Forest Loss

Trees Play a Crucial Role in Keeping Our Waters Clean

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Increasing development paired with lax forest protections are wiping out thousands of acres of forests, and with them, one of our most successful resources in the fight to improve the water quality of our rivers, streams, and Chesapeake Bay.

From capturing and filtering out pollution before it enters our waterways to alleviating flooding by stabilizing the soil, trees provide countless health, economic, and environmental benefits.

Despite their value, they continue to disappear at an alarming rate, and efforts to restore them are lagging. At a time when states, counties, and municipalities are struggling to meet water quality goals, planting trees remains one of the most successful and cost-effective solutions to reducing polluted runoff and cleaning local waterways.

Trees can thrive in urban, suburban, and rural locations, providing unique benefits to each setting. In urban locales, properly placing trees around buildings can reduce air conditioning needs by 30 percent and can save 20-50 percent in energy used for heating. Trees also filter airborne pollutants, reducing conditions that cause asthma which are prevalent in urban communities. In suburban areas, trees have a positive impact on the salability of homes, with studies finding they can increase property values as much as 20 percent. And in rural locations, one acre of forest can produce between $12,000-$77,000 in environmental benefits each year.

In particular, riparian buffers—trees and shrubs planted along streams—provide outstanding benefits, reducing nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollution in both rural and urban landscapes. Research suggests that riparian buffers remove 19–65 percent of the nitrogen; 30–45 percent of the phosphorus; and 40–60 percent of the sediment that would otherwise enter adjacent streams. Beyond their filtering prowess, tree canopies shade and cool water, helping to prevent wide fluctuations in temperatures that can stress fish and other aquatic life, and also help stabilize stream banks and reduce erosion. Furthermore, streamside forests sequester carbon and can provide habitat for wildlife, including pollinators, and act as wildlife corridors, providing cover and food sources.

To save the Bay, forests need to flourish throughout the watershed. In addition to planting thousands of trees in critical areas, CBF will continue fighting for strong and sustainable forest protections that will allow trees to continue their water filtering prowess and many other benefits, for generations to come.

See our blog for stories about the importance of trees in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

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