Protecting the Chesapeake Bay from the onslaught of contaminants from land use changes in its surrounding 64,000-square-mile watershed area is a formidable challenge. The 2000 census shows that 15 million people live and flush refuse into the watershed while devouring vital land and altering its hydrology. And, the population rapidly continues to grow.

In some states within the watershed, like Pennsylvania, the population only grew by 2.5 percent but natural land loss to development jumped 47 percent.

When you consider that protecting the Bay entails a coordinated watershed protection program involving six states and hundreds of local governments, you see the formidable challenge at hand.

Bigger even than coordinating legislation to protect these watersheds, is the question, how do you pay for it?

According to the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Blue Ribbon Finance Panel, it will cost nearly $11 billion just to address the nutrient and sediment issues. Watershed protection throughout the six states will cost much more.

A place to turn for help is the Conservation Trust Fund, a bipartisan congressional bill established in 2000 to address the unceasing and restrictive underfunding of our nation’s public lands.

The Conservation Trust Fund is supposed to dedicate $14 billion over six years to the United States’ most important conservation and natural resource protection programs, including the Land and Water Conservation Fund, State Wildlife Grants, the Forest Legacy program and the Urban Park and Recreation Recovery program. The Fund was supposed to receive $2.24 billion in the fiscal year 2005 federal budget.

Unfortunately, the Bush administration cut more than $500 million from the Conservation Trust Fund, deepening a three-year decline in funding.

Most of this cut—$436 million—is at the expense of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The LWCF is a hugely popular program that has led to the creation of more than 38,000 parks and more than 7 million acres of protected open space since its inception in 1964 and is funded by offshore oil revenues, not tax dollars.

Recent LWCF-funded projects in Maryland include Sandy Point State Park’s Holly Beach Farm acquisition for $2.25 million, the Baltimore School Playground Rehabilitation for $1 million, and the Delmarva Fox Squirrel Habitat Project for $1.01 million.

If the Conservation Trust Fund is fully funded, Maryland will receive $5,958,405 in its stateside LWCF program.

One bright spot in an otherwise bleak budget picture is that the Bush administration increased the funding for the national Forest Legacy program from $68 million to $100 million. However, if the Conservation Trust Fund is passed, it will fund the Forest Legacy program at $165 million in 2005. Forest Legacy is used to protect forests from being developed and has been successful in protecting hundreds of millions of acres of forest land in rural areas.

The administration is using its deceptive sleight of hand tactics when they claim to be fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund. They do this by dumping more than a dozen other programs into the LWCF total.

None of those programs has historically been part of the LWCF, but by re-categorizing them and including them, they inflate the LWCF figures—giving the illusion of being “full funding” at $900 million. This rob “Peter to pay Paul” method short-sheets the program by $515 million of the funding that was promised to protect drinking water; maintain playgrounds and parks; and protect wildlife habitat, historic sites and forests.

If fully funded, the Conservation Trust Fund would give Maryland $849,150 to preserve important historic sites as well as provide $2,159,308 for State Wildlife Grants to protect critical habitats. It would also establish a national Urban Park and Recreation Recovery Program fund of $50 million for city parks and playgrounds.

West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Virginia and Delaware also stand to receive vital funding through the Conservation Trust Fund to preserve important watersheds and pay for stream restoration projects that will improve water quality and protect the health of the Chesapeake’s creatures as well as people who rely on the Bay.

This funding is so important that even in these financially strapped times conservation groups, historical societies, sports groups, sporting goods manufacturers, park and recreation associations, urban centers and tourist organizations are calling upon Congress to restore the Conservation Trust Fund budget to its fully funded level.

Please urge your Congressional representatives right away to support full funding of the Conservation Trust Fund.