Thursday, June 13, 2024

Chesapeake Bay Program Reports Highest Number Of Forest Buffers Planted Across Watershed Since 2016

On June 12, the
Chesapeake Bay Program reported that in 2023, partners working across the Chesapeake Bay watershed restored 640.5 miles of forest buffers, the highest number of new forest buffers restored since 2016. 

In 2023, 298 miles were reported in Virginia, 268 miles in Pennsylvania, 40 miles in Maryland, 21 miles in New York, 13 miles in West Virginia and less than one mile in Delaware. 

The advancement of forest buffer restoration is in part due to increased state and federal investments in programs for landowners, including funding provided through the federal Inflation Reduction Act and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

“Pennsylvania has been hard at work increasing funding and technical assistance with new staff and partner investments in planting streamside forest buffers, and our numbers of acres of streamside forests continue to grow. Cooler waters, improving habitat, and decreasing flood risk in our creeks, streams, and rivers helps all who live and recreate in the Commonwealth and the Chesapeake Bay," said Cindy Adams Dunn, Secretary, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

Additionally, recent progress is likely due to increased implementation of flexible buffer programs that complement the existing pa Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP-PA). 

Through CREP, landowners are financially compensated for planting or maintaining forest buffers on their property, as the trees take up space that could be otherwise used for commercial gains such as farming.

 New buffer programs have gained traction by awarding funds on a rolling basis (rather than an annual), making funding available quickly, providing support for maintenance of trees, limiting or eliminating out-of-pocket costs and making funds available for a wider range of landowners. 

Forest buffers, also known as riparian forest buffers or streamside buffers, are forests growing near a stream or river. 

Critical to clean water and fish habitat, these trees absorb nutrient and sediment runoff, protect against erosion, reduce the impact of floods and make the water cooler, among other benefits. 

The Forest Buffers Outcome included in the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement has a target of restoring 900 miles of forest buffers each year across the entire watershed. 

Federal, state and local agencies coordinate with landowners and conservation groups to meet this goal, planting new forest buffers on both public and private land. 

Partners came closest to reaching the ambitious 900 mile a year goal in 2016 when they planted 676.4 miles (about 75% attainment of the goal), but progress lagged in the ensuing years. However, since 2019, the number of forest buffer miles restored has increased each year, with 457 miles restored in 2022 and 640.5 in 2023, the highest number since 2016. 

Jurisdictions of the Bay watershed work toward the collective goal to improve water quality both locally and downstream. 

Of the 457 miles of forest buffers restored in 2022, 340 miles were reported in Pennsylvania, 50 miles were reported in Virginia, 34 miles were reported in New York, 31 miles were reported in Maryland, two miles were reported in West Virginia and less than one mile was reported in Delaware. 

Flexible buffer programs are highlighted in State Riparian Forest Buffer Action Strategies, which were developed following the 2022 Riparian Forest Buffer Leadership Workshop. 

The Workshop was convened by the Forestry Workgroup to identify pathways to accelerate progress towards meeting the partnership’s buffer goals, recognizing that forest buffers are a priority outcome that was lagging in progress. 

The Watershed Agreement also has a target to conserve existing riparian forest buffers until at least 70% of riparian area throughout the watershed is forested. Despite recent increases in forest buffer restoration, there is still a net loss of buffers across the watershed. 

The Chesapeake Bay Program’s Land Use/Land Cover Data uses satellite imagery, collected every four years, to capture changes on the land like the planting or removal of forest buffers. 

When data was captured in 2013/14, 69.3% of the watershed’s riparian area was forested. That number fell to 68.85% in 2017/2018, a loss of 21,743 acres or by .47%.

This loss of forested buffers highlights the importance of pairing planting and maintenance programs with conservation efforts that protect existing forest cover in the riparian area. 

Later this year, the updated Land Use/Land Cover data will be released showing changes up to 2021/2022. 

The Chesapeake Bay Program also notes substantial gains in trees planted across cities, suburbs and other residential areas, known as “community trees.” 

Working toward the Tree Canopy Outcome, partners planted 2,577.4 acres of community trees in 2023, the highest reported since tracking began in 2014. 

However, the Land Use Land/Cover Data shows a net loss for community trees as well. 

While jurisdictions have planted 11,340 acres of community trees since 2014, the watershed lost over 25,000 acres between 2013/14 and 2017/18, outpacing the gains from community tree plantings.

Click Here for complete announcement.

Visit the Chesapeake Bay Program website for more information.


Chesapeake Bay Foundation Vice President for Environmental Protection and Restoration Alison Prost issued the following statement-- 

“Even though we’ve long known that protecting and restoring trees along waterways is one of the most efficient ways to prevent pollution to the Chesapeake Bay, these efforts are still falling short. 

“Our region is losing more forested buffers to development and other causes than it is gaining through planting. It’s time to take a hard look at protecting and planting forested buffers. 

“Unlike other pollution reduction practices that need to be renewed every year, forests are a long-term natural solution with rewards that grow over time. 

“Trees also stabilize eroding streambanks, create habitat and food for wildlife, shade streams to reduce temperatures for trout and other aquatic life, and help address climate change.

“Developing programs and policies that increase state and federal support dedicated to planting, maintaining, and conserving forested buffers is key to success. 

“The [federal] Farm Bill currently being considered by Congress is a golden opportunity to boost investment in forested buffers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed."

Visit DEP’s Chesapeake Bay Watershed webpage to learn more about cleaning up rivers and streams in Pennsylvania's portion of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.  Click Here to sign up for regular updates on Pennsylvania’s progress.

How Clean Is Your Stream?

The draft 2024 report has an interactive report viewer that allows you to zoom in to your own address to see if the streams near you are impaired and why.

Click Here to check out your streamsClick Here for a tutorial on using the viewer.

(Photo: West Branch Susquehanna River.)

[Posted: June 13, 2024]  PA Environment Digest

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