Conservation recommendations coming
Bay programs release joint report
Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2010
The Chesapeake Bay Program and Chesapeake Conservancy released a comprehensive study specifically pertaining to land conservation in the Chesapeake Watershed on Monday, in an effort to allow more coordination between watershed states and the federal government in light of constrained budgets.
The new study, "Conserving Chesapeake Landscapes: Protecting Our Investments; Securing Future Progress," provides policy recommendations for how states can accomplish the goals for land conservation and public access established by the President's Executive Order for restoring the Chesapeake. The report drew from the expertise of an advisory panel and land conservation experts, according to its publishers.
Ann Swanson, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, said during a conference call on Monday that the report was first of all intended to analyze whether the CBC met its original 2000 agreement goal of conserving 20 percent of the watershed by 2010.
"Now of course it's 2010 and we needed to take a look at what happened," Swanson said, adding, "We have met the goal of 20 percent. That has been exceeded."
Swanson said she is hopeful that "right now it appears the fastest growing group of farmers in the watershed are 65 years or older." In Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia, specifically, 10 percent are at least 75 years old.
That means, she continued, farmland soon will transfer to younger hands, opening the doors for a new generation of farmers who seem to know more about land conservation than the previous one. The report further states, "This exceptional window of opportunity deserves an equally unprecedented effort by land professionals to maintain and preserve the Bay's treasured natural and working landscapes."
Next, the report examines the new goals, particularly as set forth by the executive order, and outlines a recommended action plan for both the states and the U.S. government, Swanson said.
A major goal of order is to conserve two million acres of land and identify 300 public access points by 2025. In order to achieve this, the report lists three main approaches, from which six recommendations for action flow. The three approaches include: maintaining state conservation programs with more federal aid; sustaining local conservation programs while exploring new options and unleashing the potential of ecosystem markets such as nutrient trading programs.
Currently, the full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund is $900 million nationwide, Swanson said, with about $5.6 million going toward the bay watershed states. If the federal government grants the CBC's request for more aid, the watershed states, she said, "It could result in about $20 million to the bay region."
Other increases in federal aid could come from the U.S. military's Readiness and Environmental Protection Initiative and potential grants from the Department of the Interior for land conservation efforts, she added.
Bill Matuszeski, the former head of the CBP, explained the six major recommendations offered in the new study: focusing on working lands; maximizing water quality benefits; enhancing public access; strengthening state, local and nonprofit programs; expanding federal land conservation investments and supporting the emerging role of the private sector.
The first goal encourages states and local governments to work together to ensure the conservation of working farmland and forests through support programs, technical assistance and strong zoning regulations, Matuszeski said. "That is really important to local economies and rural areas," he said.
One of the proposed actions in the report for maximizing water quality benefits is the development of "eco-easements." Scientists and landowners would work together to reduce forest nutrients, improve stormwater management and strengthen wetlands against rising sea levels.
Matuszeski also recommended states alter current transportation routes to allow better public access to waterways and increase their dedicated revenue sources, tax incentives and market-based incentive programs to inspire more people to conserve. "We do not believe any of the states now have all three," he said.
To encourage the private sector to help conserve, Matuszeski said, the government could help offset costs while local governments work on enacting nutrient trading programs for sewerage treatment plants, for instance.
"This is a terrific opportunity for private markets," he said, and for local governments "to establish very strong rules in the game."
Maryland State Sen. Thomas "Mac" Middleton (D-Charles), chairman of the CBC, said the commission "is very, very pleased and very, very excited about this report. I'm glad we have an opportunity to talk about … what we can do to continue the momentum" of restoring the bay in recent years.
The senator said he approves of the study and will continue to remain an active advocate for land conservation bills in the Maryland General Assembly.
To learn more
To view the "Conserving Chesapeake Landscapes" report, go to www.chesbay.virginia.gov/Publications/Conserving-Chesapeake-Landscapes.pdf.