Trees critical to the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay | COMMENTARY
In Maryland, the Chesapeake Bay is not only the heart of our state, it’s also one of our primary economic engines and a nexus for shared community. As Marylanders have fought to restore the Chesapeake Bay Watershed and bolster its defenses against climate change and pollution, we need to enlist a valuable, yet underappreciated ally: trees.
Throughout the watershed, trees are a natural infrastructure, protecting our environment and communities by improving air and water quality while reducing soil erosion. Trees and shrubs growing along our streams, rivers and bay shield these waterways from the impact of nearby land use. These riparian forest buffers filter pollution and stormwater runoff to reduce by 30% to 90% the nutrient pollution that enters local waterways. Tree canopy also filters our air and provides shade, creating habitats for animals and cooling urban areas.
Maryland’s trees, however, have dwindled over the years, and with our forest cover at only 39% of the state’s land area, many of our streams don’t have the trees necessary to promote a healthy, bountiful Chesapeake Bay. Replanting trees across the watershed, in both environmentally vulnerable areas and tree-deprived urban communities has been an ongoing effort at state and local levels for many years.
It has also been a part of the federal effort to restore the Chesapeake and reach our regional conservation and climate goals. This year, Congress is providing funding directly to a variety of programs and projects that have a powerful impact on environmental conservation efforts for communities across the country.
The bipartisan federal omnibus spending package, signed into law earlier this year, will provide funds to plant 4,700 new trees on environmentally sensitive lands in Anne Arundel, Howard and Montgomery counties. This federal funding is going directly to the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, an organization that plants over 100,000 trees annually. In the past 50 years, this bay restoration nonprofit has helped plant over 1 million trees across the watershed. The federal funds will provide for tree purchases, planting and three years of maintenance. It will also support the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay as it communicates with the public about the benefits provided by trees in our landscape.
This funding was just one of several recent federal commitments to the Chesapeake Bay including $88 million for the Bay Program and additional funding to strengthen climate resilience and advance environmental justice. On top of that, Congress recently allocated $238 million – to be spent over the next five years – for the Chesapeake Bay Program through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. We’re pleased that Congress passed this bipartisan bill to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure and ensure resilience in the face of a changing climate.
Trees must be a central part of all future legislation on climate change. They are essential to our environmental efforts in many ways. By planting more trees, we can improve air quality, reduce stormwater runoff, support wildlife habitats, make our urban spaces more livable and lower home energy costs.
One tree at a time, we can save the rich ecosystem of the Chesapeake Bay and protect this treasure for future generations.
Democrat John Sarbanes is the incumbent member of the House of Representatives from the 3rd District. The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay aims to bring together communities, companies, and conservationists to prevent pollution where it starts. Learn more at www.allianceforthebay.org.