The Chesapeake 2000 agreement created a massive “to do” for the Bay region: more than 100 specific items, from achieving a tenfold increase in oysters to promoting the expansion of contiguous forests through easements. Many had specific deadlines.

With so many obligations—and so little time—the Bay Program has whittled the “to do” list to a smaller “top 10” list.

The smaller list is dubbed the “Keystone Commitments” because they are considered the most critical elements for restoring the Chesapeake.

The idea of prioritizing came from the sense that trying to accomplish all of the Chesapeake 2000 commitments at the same time would spread state and federal staffs too thin, said Rebecca Hanmer, director of the EPA’s Bay Program Office. Deadlines for some commitments are already slipping by.

The term, keystone, was derived from the ecological theory that ecosystems contain certain critical “keystone species” that serve as the biological building blocks that support the entire system. Similarly, the keystone commitments are those which—if met—will help the Bay Program meet most of its other goals along the way.

“If you are really focusing high-quality attention on the keystones, then in effect you are also improving your ability to protect the whole ecosystem, or in this case, the whole set of commitments,” Hanmer said.

The top 10 were selected through a vote by representatives from various Bay Program committees and subcommittees.

They include commitments that represent all major parts of the Chesapeake restoration effort: water quality, sound land use, living resource protection and restoration, vital habitat protection and restoration, and stewardship and community engagement.

But some major commitments did fall off the top 10 list altogether. The keystones, for instance, contain none of the Chesapeake 2000 commitments pertaining to toxics.

Hanmer said that reflects a realization that many state and federal programs are already aimed at dealing with toxic pollution issues. Rather than focusing a lot more Bay Program energy on certain toxics issues, she said, it may make more sense to promote Bay concerns through better links with existing state and federal programs.

While some commitments may get less priority, Hanmer said the Bay Program will still fund programs that did not make the top 10. “No commitment in Chesapeake 2000 is going to be just ignored,” she said.

For example, improving fish passage is not a keystone commitment but the Bay Program would continue to work in partnership with others, such as the environmental group American Rivers, to get fish barriers removed.

But commitments related to the keystones may get more scrutiny. One example: While achieving a tenfold increase in native oysters is a keystone commitment, the Bay Program is already behind schedule in developing and implementing a comprehensive strategy to meet that goal—something that was due in 2002—and is necessary to direct oyster restoration.

By better prioritizing, Hanmer said, the Bay Program can help stay on schedule for some of its most important obligations.

The keystone commitments are not set in stone, she added. Plans call for revisiting them every year.

The 10 Keystone Commitments

  • By 2010, achieve, at a minimum, a tenfold increase in native oysters in the Chesapeake Bay, based on a 1994 baseline. By 2002, develop and implement a strategy to achieve this increase by using sanctuaries sufficient in size and distribution, aquaculture, continued disease research and disease-resistant management strategies and other management approaches.
  • By 2007, revise and implement existing fisheries management plans to incorporate ecological, social and economic considerations, multispecies fisheries management and ecosystem approaches.
  • By 2002, implement a strategy to accelerate the protection and restoration of submerged aquatic vegetation beds in areas of critical importance to the Bay’s living resources.
  • By 2010, work with local governments, community groups and watershed organizations to develop and implement locally supported watershed management plans in two-thirds of the Bay watershed covered by this agreement. These plans would address the protection, conservation and restoration of stream corridors, riparian forest buffers and wetlands for the purposes of improving habitat and water quality, with collateral benefits for optimizing stream flow and water supply.
  • By 2010, achieve a net resource gain by restoring 25,000 acres of tidal and non-tidal wetlands. To do this, we commit to achieve and maintain an average restoration rate of 2,500 acres per year basinwide by 2005 and beyond. We will evaluate our success in 2005.
  • Conserve existing forests along all streams and shorelines.
  • By 2010, correct the nutrient– and sediment-related problems in the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries sufficiently to remove the Bay and the tidal portions of its tributaries from the list of impaired waters under the Clean Water Act.
  • Strengthen programs for land acquisition and preservation within each state that are supported by funding and target the most valued lands for protection. Permanently preserve from development 20 percent of the land area in the watershed by 2010.
  • By 2010, reduce the rate of harmful sprawl development of forest and agricultural land in the Chesapeake Bay watershed by 30 percent measured as an average over five years from the baseline of 1992-97, with measures and progress reported regularly to the Chesapeake Executive Council.
  • Beginning with the class of 2005, provide a meaningful Bay or stream outdoor experience for every school student in the watershed before graduation from high school.