Forests are essential to the health of the Chesapeake Bay. Forests act like giant sponges, keeping our rivers and streams clean and protecting our drinking water. Large stands of trees capture rainfall, trap polluted runoff and stabilize soils that might otherwise wash into waterways. Furthermore, through a process known as attenuation, tree roots and leaves and forest soils can absorb and trap the pollutants in our air.
In addition to providing clean air and water, forests create habitat for many wildlife species living in the watershed. Forests provide food, shelter, nesting sites and safe migration paths for critters in the water and on the land. Mature forests provide forest dwelling species with the moderate temperature and light levels that are integral to their summertime habitat. Streamside forests help maintain cooler water temperatures and reduce stress on sensitive fish. And leaves and fallen branches from streamside forests fall in the water and form the foundation of the freshwater food chain.
Forests also help support the region’s economy by protecting clean air and water, creating wood and paper, generating jobs and income, increasing property values, lowering residential and commercial energy use, improving physical and mental health, and providing opportunities for recreation. Forestry is the second largest industry in Pennsylvania and Virginia and the fifth largest in Maryland.
Unfortunately, human activities–including sprawling development and the introduction of invasive species–have altered the watershed’s forests, reducing tree cover and fragmenting forests that still exist. Conserving healthy forests and expanding forest cover is a critical, cost-effective way to reduce pollution and restore the Bay.