A black and white image of Joseph Gartlan, Jr., then chair of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, sitting at a table while signing the 1983 Chesapeake Bay Agreement amid a chaotic scene of more than a dozen onlookers.
Joseph Gartlan, Jr., right, chair of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, signs the 1983 Chesapeake Bay Agreement amid a chaotic scene at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., on Dec. 9, 1983. (Photo by Chesapeake Bay Program)

On December 9, 2023, the Chesapeake Bay Program will celebrate 40 years since the signing of the first Chesapeake Bay Agreement, the groundbreaking document that established our restoration partnership. This year, our partners celebrated the anniversary with stories about their contributions to the Bay Program. From wildlife conservation successes, to the growth of oyster restoration, to policy wins critical to clean water, these stories represent the wide range of work made possible through this unique partnership.

From the fish kills to Conowingo Dam, USGS investigates the Bay watershed’s most complex issues

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) became an official partner of the Chesapeake Bay Program in 1984, just a year after the partnership was formed. Since then, the agency’s work in the Bay watershed has grown from a few water quality monitoring projects to an integrated effort addressing toxic contaminants, reducing pollution, changes in the watershed’s geography and the health of our wildlife

A federal agency recounts two big wins in Chesapeake wildlife conservation

When it comes to the protection and conservation of wildlife, there is no better feeling than seeing an endangered species recovered or a disruptive invasive eradicated. In their nearly 40 years of partnering with the Chesapeake Bay Program, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has saved the delmarva fox squirrel from near-extinction and eradicated the invasive nutria from Maryland, among many other accomplishments. The latter was once a major threat to the Bay’s wetlands, which are critical to the health of the estuary.

Over 31,000 miles of fish passage opened in the Chesapeake since 1988

For over 30 years, the Chesapeake Bay Program has been working to improve passage for migratory fish, whose migration corridors are blocked by hundreds of dams, bridges and outdated culverts. Over 31,000 miles of stream habitat have been opened since 1988. With each project, we see fish species showing up in places they haven’t been for decades, if not centuries.

An aerial view of a female scientist drawing blood from a fish.
Vicki Blazer of the U.S. Geological Survey draws blood from a smallmouth bass to test for contamination. (Photo by Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program)

Pennsylvania reflects on the past and future of Bay restoration

In 1983, Jim Seif served as the assistant to Pennsylvania Governor Dick Thornburgh and played a key role in getting Governor Thornburgh to sign the Chesapeake Bay Agreement. Jill Whitcomb, who currently represents the Commonwealth’s Department of Environmental Protection within the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Management Board, interviewed Seif on Pennsylvania’s significant advances in clean water and conservation. In turn, Seif questioned Whitcomb about the Commonwealth’s current restoration strategy and future plans.

How the USDA Forest Service changed the way we think about trees in the Chesapeake

For centuries, people in the Chesapeake Bay region have made a living from managing forests for timber harvest. If done in a sustainable way, these forests can continue to provide environmental benefits with minimal impact to our waterways. Since joining the Chesapeake Bay Program in 1990, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service has advocated for sustainable timber harvest, while coordinating the effort to protect forests and plant new trees, particularly in urban areas.

40 years of dedication to Chesapeake Bay oysters—and their many benefits

By the 1990s, oyster populations in the Chesapeake Bay had fallen to 1-2% of their historic levels. As a long-time member of the Bay Program, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has played a key role in the partnership’s efforts to boost oyster populations and their habitats. The effort has seen major scientific advances, leaps in public awareness around the ability of oysters to clean the water and most recently, the world’s largest oyster restoration effort happening right here in the Bay.

Women place plastic tree tubes around young saplings planted in a forest.
Sally Claggett served as coordinator of the Chesapeake Bay Program's Forestry Workgroup from 2008 to 2022. (Photo by Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program)

For Virginia, decades of wastewater treatment upgrades make for a healthier Bay

Between the mid-1990s and early 2000s, the Commonwealth of Virginia made significant progress in updating wastewater treatment plants within the Bay watershed to reduce pollution. Working closely with local municipalities, the Commonwealth increased the clean water standards that each wastewater treatment plant had to meet and provided funding to do so. Since 2007, these measures have reduced the amount of phosphorus discharges to the Bay from Virginia’s wastewater treatment facilities by more than 50%.

The science and policy behind Chesapeake Bay restoration

As a signatory to every Chesapeake Bay agreement and the only one representing the legislative branch of three state governments, the Chesapeake Bay Commission brings a unique perspective to the Bay Program. Over four decades, the Commission has helped get bills and laws passed that protect the Bay, such as the conservation practice funding provided in the most recent Farm Bill.

Three Chesapeake Gateways sites that capture the magic of the region

Since 2000, the National Park Service has connected communities throughout the Bay watershed to nearly 170 trails, museums, parks, refuges and facilities within their Chesapeake Gateways network. This work has been critical to the partnership's efforts to foster community stewardship, conserve lands and open up public access sites.

Sixth-grade students wade through a shallow creek, carrying small nets to sample invertebrates.
Sixth-grade students from Old Middle School practice stream sampling for aquatic macroinvertebrates along a stretch of Severn Run in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. (Photo by Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program)

Defending the Bay: How the Department of Defense contributes to Bay restoration

The Department of Defense (DoD) became one of the first federal departments to formally join the Bay Program’s watershed restoration effort in 1984. Since then, they have implemented countless conservation practices across the watershed to reduce pollution entering the Bay from military sites. The DoD is a key contributor to the partnership’s wetland restoration and shoreline protection efforts.

40 years of educating Chesapeake Bay stewards

Education about the Chesapeake Bay has grown tremendously over the past 40 years, thanks in large part to NOAA. Through their partnership with the Chesapeake Bay Program, NOAA has provided schools with the resources needed to teach critical environmental learning in and outside of the classroom. In 2002, they started the Bay Watershed Education and Training (B-WET) program which has supported more than 730,000 student experiences and nearly 30,000 professional development opportunities for educators.

These stories represent just a small portion of the restoration and conservation work carried out by the Chesapeake Bay Program.

Is there an aspect of our work that resonates the most with you? Let us know in the comments!


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