in the Commonwealth.”

“An opportunity exists to further leverage these significant state funds by expanding the use of federal programs such as Forest Legacy and TEA-21 for land conservation,” said Debi Osborne, chesapeake field office director for the Trust for Public Land. “Governor Ridge’s $140 million Growing Greener budget proposal also offers evidence of a strong commitment and tremendous opportunity.”

The report also recommends in Pennsylvania the creation of a substantial funding source through bonds or an increased dedication of the state transfer tax, creation of a statewide organization that could hold conservation easements and assist local land trusts with loans and grants, increased local revenue raising authority, public/private partnerships, and the enactment of the a conservation tax credit.

“The recommendations contained the report call on each of the states in the Bay region to expand their current efforts so that we can both meet and exceed our goals. Pennsylvania has been a committed partner in the Bay restoration effort and I think we need to be pro-active with the suggestions that make sense for the Commonwealth,” said Senator Richard A. Tilghman.

“I think the report helps to highlight the significant contribution made to this effort by Pennsylvania’s Farmland Preservation Program, and for the need to keep building that program as we move forward. Preserving our farmland base is important to both agriculture and the environment,” said Senator Noah W. Wenger.

“We are delighted to have the expertise, credibility and strong environmental commitment that the Trust for Public Land brings to this Bay commitment. We look forward to working with them,” said James M. Seif, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

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.