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Conservation Summary: Chesapeake Watershed

The effort to restore the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed has garnered national interest and attention for several decades. As the focus of one of the first large-scale ecological restorations in the United States, conservation efforts in the watershed have inspired similar efforts in many other coastal areas. But the unique nature of the region—and its direct impact on millions of people's lives—is what makes the Cheseapeake's renewal and protection so critical.

The Chesapeake Bay is the nation’s largest estuary—a place where freshwater and saltwater mix—and the third largest in the world. The vast watershed and its network of streams, creeks and rivers covers 64,000 square miles of the East Coast, stretching from upstate New York to southern Virginia and across the West Virginia panhandle to the Delmarva Peninsula. In the heart of the Chesapeake region are America’s first permanent European settlement at Jamestown, Virginia, and the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C.

World-class ecological treasures abound in the watershed, which is home to several thousand species of plants and animals, including emblematic species like the blue crab and the bald eagle. Steeped in history treasured by residents, the region encompasses the legacies of Native Americans and Europeans migrating to the New World, the inspiration of the American Revolution, and the tragedy of the Civil War. Spectacular landscapes dot the watershed, from the Shenandoah Mountains to the Susquehanna River valley to Smith Island. The Bay’s waters shelter a rich cultural heritage that includes world-renowned waterfowl hunting, trophy sport fishing, and the tradition of watermen who harvest fish, crabs, and oysters. Seafood, tourism, and marine transportation today help make the Chesapeake watershed a multi-billion dollar economic driver for the mid-Atlantic.

The Bay and its watershed provide extensive recreational resources. Millions of people enjoy the waterways and landscapes for fishing, hunting, boating, water sports, hiking, picnicking, birdwatching, and relaxation. This close connection between people and nature reinforces the need for protection and restoration of the Chesapeake watershed. About 17 million people live in the region, and tens of thousands of streams, creeks and rivers flow past their homes and through their neighborhoods. These local waterways and landscapes are priceless resources for countless communities throughout six states and the District of Columbia. The lives and livelihoods of many citizens are intertwined with the water and the land.

Conserving and Restoring the Chesapeake Landscape

Land conservation has long been a priority in the Chesapeake watershed. States, local governments, land trusts, national organizations and federal agencies collaborate on individual projects and protecting large landscapes. Today, approximately 22% of the watershed is permanently protected.

Land conservation has long been a priority in the Chesapeake watershed. States, local governments, land trusts, national organizations and federal agencies collaborate on individual projects and protecting large landscapes. Today, approximately 22% of the watershed is permanently protected.The Chesapeake Bay Program has set land conservation goals for the watershed since 2000. The 2014 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, signed by the Governors of six watershed states, Mayor of the District of Columbia, and the federal government, set conservation and restoration goals to achieve by 2025. These include goals for protecting an additional two million acres throughout the watershed and adding 300 new public access sites.

Watershed-wide collaboration on landscape conservation is coordinated by the Chesapeake Conservation Partnership, a regional coalition of over 50 diverse organizations engaged in land conservation and related fields within the Chesapeake region. Since 2009 the Partnership has connected representatives from all six watershed states and DC including federal and state agencies, local governments, American Indian tribes and non-governmental organizations. The Partnership fosters collaborative action to conserve culturally and ecologically important landscapes to benefit people, economies, and nature throughout the watershed.

About LandScope Chesapeake

As a formal collaboration between NatureServe, Chesapeake watershed states, the Chesapeake Conservation Partnership, the National Park Service (NPS), and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), LandScope Chesapeake fills a long-identified need for a publicly accessible, watershed-wide land conservation priority system. Its purpose is to support collaboration among many partners in land conservation efforts throughout the region. 

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