In the early 1600s, William Strachey, secretary of the Jamestown colony, observed, "the land we see around us is overgrown with trees and woods, being a plain wilderness, as God first ordained it."

It is no wonder that the region seemed so strange to the newcomers. Europe had only about 25 prominent tree species, while the New World had about 525, many of which were seen along the Bay.

Lumber quickly become one of the first exports from the colony; the first ship returning to England brought along a cargo of wood. Soon, the colony became an important supplier of ship masts and timber. Land was also cleared for farming, and wood was important within the colony for building and for firewood.

Land clearing continued at a rapid pace through the 1800s as the demand for wood -- primarily for fuel -- grew.

By the early 1900s, only about 30 percent to 40 percent of the watershed was still covered by forest. The forest clearing greatly increased the amount of sediment flowing into the Bay, permanently closing some navigable waterways.

After the early part of this century, forests gradually reclaimed some land. By 1970, more than 60 percent of the watershed was forested.

But since then, the amount had declined.