Working Lands and Conservation: Chesapeake Bay States Close a Decade of Effort and Head to the Future with Renewed Vision and Energy

The first decade of the 21st century has ended and with it, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and the District of Columbia passed a major milestone for the Chesapeake 2000 Agreement. The regional agreement acknowledged the crucial role land conservation plays in the Bay’s water quality and set a goal to protect 20 percent of the farm, forest and ecological land area in the watershed.  In just 10 years, the states have preserved 7.26 million acres!

In 2010, as part of its Executive Order on the Chesapeake Bay, the Obama administration developed a new goal in consultation with the Bay states. Together, all six states making up the Bay watershed—including Delaware, New York and West Virginia—will work to protect an added two million acres.  Farmland and working forests will be a major portion of this conservation goal.

For American Farmland Trust, these objectives affirm our long-held assertion that well managed farms provide not only economic, cultural and historic benefits—including food, of course— but environmental ones as well.  The Executive Order highlights the fact that protecting land, including working farmland, is a key component of the effort to clean up the Bay. And EPA documents pertaining to the Bay’s new regulatory structure assert that farmland is the preferred water quality land use. Not only does farmland contribute less pollution acre-by-acre than densely populated areas, it provides the opportunity for more cost-effective pollutant reductions than sewage plant upgrades or urban storm water retro-fits.

A new report, Conserving Chesapeake Landscapes, conducted by the Chesapeake Bay Commission and the Chesapeake Conservancy, highlights this decade’s land conservation accomplishments, focusing attention on successful programs and policies that helped to achieve the target milestone as well as the urgent need for new innovations and continued financial support. Echoing another hallmark of our approach, the report emphasizes that keeping farms economically viable as farms, and not as potential development sites, is crucial for saving the land that sustains us.

Our success in saving working landscapes requires efforts to assure that the farm and forest economies along with the tens of thousands of jobs they provide are supported with adequate infrastructure … access to tech­nical assistance and government support programs. (pg 17)

Efforts to preserve working farms and forest lands will fail unless the economy can support their long-term viability. (pg 17)

Farm viability means keeping farms in farming. This means that if farmers are going to adopt conservation practices, they need to have confidence that their business will retain profitability.  That is why we are working with federal and state conservation agencies to provide farmers an opportunity to test new practices “risk free” by guaranteeing their income for a trial period with our BMP Challenge. Farmers in the Chesapeake have saved more than 130,000 pounds of fertilizer from flowing into the Bay in the last two years under the program and we are beginning new initiatives in other impaired watersheds like the Mississippi River and Long Island Sound.


Jim Baird

About the Author: Jim Baird is Mid-Atlantic Director for the American Farmland Trust where he works to help maintain viable farms and clean water through the adoption of nutrient-related conservation practices and ensuring that farmer concerns are reflected in policy and program discussions.

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