Land Conservation

Whether you live on a farm or in the city, are a history lover or a hiker, or simply want to drink pure water straight from the tap, the land you live on and around shapes your life.  Land can be as essential as your source of income or as profound as your place for peace and tranquility. Both ends – and everything in between – connect your quality of life to the place where you live.

The lands of the Chesapeake hold the key to the environmental health and economic well-being of our region. The Bay’s land-to-water ratio — 2,800 square meters of land to every one cubic meter of water — is the largest of any coastal body in the world. How we use and protect these lands is the single most profound factor affecting the Bay’s water quality, the 110,000 miles of creeks and rivers flowing into it, the myriad living resources that depend on it, and the quality of life of the 18 million people who live around it.

Gunpowder River

Photo by Emily Myron

We believe that land conservation has tangible and critical benefits for the Bay restoration and conservation movement — filtering water, recharging aquifers, sequestering carbon, eating nitrogen, stopping siltation – this is in addition to open space, wildlife habitat and access for recreation. Our research shows that protected forests and wetlands are the hardest working silent partners in the restoration effort that we have and that there is incredible benefit – and immense potential – to be gained from the water quality benefits conservation provides.

Eighteen million people call the Bay watershed home. That means we have 18 million reasons to protect this landscape so that future generations will have the same opportunities we enjoy—and incidentally, we will have an additional 4 million reasons by 2050.

We would want Rachel Carson to confirm to our grandchildren that spring is just as boisterous as we remember it being when we were children. We would want Aldo Leopold to confirm that the “fierce green fire” has not died out. We would want Teddy Roosevelt to tell us that we have been fierce stewards of the most glorious heritage a people ever received. We need to adopt the American Indian philosophy of thinking seven generations into the future—and plan and act for them. In the face of global catastrophe, it’s time to do things wildly differently and to think and plan at previously unimaginable spatial scales.

Noted conservationist E.O. Wilson, author of Half-Earth, proposes a bold plan to save our imperiled biosphere: Conserve half the surface of the Earth, both land and ocean, to maintain nature. It’s time to put serious consideration into setting a goal of maintaining half of the Chesapeake Bay watershed by conserving and restoring working lands and natural lands and the places that matter for the future of our region.   Something like this can and should only be done with willing landowners and using precision conservation techniques, so that it is done at the direction of communities and in the right places on the landscape.

Currently, approximately 22 percent of the land area in the Chesapeake watershed is conserved. This includes important working lands, rich farmlands, and productive forests, as well as our natural lands, including national and state parks and wildlife areas. In comparison, approximately 11 percent of the watershed is developed. A distant goal of protecting 50 percent of the watershed’s working lands and natural lands would still leave around 39 percent available for future growth and development and other needs of society.

The 2014 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement committed to protecting 2 million acres of additional land by 2025, along with 300 new public access sites. It’s now 2019, and we’re halfway to both the 2-million-acre goal and the public access goal, which is certainly something to celebrate. But we need to begin to identify goals beyond 2025. It’s time to think through how these ideas apply to our Chesapeake Bay and watershed. It is time to think big, because our Chesapeake is the biggest asset we all share. With careful stewardship, we can pass on something we are proud of to our children and grandchildren. This is the goal of a lifetime.

Land and Water Conservation Fund

The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is America’s most important program to conserve irreplaceable lands and improve outdoor recreation opportunities throughout the nation. The program works in partnership with federal, state and local efforts to protect land in our national parks, national wildlife refuges, national forests, national trails, and other public lands; to preserve working forests and ranchlands; to support state and local parks and playgrounds; to preserve battlefields and other historic and cultural sites; and to provide the tools that communities need to meet their diverse conservation and recreation needs. 

We are a member of the Land and Water Conservation Fund Coalition and advocate for annual funding for this important program and for our region.

Maryland Program Open Space

Program Open Space is Maryland’s leading land preservation program.  In 1969, the Maryland General Assembly created Program Open Space through the institution of a transfer tax of 0.5 percent on every real estate transaction in the state. Thus began the remarkable history of protecting land, and creating parks and playgrounds that helped to make this state such an attractive place to live, work and play.

Program Open Space funds the acquisition and development of state and local parks, the preservation of unique natural areas that harbor rare and endangered species, the preservation of farmland and the protection of locally identified resource lands (farm, forest, historic/cultural) with conservation easements.

This revenue is intended to keep pace with rising land costs and the pace of development and with the loss of open space and farmland. Also, by partnering with non-profit organizations and public agencies, POS leverages resources and increases efficiency, accomplishing more for Maryland taxpayers with less.

The Chesapeake Conservancy advocates for full funding for this vital program in the Maryland State Legislature and is a member of the Partners for Open Space.

Virginia Land Preservation Tax Credit

The Commonwealth of Virginia has created a powerful incentive for land conservation, a transferable credit to pay state income tax.  It is an effective, voluntary, free-market mechanism that has proven to vastly increase donations of conservation easements, which protects the integrity of the landscape and benefits the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

In 1999, the Virginia General Assembly passed the “Virginia Land Conservation Incentives Act,” to grant a credit against its state income tax to property owners who donated land or easements to protect conservation values in Virginia. The original tax credit granted was 50% of the value of a qualifying conservation donation in the state.

Today, Virginia allows an income tax credit for 40 percent of the value of donated land or conservation easements. Taxpayers may use up to $20,000 per year through 2020 and $50,000 per year in subsequent tax years. Tax credits may be carried forward for up to 13 years. Unused credits may be sold, allowing individuals with little or no Virginia income tax burden to take advantage of this benefit.

The Chesapeake Conservancy advocates for the maintenance of this important program, which has protected hundreds of thousands of acres across Virginia from development, and is a member of the Virginia United Land Trusts AssociationVirginia Conservation Network and VirginiaForever.

Pennsylvania Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund

In 1993, the Pennsylvania General Assembly and the general public established the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund. The Keystone Fund and its dedicated funding source, a 15% share of the state’s realty transfer tax, created a dedicated and permanent funding source for making investments in recreation, parks, conservation, libraries, historical preservation, and education.

The Keystone Fund has helped protect 161,000+ acres of green space for county and municipal parks, greenways, wildlife habitat, and other open space uses.  This also funds thousands of community park development projects, including ballfields, playgrounds, pools, picnic areas, and recreation centers and trail projects for walking, bicycling, and other recreation uses.

We are a member of the Pennsylvania Association of Land Trusts and we advocate for the full funding of the Keystone Fund.

Delaware Open Space Program

Delaware’s Open Space Program coordinates the acquisition of parks, open space, natural areas, forests, wildlife habitat, greenways, and access to waterways. These management areas include some of the finest examples of Delaware’s diverse natural and cultural heritage.

The process for acquiring open space lands and conservation easements in Delaware was codified in 1990 with the passage of the Delaware Land Protection Act.  The Land Preservation Office in DNREC implements this law by identifying areas of high ecological value and protects these areas by working with landowners who would like to protect their property from development and preserve it in perpetuity. Since the law was passed in 1990, over 57,000 acres of the Delaware landscape has been protected from development.

We strongly support the Delaware Land Protection Act and annually advocate for full funding for this program.