Biden's plan would boost conservation of US lands, waters

Associated Press
The Biden administration is outlining a plan to sharply increase conservation of public lands and waters over the next decade. A report to be issued Thursday recommends a series of steps to achieve a nationwide goal to conserve 30% of U.S. lands and waters by 2030.

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Biden-Harris administration released its plan to conserve 30% of U.S. lands and waters by 2030. The plan received a mixed reaction from agriculture groups.

The decade-long commitment relies on voluntary efforts to preserve public, private and tribal areas while also helping tackle climate change and create jobs.

A report, with the lofty title "America the Beautiful,' would purify drinking water, increase green space, improve access to outdoor recreation, restore healthy fisheries, reduce the risk of wildfires and recognize the “oversized contributions” of farmers, ranchers, forest owners, fishers, hunters, rural communities and tribal nations.

President Joe Biden has set a goal of conserving at least 30% of U.S. lands and waters by 2030. If successful, the plan will help slow global warming and preserve some of the nation’s most scenic lands for future generations of Americans, the report said.

About 12% of the nation’s lands and 25% of its waters are currently protected, according to research by the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank. Those protected areas include not just parks but also wilderness areas, game refuges, agricultural lands, forests, ranches and other sites with conservation easements.

The plan follows through on a Biden campaign promise and builds on the Great American Outdoors Act, a 2020 law passed by Congress that authorizes nearly $3 billion for conservation projects, outdoor recreation and maintenance of national parks and other public lands.

Even with that injection of federal dollars, the Biden plan relies heavily on voluntary conservation efforts by farmers, ranchers, forest owners and fishing communities. No cost estimate for the project was provided. Much of the spending could be done through department budgets, as well as the 2020 outdoors law, the 2018 farm bill and Biden's proposed $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan, officials said.

Agricultural organizations weighed in on Biden's plan, with American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall calling the 30×30 report "Big on ideas, short on details".

“AFBF appreciates that the report acknowledges concerns we have raised and recognizes the oversized contributions of farmers and ranchers to conservation while feeding the world," Duvall said, "but that recognition must carry through implementation."

Duvall says 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".

The report was signed by three Cabinet members including Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Because farmers and ranchers steward about 44 percent of the United States’ landmass, National Farmers Union maintains that it absolutely essential that that agriculture is incorporated into broader conservation endeavors.

“When the administration first announced its plans to conserve 30 percent of the nation’s land, however, we had a lot of questions about what that might mean for agriculture," said NFU President Rob Larew. "After sharing those concerns with the administration, we are heartened that our feedback was taken seriously and incorporated into the final principles.”

Kaitlynn Glover, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Executive Director of Natural Resources and PLC Executive Director said the guidelines are a productive starting point that builds on the input of a diverse array of stakeholders.

"Moving forward, our focus will be on holding the administration and federal agencies to it,” said Glover, NCBA Executive Director of Natural Resources and PLC Executive Director. “If you want to see successful examples of protecting open spaces, improving the health and resiliency of public lands, and balancing durable conservation with multiple use, look no further than American cattle and sheep producers.” 

Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., said the report “uses vague buzz-words" and does not resolve his concern that “this is nothing but an effort to lock up lands, which will hurt Montana’s farmers and ranchers and kill jobs.'' Daines, a co-sponsor of the Great Outdoors law, accused Biden of "pushing ambiguous political ambitions motivated by headlines rather than results.”

Colleen Kottke of the Wisconsin State Farmer contributed to this report.