The Chesapeake Bay Program, a coalition of federal, state, and private/local collaborating organizations, recently released a report which points to strong progress being made towards its ambitious 2025 land conservation goals. In particular, the report points toward strong results for conservation progress in Pennsylvania, which leads all other states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed in conserved land acreage.

9.1 Million Acres Protected in the Chesapeake Watershed as of 2022

As of 2022, data collected by the Chesapeake Bay Program show that 9.1 million acres of land in the Chesapeake Bay watershed—roughly 22% of the total land in the region—are permanently protected from development. The Chesapeake Bay Program works to extend the acres of protected lands through its Protected Lands Workgroup, which is led primarily by the National Park Service and includes representatives from state and federal agencies, nonprofits and local governments. In 2010, the partnership set a goal to protect an additional two million acres of land on top of what had been previously protected across the watershed. As of 2022, nearly 1.64 million acres have been added since 2010, achieving 82% of the Protected Land Outcome in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement. The overall Protected Lands Outcome is expected to be achieved by its 2025 deadline.

State agencies, which own approximately 45% of the protected acres in the watershed, are the largest entity contributing to land protection. The states often work closely with private organizations, non-governmental organizations (land trusts and others), local governments and other entities to conserve the land. The second largest entity contributing to land conservation in the Bay watershed is the federal government, which holds approximately 22% of protected acres.

Pennsylvania Leading the Chesapeake Watershed in Conserved Land Acreage With 3.6 Million Acres

Of the 9.1 million acres of protected land in the watershed, 76% or 7,438,317 acres are forested and 455,853 acres are wetlands. Of the wetland acres, 176,071 of those are non-forested and 279,782 are forested (i.e., swamps). Pennsylvania currently has the greatest number of protected lands in the watershed at 3.6 million acres. They are followed by Virginia with 2.9 million acres, Maryland with 1.7 million acres, West Virginia with about 440,000 acres, New York with about 332,000 acres, Delaware with about 126,000 acres and the District of Columbia with 8,700 acres. Watershed-wide, protected lands have increased about 19% from 2011 through 2022. While some increases in acreage can be attributed to improvements in data collection—for instance, by reporting previously protected but newly digitized, corrected or refined parcels of land—the data indicates a general increase in protected lands in the watershed over time.

Quote from DCNR Secretary Dunn

“Protecting land is a priority for Pennsylvania to help meet its goals to provide close to home recreation for all residents, help address the impacts of climate change, enhance the Commonwealth’s recreation economy, and expand and restore wildlife habitat. DCNR is proud to work with partners in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed to advance land protection goals that help improve water quality, and so much more.”

-Cindy Adams Dunn, Secretary, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania


Note: WeConservePA’s Irina Beal contributed GIS expertise, time, and other contributions to this project.