Land Use & Population Growth
According to current predictions, by the year 2025 America's major coastal urban areas will increase their "footprints" on the land by nearly half. This translates to 5.8 million acres of farmland and open space converted to urban sprawl.
In the Chesapeake watershed, land conversion is key. The six-state, 64,000 square-mile watershed that drains rainfall into the Bay brings runoff from new construction sites, homes, shopping centers and high rises — not to mention industry, logging, agriculture and other uses.
Urban sprawl can cause special problems, since urban-suburban development often results in large amounts of impervious surface — gathering rain from rooftops, parking lots, driveways and walkways, and sending it in concentrated conduits toward the Bay's tributaries.
Because of its large watershed, the Chesapeake Bay has an extremely high land-to-water ratio, making it especially susceptible to runoff. Research by scientists at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, and elsewhere has helped to document the amount and impact of nutrients and contaminants that reach the estuary – demonstrating, for example, how an overabundance of nutrients can lead to the shading of underwater grasses and the decline of oxygen in bottom waters. Attention has now turned to the land, toward the sources of nutrients and toxic compounds entering the Bay and its tributaries.
An especially interesting report on the future of the Bay and its watershed is Chesapeake Futures produced by the Chesapeake Bay Program's Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee (STAC). The Futures report offers alternative scenarios for the year 2030, based on decisions we make now.
If we are to protect the Bay and its important species — including blue crabs and oysters — we must protect the streams and rivers that feed the Bay. This requires careful and intelligent stewardship of the land. Of critical importance are forested areas along streams, creeks, and rivers (often called riparian buffers), and contiguous wooded areas that still function as forests.
Healthy forests provide habitat for many species of plants and animals, and they perform key ecosystem services in the watershed. Trees and other forest plants take in nutrients from soil, groundwater, and the atmosphere, reducing what ultimately enters the Bay and its tributaries. They also slow the flow of runoff, reducing shoreline erosion and trapping sediment that can cloud streams and rivers. On a global scale, forests capture significant amounts of atmospheric carbon, helping to slow global warming.
The regionwide Chesapeake Bay Program has set a goal to restore 10,000 miles of riparian forest buffers in the Chesapeake watershed by 2010. Their previous goal to reach 2,010 miles by 2010 was met in 2002, eight years ahead of schedule.
Area scientists are now exploring another use for forests — serving as a depository for biosolid waste from sewage treatment plants. Applying biosolids to forests could be a way to dispose of the waste in an environmentally friendly way by fertilizing and ultimately reforesting land previously unable to support significant vegetation. To learn more about this research visit the University of Maryland College of Agriculture & Natural Resources website: http://www.naturalresources.umd.edu/ResearchBiosolids.html.
Maryland Sea Grant Extension
Coastal Communities & Economies
University of Maryland Extension & Wye Research and Education CenterRiparian Buffers
Maryland Sea Grant ResearchWhat makes the Chesapeake region unique?
Challenges for traditional Bay communities
The effect of public policy on land use
Chesapeake Bay ProgramForests in the Chesapeake Watershed
Chesapeake Futures ReportDevelopment and Sprawl (pdf)
Forests in Transition (pdf)
Chesapeake Bay CommissionKeeping Our Commitment: Preserving Land in the Chesapeake Watershed (pdf)
University of Maryland College of Agricultural & Natural ResourcesForest Stewardship Education
Application of Biosolids to Forests
Maryland Marine Notes Spotlight ArchivesLand Trusts: Partners in Protecting the Chesapeake
Baltimore: The City as Ecosystem
Smart Farming for a Cleaner Bay
Living in Bay Country: The Places We Call Home
Land Use and Water Quality
Other Land LinksThere are many organizations active in different areas of land use and land conservation and protection. Here are some of them:
American Farm Land Trust
Land Trust Alliance
The National Center for Smart Growth
Natural Resources Defense Council
Smart Growth Network
Soil and Water Conservation Society
The Wilderness Society
Urban Resources Initiative
U.S. EPA - Smart Growth