Obama Administration’s Budget Will Provide Funding for Significant Large Landscape Conservation in the Bay Watershed

The President’s Fiscal Year 2016 Budget Includes $38 Million for Land Conservation Across Chesapeake Bay Watershed 

Annapolis, MD – Today, the Chesapeake Conservancy applauded the Obama Administration for including $37.8 million in the Fiscal Year 2016 budget to fund land conservation across the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, which could conserve over 7,500 acres.  It will be up to the Congress to ensure that the funds for all of these projects are appropriated.

A significant driver for the Chesapeake’s listing in the President’s budget was the Rivers of the Chesapeake Collaborative Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) proposal.  Of the $37.8 million in the budget, $33.3 million is directly tied to the Rivers of the Chesapeake proposal, which was one of eight collaborative landscapes included in the budget. The Chesapeake Conservancy served as a lead nonprofit partner in this proposal, which focuses on the great rivers of the Chesapeake Bay; the Potomac, Rappahannock, James, Nanticoke, and Susquehanna Rivers and their watersheds. 

In recent years, state and federal funding for land conservation have been on a downward trend.  For example, until December 2014, the Chesapeake had not received significant federal-side funds from the Land and Water Conservation Fund since 2011.  Over the past six years the vast majority of funding has gone to projects in the west, such as the Crown of the Continent in Montana, which received approximately $100 million during that time. Rivers of the Chesapeake is one of two eastern landscapes chosen for funding this year.

Rivers of the Chesapeake Collaborative Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) was a bipartisan proposal with resounding support from four governors, including Governors Terry McAuliffe (VA), Martin O’Malley (MD), Tom Corbett (PA) and Jack Markell (DE), nine U.S. Senators, 17 U.S. Representatives, Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, Jr., Virginia House Speaker William Howell, and more than 30 nonprofits and American Indian Tribes and Nations.  Critical to the proposal is the concept that all partners will work together and contribute resources to achieve a larger collective impact, which will protect more land. 

Under the proposed budget, the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and U.S. Forest Service will receive money to conserve key lands that celebrate our region’s history, provide recreational opportunities, create connected corridors, conserve wildlife habitat for iconic Chesapeake Bay species, protect scenic views, and safeguard irreplaceable landscapes. 

“These are the places we love. The places we boat, hunt, fish, and hike, the places we take our children to explore the outdoors, and the places people come to visit,” said Executive Director Joel Dunn, Chesapeake Conservancy. “Protecting these places supports our communities and economy and is also important to maintaining the ecological health of the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed.”

Land conservation and public access are critical components of the Bay restoration and protection strategy.  In 2009, President Obama committed to preserving the Chesapeake Bay when he signed Executive Order 13508.  The implementation strategy designed to accomplish the Order’s goals includes protecting an additional two million acres and creating 300 new public access sites. These goals were adopted into the new Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, signed in 2014 by the Governors of six states, Washington DC Mayor, Chesapeake Bay Commission and the Federal Government.

Although there is still work to be done, progress has been made on increasing public access, thanks to funding from Congress and the leadership of the Chesapeake Bay Office of the National Park Service in partnership with the Chesapeake Conservancy and the watershed states.  Public access – such as new kayak access sites at pocket parks along the Captain John Smith Trail — allows the public to connect with the resource, enhancing outdoor recreation opportunities for all.

In October, while speaking at the National Workshop for Large Landscape Conservation attended by 650 conservation leaders from around the country, Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell said “Large landscape conservation here is in some ways perhaps more difficult, but in some ways more important, because so much is at stake.  You see it in the health of the Chesapeake Bay and that is a large landscape conservation project that is making forward progress.”

“President Obama should be applauded for recognizing that now is the time to act for the Chesapeake Bay watershed.  With a population approaching 18 million and climbing, and tens of thousands of acres of open space vanishing each year, it is critical that we take advantage of opportunities for large landscape conservation in our region, said Dunn. “Although the President has to weigh the many demands for federal money across the country, this gives backbone to the urgency in the Chesapeake region and will enable us to act now, before it’s too late.”

“We are grateful for the bipartisan support of U.S. Representatives, Senators, and governors as we worked to garner support for this funding in the President’s budget, in partnership with numerous states agencies, non-profit organizations, and American Indian tribes and Nations,” continued Dunn.  “Governor McAuliffe of Virginia has been a particularly charismatic and effective proponent of this proposal.  He should be commended for his outstanding leadership.”

The President’s Fiscal Year 2016 Budget dedicates this funding through the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Created by Congress in 1964, the Land and Water Conservation Fund uses royalties from the offshore production of oil and natural gas to provide money to federal, state, and local governments to conserve land, water, and wetlands for the benefit of all Americans.