President Joe Biden wants to put our country on a path toward protecting at least 30% of its land and 30% of its waters by 2030. It’s an ambitious goal that’s part of an even broader strategy to address climate change, but many are still waiting on more specific details on how this new plan, now dubbed “America the Beautiful,” might work.
The report was submitted to the National Climate Task Force by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, and White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory. It includes six areas of “early focus” and eight principles that should guide the initiative.
Here’s what we know thus far:
The report includes six areas of “early focus” and eight principles that should guide the initiative. The focus areas are:
- Creating more parks and safe outdoor opportunities in nature-deprived communities
- Supporting Tribally led conservation and restoration priorities.
- Expanding collaborative conservation of fish and wildlife habitats and corridors.
- Increasing access for outdoor recreation.
- Incentivizing and rewarding the voluntary conservation efforts of fishers, ranchers, farmers, and forest owners.
- Creating jobs by investing in restoration and resilience projects and initiatives, including the Civilian Climate Corps.
The principles are:
- Pursue a collaborative and inclusive approach to conservation.
- Conserve America’s lands and waters for the benefit of all people.
- Support locally led and locally designed conservation efforts.
- Honor tribal sovereignty and support the priorities of tribal nations.
- Pursue conservation and restoration approaches that create jobs and support healthy communities.
- Honor private property rights and support the voluntary stewardship efforts of private landowners and fishers.
- Use science as a guide.
- Build on existing tools and strategies with an emphasis on flexibility and adaptive approaches.
The report recommends the creation of an American Conservation and Stewardship Atlas by the end of the year to come up with a “clear baseline of information on lands and waters that have already been conserved or restored.”
An interagency group would get input from the public, states, tribes, a wide range of stakeholders, and scientists “to assess existing databases, and to develop an inclusive, collaborative approach to capture and reflect conservation and restoration of lands and waters,” the report said.
Among other things, including “existing protections and designations on lands and waters across federal, state, local, Tribal, and private lands and waters,” the group would measure “contributions of farmers, ranchers, forest owners, and private landowners through effective and voluntary conservation measures.”
The group also “could consider how to reflect state- and county-presented information, how to capture conservation outcomes on multiple use lands and ocean areas, and how to protect the privacy of landowners, and sensitive or proprietary information.”
Voluntary conservation efforts by farmers and ranchers play a central role in the Biden administration’s strategy to conserving 30% of the nation’s land and waters by 2030.
“President Biden has recognized and honored the leadership role that farmers, ranchers, forest owners, and fishers already play in the conservation of the nation’s lands, waters, and wildlife, and has made clear that his administration will support voluntary stewardship efforts that are already underway across the country’s lands and waters,” the report outlining the “America the Beautiful” initiative says.
More resources needed
Many farmers and ranchers are interested in implementing more conservation practices. Yet, in many parts of the country, federal funding for working lands conservation programs like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program are backlogged and technical assistance is hard to come by.
The effort will require increased funding of USDA conservation programs. "It will take more resources than we’ve had in the past," Vilsack acknowledged.
"One of the key areas, obviously, is making sure we have enough capacity to provide technical assistance to allow those local conservation efforts on private working lands to be funded and to be implemented," he told reporters recently. "And so, we have requested additional capacity at [the Natural Resources Conservation Service] to be able to provide that technical assistance. And we're hopeful that Congress will be supportive of that."
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow told Agri-Pulse she’s making progress in getting a substantial increase in funding for farm bill conservation programs included in an upcoming infrastructure package.
Democrats in the House and Senate are working together on the issue, says the Michigan Democrat. “I feel very good. They understand how important investments in climate-smart agriculture are in conservation.”
In the past, Stabenow has said the $1 billion in new conservation funding included in President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan was “woefully inadequate.”
Even if additional funding is provided, farm groups are keeping a watchful eye on how Biden’s plan and the resources needed to implement it will be rolled out during his presidency. For some, the “devil” will be in the details.
The American Farm Bureau Federation “appreciates that the report acknowledges concerns we have raised and recognizes the oversized contributions of farmers and ranchers to conservation while feeding the world,” AFBF President Zippy Duvall said in a short statement.
“That recognition must carry through implementation,” Duvall said. “The report is a philosophical document that emphasizes important principles such as incentive-based voluntary conservation, protecting personal and property rights and continued ranching on public lands, but it lacks specifics.
“I had several positive conversations with Secretary Vilsack about 30x30, and we will work with him and his colleagues to ensure the details live up to promises made to protect American agriculture.”
Kaitlynn Glover, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association executive director of natural resources and PLC executive director, said she was pleased to see USDA and the Interior Department incorporate many of the recommendations of America's farmers and ranchers into this conservation plan.
“This is a productive starting point that builds on the input of a diverse array of stakeholders — and moving forward, our focus will be on holding the administration and federal agencies to it."
Steve Davies contributed to this report. Sara Wyant is president and founder of Agri-Pulse Communications Inc. For more news, go to www.Agri-Pulse.com.