Restoring the Chesapeake Bay watershed

This post contributed by Terence Houston, ESA Science Policy Analyst

According to the Obama administration, for the first time since the creation of the Chesapeake Bay Program in 1983, the federal government is using its full force to prioritize restoration of the Chesapeake Bay.  Speakers met on September 10 for a briefing in Washington, DC to discuss the government’s significantly expanded role in preserving the Bay and its watershed.

In May 2009, President Obama issued Executive Order (EO) 13508 for Chesapeake Bay Protection and Restoration. The EO notes that “the Chesapeake Bay is a national treasure constituting the largest estuary in the United States and one of the largest and most biologically productive estuaries in the world.”  It also establishes a Federal Leadership Committee (FLC), Chaired by the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, to “oversee the development and coordination of programs and activities, including data management and reporting, of agencies participating in protection and restoration of the Chesapeake Bay.” The committee also includes senior representatives from the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Homeland Security, Interior, Transportation and other agencies as deemed necessary.

September’s congressional briefing mainly focused on the FLC’s new “Strategy for Chesapeake Bay Watershed Restoration and Protection,” released in May 2010. The strategy has four essential goals: 1) restore clean water, 2) recover habitats, 3) sustain fish and wildlife and 4) conserve land and increase public access. It also includes four supporting strategies to help achieve these goals: 1) expand citizen stewardship, 2) develop environmental markets, 3) respond to climate change and 4) strengthen science.

The briefing was sponsored by U.S. Congressman John Sarbanes in collaboration with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Chesapeake Conservancy.  Speakers included key representatives from the major federal agencies responsible for study and management of water resources, including Scott Phillips, Chesapeake Bay Coordinator with USGS; Mike Slattery, Chesapeake Bay Coordinator with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Jonathan Doherty, Program Manager with the National Park Service.  The briefing was moderated by Deanna Archuleta, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Water and Science at the Department of Interior.

USGS’s expanded role will involve increased scientific input to improve monitoring of habitat conditions and target key areas for protection and restoration.  The agency is tasked with improving its Chesapeake Land Change model to identify areas for conservation and predict impacts of climate and land-use changes on natural resources. “It is very important for us to know where to make investments, so they will be lasting,” said Slattery of the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service’s collaborative role in the process.

Doherty outlined a diverse array of benefits the Chesapeake Bay offers, including sustaining wildlife, recreation and a connection to our heritage. He stated that it is the committee’s goal to preserve and restore an additional “two million acres of land” in the Chesapeake region.

Read more on the Chesapeake Bay Restoration EO at http://executiveorder.chesapeakebay.net/default.aspx.

Photo Credit: BKL

Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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