What Will It Take to Conserve 30 Percent of Lands, Waters by 2030? | Sierra Club

What Will It Take to Conserve 30 Percent of Lands, Waters by 2030? The Biden administration lays out a blueprint for 30×30 PHOTO BY WERKSMEDIA FacebookTwitterEmail BY LINDSEY BOTTS | MAY 13 2021 The eminent American biologist E.O. Wilson first suggested the idea of setting aside half of Earth for wild nature and biodiversity in his 2002 book, The Future of Life. He went on to expand on the concept in his 2016 book, Half Earth, and the following year he started the Half Earth Project. In 2019, a group of r

Source: What Will It Take to Conserve 30 Percent of Lands, Waters by 2030? | Sierra Club

What Will It Take to Conserve 30 Percent of Lands, Waters by 2030?

The Biden administration lays out a blueprint for 30×30

PHOTO BY WERKSMEDIAFacebookTwitterEmailBY LINDSEY BOTTS | MAY 13 2021

The eminent American biologist E.O. Wilson first suggested the idea of setting aside half of Earth for wild nature and biodiversity in his 2002 book, The Future of Life. He went on to expand on the concept in his 2016 book, Half Earth, and the following year he started the Half Earth Project. In 2019, a group of researchers took Wilson up on the idea and sought to flesh out the ambitious vision when they released the Global Deal for Nature, which laid out a road map for setting aside 30 percent of land and water by 2030, with an additional 20 percent of the planet conserved as “climate stabilization areas.” Since then, the “30 by 30” goal has stuck and has become the new benchmark by which to measure conservation success. So far, 50 countries and 70 US mayors have committed to the 30×30 goal. 

On Thursday, May 6, President Biden got one step closer to delivering on his campaign promise to meet that measure. In a 24-page report, a quartet of federal agencies released a broad outline to achieve Biden’s vision of protecting 30 percent of US lands and waters by 2030. With the announcement, the White House and the federal agencies tasked with overseeing the 30×30 initiative—now called the “America the Beautiful” campaign—are on their way to ensuring an environmental legacy that most conservation groups hope will last for generations.

“The president’s challenge is a call to action to support locally led conservation and restoration efforts of all kinds and all over America, wherever communities wish to safeguard the lands and waters they know and love,” writes Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, and Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory in the report. (The USDA is involved in the 30×30 goal because it oversees the US Forest Service; the Commerce Department is a player because it houses the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which manages the US ocean waters.) “Where this path leads over the next decade will be determined not by our agencies but by the ideas and leadership of local communities.” 

The report offers a measure of clarity—if not a complete road map—for how to reach the 30×30 goal. To get there, stakeholders from all aspects of land use are asked to pitch in. No longer is conservation the exclusive realm of federally protected lands. Instead, the very definition of conserved land is being adjusted to incorporate farms, working landscapes, city parks, and practically any natural environment that stores carbon, provides wildlife habitat, or serves as green space for communities lacking access to nature. The shift requires an all-hands-on-deck adjustment that includes an array of metrics.  

“I think for the Sierra Club, this is a really unique opportunity for us to coalesce around one big goal that will help us shift the narrative on why lands protection is important for mitigating climate, for protecting biodiversity, and also for creating healthy communities,” Kim Pope, an organizer for the Sierra Club’s Our Wild America campaign, told Sierra

The administration’s plans are grounded in community-led conservation. A set of guiding principles serve as the backbone of the report, and most of them lean on public participation to steer the way. “Science can provide information about the places that are most rich in wildlife, that store the most carbon, or that are most rare or imperiled, but data alone should not be the sole guide or measure of success for how the nation protects, conserves, or restores its lands and waters,” the report says. Additionally, the report highlights the need to honor the sovereignty of Native American nations, create conservation jobs, and respect private property.  

Nevertheless, the federal government will still have a significant role to play in meeting the ambitious 30×30 goal. The Center for American Progress estimates that protected areas account for 12 percent of US lands and 26 percent of US territorial waters, and most of that is public lands. Expanding or creating new national wildlife refuges, national parks, and wilderness areas won’t be possible without congressional action. 

The federal government is and will likely remain the biggest funder of conservation efforts. For instance, the US government will continue to pay for programs like the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a key resource for programs like the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership, which expands parks in urban areas and was just granted an additional $150 million. The reauthorization of the Farm Bill in 2023 will also offer a significant opportunity to incentivize farmers to set aside some of their lands through efforts like the Conservation Stewardship Program and the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program that pays for ecosystem restoration and protection.  

Even with a full-government approach, however, there will still be a gap between what the federal government can do and actually reaching the 30×30 target. This is where public-private conservation comes in. Private individuals own 60 percent of the land in the United States. Helping them preserve some of their land will be vital to reaching 30×30 in an equitable way. The primary means of conserving private land are two-fold. First, a private organization like a land trust may purchase an area outright. Or second, landowners may enter their land into a conservation easement, a voluntary agreement where either a government agency or land trust assumes responsibility for the land in exchange for the landowner relinquishing development rights. Doing so often comes with direct payments or attractive tax breaks. And it allows landowners continued access to their land while preserving its conservation value. Given the hefty price tag of land, both options often require financing from the government, mostly through grant programs that incentivize conservation efforts.  

To measure progress, the report recommends that federal agencies deliver two annual assessments to the National Climate Task Force. The first will take the form of an assessment of wildlife habitat, land-use changes, and updates on a range of priority projects. These include creating parks in communities that lack access to the outdoors, supporting tribal-led conservation, and expanding collaboration with states to protect wildlife habitat and corridors. That report will also evaluate the status of voluntary conservation and restoration jobs.

The second document, the American Conservation and Stewardship Atlas, will establish a database of protected and restored lands throughout the country. While public lands are well inventoried, the contributions of farmers, Native American nations, and private landowners are not. The second report aims to change that by including multiple types of conservation into a single resource.  

While the new report has mostly been well received, there have been a few detractors. Some Republicans have criticized it for its lack of detail. “It’s vital that the administration gets past high-level talking points and defines their policies,” said Representative Bruce Westerman of Arkansas, the ranking Republican on the House Natural Resources Committee. Meanwhile, some counties and private property advocates have lobbed accusations of a land grab. 

However, the president and the cabinet secretaries leading the campaign have continually stressed that the 30×30 effort will be based on collaborative, voluntary projects. No one is expected to lose their land involuntarily as a result of 30×30. Nor are draconian regulations expected to burden landowners. Local projects that are led by private efforts seem to be the crux of the initiative. 

Yet that approach raises other complications, as some environmental advocates question the biodiversity value of what may be conserved. For instance, ranching on public land has been explicitly endorsed in the report even though it has a history of degrading natural ecosystems. “If you protect some lands from subdivision, but then graze them down to bare dirt and cause a weed invasion, then you haven’t achieved anything for conservation or for biodiversity,” Erik Molvar, executive director of the Western Watersheds Project, told Sierra. “The focus of 30 by 30 needs to be on protecting native ecosystems and restoring rare and imperiled species.” 

The cabinet secretaries behind the 30×30 goal insist that joint efforts and a renewed focus on private lands offer the best opportunity for lasting success. “We know that conservation works best when it’s about partnerships and collaboration,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack during a press conference. “Whether our goal is to conserve watersheds or wildlife, to restore forest health, or take actions to address climate change through climate-smart agriculture and forestry practices, we know we have to work across public, tribal, and working lands to be successful.”

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