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© Chesapeake Bay Program (Chesapeake)

Conservation Priority: Forests

Our Goal:

Protect the Chesapeake watershed’s most ecologically and economically valuable forest land from conversion--headwater and riparian forests, large forest blocks, woodlots providing multiple values, and highly productive timber growing soils.

Forests cover about 60% of the watershed, provide over $24 billion in ecological services, and provide $22 billion in forest products industry output each year. Yet, forest loss and fragmentation from development threatens up to 5.5 million acres of the most valuable forests. Science shows that streams and rivers degrade when the percent of forest cover in a sub-watershed drops below 70%. Conserving our region’s forests is key to maintaining wildlife, drinking water supplies, water quality, recreation, tourism and economic sustainability.

This goal identifies four mappable aspects. In each, forests are defined as areas with 50% or greater tree canopy coverage. Where “contiguous” is used it means areas of forest connected by corridors at least 40 meters in width. The map was prepared in consultation with the CBP Forestry Work Group. Here is the basis for our mapping:

Headwater and Riparian Forests: Headwater forests are defined as areas within National Hydrography Dataset Plus (NHD Plus) catchments that contain a NHD 100K scale first-order stream, are in the top half of elevation values within the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and are in contiguous blocks at least 50 acres in size. Riparian forests are areas within a 10 m buffer of NHD 100K streams.

Large Forest Blocks: These are blocks of contiguous forest 500 acres or larger.

Multiple Value Woodlots: These are blocks of contiguous forest ranging in size from 50 to 500 acres.

Forests Conducive to Timber Harvests: These are defined as areas of harvestable contiguous forest blocks 500 acres or larger with less than 30% slopes.

This map depicts the concentration or overlapping of these forest values. Due to forest patch size criteria, Large Forest Blocks and Woodlots are mutually exclusive, as are Productive Timber Growing Areas and Woodlots. Therefore, although there are four input layers, the maximum value in the composite layer is three.  For instance, values of three could indicate overlap between Large Forest Blocks, Riparian/Headwater Forests, and Productive Timber Growing Areas. Woodlots can have a value of two only when they overlap with Riparian/Headwater Forests.

Analysis identifies 22,124,849  acres of important forest land for conservation, about 54% of the Chesapeake watershed.  As indicated in the chart below, 6,925,062 acres (31%) of this forest land is already permanently conserved.  

 

The acreages for each important forest category, and the portions conserved, are as follows:  There are 18,023,051 acres of headwater and riparian forests, of which 4,899,022 acres are conserved; 17,815,151 acres of large forest blocks, of which 6,069,589 acres are conserved; 4,142,844 acres of multiple value woodlots, of which 517,971 acres are conserved; and 13,422,656 acres of forests conducive to timber harvests, of which 3,931,448 acres are protected.

We anticipate these numbers changing somewhat in the future as (a) higher resolution land cover data is put into use, and (b) we learn more about how climate change projections may affect forest lands.
Note that important forest land overlaps substantially with other conservation goals, particularly for habitat and heritage.

Clean Water Priorities in the Chesapeake

  • Chesapeake Bay: Forests

    This goal identifies four mappable aspects. In each, forests are defined as areas with 50% or greater tree canopy coverage. Where “contiguous” is used it means areas of forest connected by corridors at least 40 meters in width. The map was prepared in consultation with the CBP Forestry Work Group.

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  • Chesapeake Forest Economics

    The goal of this layer is to identify those forests that, if lost, would have the greatest potential to impact the Chesapeake region's resource-based economy.

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  • Chesapeake Forest Legacy Areas

    The Forest Legacy Program helps to fund conservation easements and fee-simple acquisitions of priority tracts through a national, annual competitive process, in partnership with State forestry agencies and other partners.

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  • High Value Forests

    These map layers show high value forests for water quality, as identified by Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania forestry agencies for the 2007 Forest Conservation Directive signed by the Chesapeake Executive Council.

    Read More

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