Wetland restorations on target; stream buffers lag
Posted: 3:00 pm Tue, January 1, 2013
Bay watershed jurisdictions are on pace to meet their wetland restoration goal, but the rate of streamside forest buffer planting has fallen far below target levels in recent years, according to recent figures from the Chesapeake Bay Program.
Data collected from states show that 3,775 acres of wetlands were restored in 2011. That’s ahead of the pace needed to achieve a goal established in 2010 to create or re-establish 30,000 acres of wetlands within the Chesapeake watershed by 2025.
The 3,775-acre figure — the equivalent of about 2,855 football fields —also represents an acceleration in the pace of wetland establishment over the period of 1998–2010 when 14,795 acres were established, or about 1,200 acres a year.
Virginia led the states with 1,653 acres of wetlands created in 2011; followed by Maryland with 750 acres; New York with 625 acres; West Virginia with 369 acres; Pennsylvania with 254 acres; and Delaware with 123 acres.
Wetlands are critical for healthy waterways because they slow runoff, absorb nutrients, filter pollution, reduce erosion and provide habitat for fish and wildlife. It’s estimated that about half of the region’s wetlands have been lost since colonial times.
Meanwhile, the pace of streamside forest restoration has slowed sharply in recent years, according to Bay Program figures. While 7,400 miles of streamside forest have been planted since they became a Bay Program priority in 1996, just 240 miles were planted in the Chesapeake watershed in 2011, the lowest figure in more than a decade.
Since 2007, Bay states have had an objective of planting 900 miles of forest buffers a year. But since then, the rate of forest buffer planting has decreased. From 2003–2006, an average of 756 miles was planted annually in the Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia portion of the watershed. Last year, less than a third of that amount was planted in the entire watershed, including the portions in West Virginia, Delaware and New York.
Officials cited increasing commodity prices for agricultural crops as a major contributor for the slowdown. Most stream buffer plantings have taken place on farmlands, but as prices have risen for corn, soybeans and other commodity crops, it has been more profitable for farmers to plant crops rather than participate in programs that pay for planting trees near streams.
Forested stream buffers can help slow runoff, absorb nutrients and chemical pollutants, reduce stream erosion and improve stream habitats.
States are working to establish wetlands and forest buffers, but their overall status in the Bay watershed is uncertain. While states are able to track the amount of wetlands created and forest buffers planted, there is no mechanism that fully tracks the amount of wetlands and buffers lost throughout the 64,000-square-mile watershed to development, erosion, flooding or — for coastal wetlands — sea-level rise.
The Chesapeake Bay Program is a regional partnership that leads and directs Chesapeake Bay restoration and protection. Bay Program partners include federal and state agencies, local governments, nonprofits and academic institutions. Staff members work at the Bay Program’s Annapolis, Maryland, office and at partner organizations throughout the Bay watershed.