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Importance of Restoration

Photo by Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program

Why restore wetlands?

Wetlands provide critical habitat to plants and animals, including fish, frogs, waterfowl and songbirds. Some of these birds are year-round residents of Chesapeake Bay wetlands. Others are migratory species who find food and shelter in the wetlands of our region each winter.

Wetlands also capture and filter water flowing off of agricultural lands. This controls erosion and stops some nutrients and sediment from entering creeks, streams and the Chesapeake Bay. This valuable benefit to water quality makes wetlands a cost-effective alternative to man-made systems that work to reduce pollution.

Chesapeake Bay wetlands face two sources of stress.

Development

Development is the biggest threat to wetlands in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, where thousands of acres of wetlands have already been lost to agricultural, commercial and residential areas. Even development that takes place outside of a wetland can harm the wetland ecosystem. Parking lots, roads and other paved surfaces push rainwater into creeks and streams, eroding streambanks and filling waterways with pollution. Development can also mean more people tapping into and consuming groundwater, which can cause the water table to drop and remove a water source that wetlands need to survive.

Sea Level Rise

Rising sea levels can wash away tidal wetlands. While some wetlands will “migrate” inland as water rises, this expansion will not be enough to replace the area that is lost. In many cases, bulkheads, riprap revetments and other hardened shorelines prevent wetlands from expanding at all.

What is our restoration goal?

In 2010, more than 280,000 acres of tidal wetlands and about 1.7 million acres of non-tidal wetlands could be found in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. While these numbers seem large, they are much smaller than the amount of wetlands historically found in the region. In order to bring back the benefits these wetlands provide, each of the Chesapeake Bay states has set a shared goal to create or restore 85,000 acres of wetlands by 2025.

How can agricultural landowners help?

Almost one-quarter of the Chesapeake Bay’s 64,000-square-mile watershed is farmland. As stewards of this land, the agricultural community has an opportunity to bring wetlands back to their properties and protect the ecosystem services these habitats provide.

Many farms in the Chesapeake Bay watershed once contained wetlands that were drained to increase the area of land that could be used to grow crops. Because this once-drained land may continue to flood, it can be of marginal value to farmers but make an ideal location for wetland restoration.

If you want to learn more, read about the five steps of building a wetland on agricultural land. If you’re ready to begin, find a funding program or wetland planner near you.

© Chesapeake Bay Program